The Have-To and Pride Curves: Products of Poor Management
by Andrew D. ShamRao, Ph.D.
Many companies wish they had a means of finding, hiring and keeping employees who show pride in their work and loyalty toward the company. These same companies have found that the small group of employees they currently have who do work hard and do show pride in their work often do not exhibit loyalty toward the company and may even be openly hostile toward it. The recent strike experienced by General Motors (GM) is an example of this dilemma.
The problem in these companies is not necessarily not having good performers, but the companies do not demonstrate that they D value the employees and their contributions. The fact is, even if these companies discovered some way of finding employees who would perform well, their existing management style most likely would reduce those same employees to dissatisfied good performers with no commitment to the company or dissatisfied poor performers who do the minimum required to get by.
Poor management affects even the best employee's performance. Poor management involves doing nothing when performance is good and responding in a reactive rather than a proactive manner to poor performance. That is, managers fail to notice when performance is good and reprimand or threaten people when their performance is poor. Such a style of management involves a haphazard use of consequences in the workplace and affects individuals in different ways.'
For example, you may know two employees who, when first hired, came to work early, left late, put in extra effort to get a job done the best way possible and generally wanted to do the best they could for the company. These employees (let's refer to them as Tom and Jane) worked above and beyond the call of duty. Then, sometime later, you noticed that Tom was no longer as diligent as before and did only enough to fulfill his obligation to the company. In other words, Tom did just enough to get by. Jane, on the other hand, continued to do the best she could. Just because Jane's observable behavior did not suffer, does that mean she was unaffected by the negative management style? No.
How a negative management style impacts these individuals is at the heart of why many organizations lose their best employees and keep the employees who used to be good but now perform only as well as they have to, to avoid punishment. The people who stay and do the minimum required perform on the have-to curve, and those who continue to perform well but look for opportunities to leave the company when they can, perform on what I call the pride curve.
THE HAVE-TO CURVE
To understand the dynamic interaction of consequences that produces the patterns of performance shown by Tom and Jane, let us imagine their first few months at the company. When Tom and Jane were first hired, their performance was not quite up to par because they were in training (Figure 1, A). However, after training and practice, they soon reached a proficient level of performance that rivaled others' performance (Figure 1, B). Tom and Jane were happy to be a part of the organization because they had good interviews and everyone had been nice to them by welcoming them on board. In fact, they felt so good they were determined to do the best they could and to give the company their best discretionary effort. To that end, Tom and Jane came in early to work, left late, did extra work and completed all the paperwork to keep ahead of schedule. They were emotionally committed and loyal to the organization. They even went so far as to rise to the defense if anyone made a negative remark about the company.
After a few months, Tom and Jane experi-enced what is commonly referred to as the end of the honeymoon period" (Figure 1,C). In terms of consequences, they did not receive the kind of attention they had received a few weeks earlier. It was as if everyone were too busy to notice the good work they were doing; they experienced extinction (F). They failed to obtain the recognition they were getting earlier for the extra effort they put into their work. This was bewildering at first and caused them to feel a little frustrated and to do more in an effort to gain attention (Figure 1, D). Then the truth hit them-they were on their own and it was a sink-or-swim situation (Figure 1, F).
By definition, extinction has the effect of decreasing behavior. Therefore, forTom (Figure 1, red curve), we see a decrease in desired performance (Figure 1, G (The steepness of this curve is not necessarily indicative of how fast performance will deteriorate)).
Tom's frustration grew into apathy because he did not receive a positive reinforcer (R+) for his efforts. All the extra behaviors Tom once did started to fall out of his behavior pattern. He stopped coming in early, leaving late and filling out all the paperwork to keep ahead of the schedule. Tom's emotional response to the situation hit an all-time low. He started to behave carelessly. He began to come to work late and leave early. When he started to do this, his performance fell below the minimum level of per-formance required to keep his job (Figure 1, H).
The minimum level of performance required in an organization is rarely revealed. Typically, only when a when a person drops below that line will he or below that she know it. So, when Tom's performance fell below the minimum required, the supervisor called him into his office and reprimanded (punished: P) him. He was told that if he did not improve his performance over the next week, he would lose his job (negative reinforcement: R-) (Figure 1, I). Tom was shaken and nervous because this was his first reprimand. This punishment followed by the threat (R-) of losing his job caused Tom to come to work and leave work on time (Figure 1, J). For a short time, he even spent most of the time working at his work station (Figure 1, K (in some cases, performance may not increase beyond the minimum required line e.g. point K. Performance may be maintained at the minimum required after increasing at point J)). However, when he discovered that nothing happened when he showed this diligence (Figure 1, L), he experienced extinction once again.
Tom felt bitter. He concluded that the company and managers didn't care about the employees. All that mattered to them was production. If production suffered, you would hear about it; if not, you were left alone. Extinction caused Tom's performance to fall (Figure 1, M) until it plummeted below the minimum required line (Figure 1, N) again. Again, his level of performance was punished (Figure 1, 0), negatively reinforced (Figure 1, Q), extinguished (Figure 1, R), punished (Figure 1, 5), nega-tively reinforced (Figure 1, T), extinguished (Figure 1, U) . . . and so on, until it settled around the minimum required line.
