There is a change needed in your company, you know what the ultimate goal is but you’re not sure how to get there. Proper use of consequences can greatly improve your employees’ ability to adapt and change their behavior as needed. This is not in reference to negative consequences. Here, we mean results, the cause and effect of actions taken.
These changes should not just be for the good of the company, but the good of the employee as well. Successful company culture change should benefit everyone in the end. You want better, more motivated employees that bring better value to their work and the company.
Timing is a simple concept. Does the consequence immediately follow the behavior, such as; the first person to arrive to a meeting gets to pick what they are going to work on? Or is it delayed, such as getting a thank you from your boss for work on a project three months after it has gone live?
Immediate consequence is especially important during times of change. When behavior is new and uncertain, employees want to know right away if they are doing it right. If you want to encourage the positive behavior, reward it right away with positive consequence.
Importance to Employee
Importance seems like an easy one, but you have to take the time to understand what is important to individual employees. Perhaps John likes public praise, it would be extremely valuable to him if you thanked him for his hard work on a project at an office wide meeting. Mark, however, will appreciate more if you take time outside of regular routines to thank him privately for his contributions.
It’s imperative to make sure that they consequence bestowed to reward behavior is done in a way that is truly important to the person receiving it. This will have the greatest impact on your desired change.
Probability of Recurrence
Now that you know the right kind of feedback, and the timing of it, you have to be consistent. When an employee knows they can rely on consequences from their manager they will continue to strive for it.
Employees thrive with consistent consequences. When the cause and effect of work becomes reliable, good work increases. Employees trust that good work will result in good consequences. They can also trust that bad work will result in a consequence they can learn from.
Understanding the Sources of Consequence
Where does the consequence come from? The Consequence Pyramid helps explain this.
The consequences on the bottom of the pyramid are the strongest impact, but the consequences on top of the pyramid are the easiest to apply.
Natural consequences occur on their own, without effort to make them so. Such as the feeling you get when you’re finally alone in your office, or take your shoes off after a long day. This is not something that as a manager you can bestow upon an employee.
Self-consequences similarly can not be motivated by management. This has to be something the employee sees and thinks or says to themselves. There’s a great impact with self-consequence, but it’s not something you can directly control.
Peer consequences are slightly less powerful than self-consequence. This refers to good and bad consequences employees receive unbidden from their coworkers. The next one, which you have the most influence over, is managerial consequence. This is performance reviews, preferred job assignments, constructive criticism, etc.
These are very important to employees, but often the consequences of their peers have more weight. This is why in order to motivate employees and make change in your culture you need to engage all employees in the change. This will naturally help create the stronger base of the pyramid, instead of trying to force it.
Last and actually least powerful, is organizational consequence. These are what many first think of when they think about rewards and consequences at work: bonuses, raises, write ups, employment anniversary awards, etc.
This maybe the first think you think of, but they are usually delayed for such a time that it’s not truly correlated to employee performance. If an employee completes a successful project, and 9 months later gets a bonus because of it, they will barely see the connection between their performance and the consequence.
That does not mean organizational consequences are unimportant, however true success must incorporate more. It also relies on the employees at hand. For some, organizational consequences might hold more power than peer consequence.
So then what do you do? One of the most important things, you have to know your employees. Be close enough that you understand which consequences will have the most impact on them.
The next thing, you need to make sure the consequences that you provide will support the behavior that you need. Focus on consequences that are positive, immediate and important.
The top of the pyramid is a good place to start creating culture change. It’s also they only part that you have direct influence over. This is how you will get started, but in order to achieve success the more powerful consequences will need to come next.
When you manage to engage your employees in the change, peer and self-consequence will follow. And when managers make strides to change processes, the natural consequences will come next.
When it’s going smoothly, you will notice that consequences are mainly coming from the bottom of the pyramid, and the upper levels are like backup for the real magic. The more you understand about the effects of antecedents and consequences on employee behavior the more successful your culture changes will be.
Judy partners with executives and leadership teams to engage and inspire employees in a way that delivers sustainable strategic results. She brings deep expertise and creative ideas to solve organizational effectiveness issues and closely collaborates in a way that builds internal capabilities. Judy has spent over 25 years consulting in a variety of industries, bringing her expertise in behavior to a wide range of organizational issues including organizational behavior change, leadership, change management, culture and engagement.