Words alone will not discipline a servant;
the words may be understood, but they are not heeded.
Proverbs 29:19 (NLT)
When I read the proverb above this morning, a young woman popped into my mind. She works for a client and for a couple of years I’ve been sitting down with her in quarterly call coaching sessions to help her improve her service on the phone. Bright, articulate and intelligent, the young woman is capable of being a world-class service performer. But, she’s not. For a couple of years I’ve provided her with data, information, training, and coaching with regard to the handful of service skills that she needs to adopt to take her service to the next level. But, she won’t.
The management team at this particular business want their people to perform at a high level, but there has never been any kind of negative consequence if their employees refuse to do so. The employees, like this woman, know that she can sit through our coaching sessions, politely listen and then completely ignore what I’m telling her. Her supervisor has already proven that he will do nothing about it when her quality evaluation does not improve.
Over the years I’ve watched many children do the same thing. Parents toss a “no, no, don’t do that” across the room, but the child just smiles and continues their naughty behavior. He or she knows that mom and dad only say “no, no, don’t do that.” They never actually DO anything about it. There are no consequences for continuing to act out the naughtiness they’ve chosen, so why would they choose to modify their behavior?
The carrot or the stick? That’s the question leaders from the nuclear family to the business work grapple with. Do I encourage positive behavior change by offering a positive incentive or negative reinforcement? Believe me, I’m a fan of positive reinforcement in parenting and in management. I have come to the conclusion, however, that positive reinforcement alone will not work with everyone. There are some individuals who will only respond to negative reinforcement.
The mark of a good parent or a good leader is in their wisdom and discernment to utilize both the carrot and the stick appropriately and circumstantially in order to get the desired results that will benefit both the individual and whole.