Tom had finally learned, or been taught, what he had to do to keep his supervisor off his back. Tom's curve describes the minimum-required performance and, therefore, may be called the minimum-required curve or the have-to curve because people on this curve do often what they have to do to avoid termination. For example, you may hear Tom saying, "I do what I do because I have to
If I didn't have to do it, I wouldn't. As long as I get my paycheck, I'll be okay."
THE PRIDE CURVE
Not everyone responds to extinction and negative reinforcement the way Tom did. In fact, Jane's performance dropped a little but then stabilized at a much higher level than Tom's performance (Figure 2, blue curve, V and W). This kind of behavioral curve is characteristic of those who claim they have a good work ethic. These people usually express pride as the reason for their good performance, which is why I call this curve the pride curve. For example, they might say, I'm proud of the work I do, and I will always do my best because I want my name to be associated with good work." People who have a pride curve associated with their personal achievements at work have a history of reinforcement for behaving in accordance with their work ethic. For example, parents, a mentor or teachers may have strongly rein-forced these individuals while they were growing up for the good work they did. This kind of reinforcement at an early age can have an effect on behavior several years later, even in the absence of parents, the mentor or teachers. People on pride curves evidence this by making statements like "My dad would have been proud of me
So, what effect does extinction have on the performance of people on the pride curve? Notice the dip in the curve for Jane (Figure 2, blue curve V). This curve represents the drop in emotional behavior or commitment and loyalty to the organization. Jane experienced the same frustration, bitterness and anger that Tom experienced. During the emotional slide (Figure 2, V), Jane kept trying to do her best but still wasn't noticed.
Her attempts to reveal how her work helped the company also did not have an effect. Eventually, she stopped sharing her ideas. She only shared them if she knew it would benefit her. She no longer gave freely of herself and her time to the company. Jane continued to perform well, but with a greater commitment to her own advancement than to the organizations. In other words, the fact that the organization bene-fited from what Jane did was a by- product of her determination to advance in her own goals and objectives. Jane engaged in nega-tive talk about the company just like Tom. The organization had lost the esteemed place it once held for her.
Extinction and negative reinforcement had taken a behavioral toll on both Tom and Jane. These consequences made Tom feel expendable, therefore, he suffered emotionally and in terms of his work behavior. In response, Tom did just enough to avoid being punished. For Jane, R- and E took a toll primarily at the emotional level. These consequences and her history of reinforcement prompted her to continue performing well for herself and to look for an escape route to a better situation. In both cases, the emotional toll manifested itself in a loss of loyalty and dedication toward the company. The ultimate expression of this loss would be Tom and Jane leaving the company to escape their negative experiences. Not everyone can escape when he or she has the opportunity. This is because family ties, financial obligations and other commitments may prevent escape. In such cases, the performance of people on the pride curve may deteriorate slightly over time as more importance is given to other sources of reinforcement such as grandchildren, friends and newfound interests.
The flawed assumption of managers who perform on the pride curve
People who perform on a pride curve associated with their personal achievements at work are often promoted into management positions because their performance stands out above that of their fellow employees. Promotions are often considered reinforcers by management and by many performers on the pride curve. The event of a promotion and higher pay can rebuild some of the loyalty and commitment that was ini-tially lost. Performers who are promoted often demonstrate the switching sides" phenomenon. If they have been promoted to supervisor or higher, they no longer feel comfortable taking sides with the hourly employees because now they are management. They see things from a 'different' light, and so the rift begins to occur between the new managers and the workers they manage. Upper management perpetuates this with distinct privileges and systems of compensation for the two groups. In the eyes of the hourly employees, the pride-curve performer has graduated to the group with privileges. The question is, Do pride-curve performers who have become managers use a new, more positive approach to management, unlike what they went through? Not necessarily.
There is a fundamental flaw in the assumption that many pride-curve performers make about the people they manage. The flaw lies in believing that the people they manage should and will perform like they did under R- and E. You might hear a pride-curve individual saying, "Man, I work hard day-in and day-out without a peep of appreciation from my boss or from you guys, so you can do the same! Besides, it's what you get paid for!" Because they sur-vived under extinction and moved up the ladder, managers on the pride curve believe that others should be able to do the same. While this may bear some truth, it is not a consistent reality.
Pride-curve managers are constantly frustrated at the poor level of performance they get from people who just don't seem to take pride in their work. The people they manage never seem to meet up to their standards. And so, the system perpetuates itself. The system under which Tom and Jane were hired is now perpetuated by people like Jane who were promoted into management. This is the unfortunate effect of assuming that others should and will per-form on the pride curve under poor man-agement.
People receive reinforcement and take pride in a number of different areas in their lives. Some people are proud of the great job they do raising a family. Others are proud of a hobby. Managers must recog-nize the fact that not everyone bases pride on personal achievements at work. This is the first step to becoming a good manager. Next, managers must realize that without adding positive reinforcement to their management style, they will not be able to achieve the levels of performance they desire in the people they manage. This is evident from the years of data obtained under their previous or existing management style.
The key to building a cohesive positive group culture is to use daily social reinforcement for performance improvement, recognition for achieving subgoals and rewards for achieving goals. A company must show that it values its employees and their contributions.
When you add positive reinforcement to your management style, you can shape per-formance away from the negative reinforcement curve, beyond the pride curve and toward the potential possible under positive reinforcement-performance on the want-to curve (Figure 3, green curve, X). The want-to curve indicates employee commitment and loyalty. It also is the sign of an organization dedicated to achieving success primarily through the use of positive reinforcement.
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