Behavioural modification and perfomance manadgment

Chapter Outline

John works for Honest Ed Enterprises as a retail salesperson. To ensure that John generates sales, he receives a sales commission every time he makes a sale.

A critical job task of Charena - a technician in a continuous-process chemical plant, is to monitor the temperature and pressure gauges to maintain the correct temperature and pressure levels. Whenever the temperature or pressure rises beyond the acceptable level, a loud buzzer and a flashing red light is activated and continues until Charena operates the appropriate switch to reduce the temperature or pressure. Charena now finds herself paying more attention to her task of monitoring the gauges in order to maintain the temperature and pressure at the right level.

Professor Ang insists that students maintain the specified word limit in the term paper. Every time a student exceeds the word limit the professor reduces the student’s grade on that paper by 5 per cent.

Susan is an administrative assistant in the controller’s office and one of her major duties is to prepare and mail the budget variance reports of the month before the seventh of the following month. Whenever Susan mails the report after the scheduled date, she receives a written reprimand from the controller, a copy of which is placed in her personal dossier.

The overdue accounts receivable of Honest Ed Enterprises have reached an alarmingly high level. Closer examination revealed that the salespersons were paid their commissions on credit sales even though they did not submit the required credit report on such sales. To eliminate the violation of this procedure, salespersons receive their commissions on credit sales only after the credit report is submitted.

These scenarios vary widely in respect of the nature, content and context of the job tasks. However, an underlying common thread is clearly noticeable. In each scenario the individual’s performance is managed by the supervisor’s actions, which are designed to bring about in the individual those behaviours that are appropriate and contribute to achieving the job and organizational objectives.

Like the motivational theories discussed in Chapter 2. the behaviour modification approach provides an effective managerial tool that explains and predicts work performance. Its objective is to maintain the desired employee behaviour or to bring about changes in employee behaviour in order that the established task of the work unit is efficiendy and effectively accomplished.

However, unlike other motivational theories, the behaviour modification approach uses operant conditioning, whose fundamental processes are unconcerned with or are outside the sphere of cognition. The overriding principle involved in operant conditioning is the future occurrence of a behaviour is a function of the environmental consequences that it brings about or generates.

Our discussion explores the principles of operant conditioning and its use in the major behaviour modification techniques, including positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment by application, punishment by removal and extinction or omission. We discuss the implications of the behaviour modification approach for managing performance which takes the form of a step-by-step action plan that managers can adopt to maintain or modify employee behaviour in order to attain the job and organizational objectives.

We then discuss the performance management process - consistent with the behaviour modification approach. We first present the current knowledge of performance management process and its essential preconditions which have been found to be effective in organizations. We oudine the challenges facing organizations in different countries in performance management and propose solutions to overcome these challenges.

Learning Objectives

  • • To learn the principles of operant conditioning and understand the process of behaviour modification and its critical elements.
  • • To identify and explain types of reinforcement contingencies and the operative principles governing each contingency.
  • • To understand how the performance management process is an illustration of the action plan to maintain or modify performance behaviours.
  • • To review the challenges facing organizations in various countries in the performance management process.
  • • To learn what actions organizational managers in cultures characterized by high power-distance, high uncertainty avoidance, low individualism and low masculinity can take to overcome the cultural constraints to the performance management process.

One of the principal sources of competitive advantage for an organization is the efficient and productive use of its human resources. In fact, the proper utilization of human resources is often considered to be the primary task of management. It is for this reason that the term 'management5 has been utilized as the process of getting things done through controlling, changing and predicting the behaviour of employees. The effective management of employees primarily involves two sets of managerial actions: (1) to identify and maintain the appropriate work behaviours that are conducive to accomplishing organizational objectives; and (2) to modify or extinguish inappropriate work behaviours that hinder or impede the attainment of organizational objectives. The scenarios at the beginning of the chapter illustrate these two sets of managerial actions.

In this section, we describe the principles of operant conditioning as advocated by B.F. Skinner (1974) and his followers. The application of these principles first led to the development of various behaviour modification techniques in educational and clinical settings to modify the specific job behaviour of its employees in the desired direction.

The scenarios described earlier illustrate each of the major behaviour modification techniques. These are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment by application, punishment by removal, and omission or extinction. We discuss each of these at length with a specific focus on how a manager can use these to maintain employee behaviour or bring about behavioural changes in employees to attain the clearly defined organizational and task objectives.

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