“What is love except another name for the use of positive reinforcement? Or vice versa.” — B. F. Skinner
ADKAR is a helpful model for identifying the key components of change leadership and turning them into action.
I’ve been a certified change leader by Prosci for more than a decade at Microsoft, but I first learned about ADKAR in the book, ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and our Community by Jeffrey Hiatt.
ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.
What I like about ADKAR is that it’s a simple model that’s easy to remember, easy to communication, and easy to practice.
And it actually works.
I’ve covered Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, and Ability in other posts, so in this article, I want to focus on Reinforcement.
ADKAR is a Simple Model for Change
ADKAR is a simple model for change. The Prosci ADKAR change framework consists of 5 elements:
- Awareness – Awareness of what the change is and why it’s important now.
- Desire – Desire to participate and support the change.
- Knowledge – Knowledge of how to change and how to perform effectively in the future.
- Ability – Ability to demonstrate the required change in terms of effective performance.
- Reinforcement – Reinforcement is how you reinforce, support, and strengthen the change.
For more on the ADKAR model, see ADKAR is a Simple Model for Change.
What is Reinforcement?
The idea behind Reinforcement is to reinforce the and strength the change you are making.
Change is tough. People tend tend to slide back to familiar habits and practices and what they are used to.
You need to reinforce the change if you want it to stick.
After you’ve addressed Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, and Ability, the last piece of the change framework is Reinforcement, so that you underpin, support, fortify, and bolster the change.
“Reinforcement includes any action or event that strengthens and reinforces the change with an individual or an organization.
Examples include private or public recognition, rewards, group celebrations or even something as simple as a personal acknowledgement of progress.”
Why Reinforcement is Such a Big Deal
One of the biggest mistakes with change is to fail to reinforce the new behaviors.
Without reinforcement, people slide back to familiar habits and old ways.
“The greatest risk associated with a lack of reinforcement is a person or group that reverts to old behaviors.
Without reinforcement, a person or group may perceive that the effort expended during the transition was not valued. They may seek out ways to avoid the change, and their desire to change will diminish.”
Hiatt shares an example from NASA and its space exploration program:
“When NASA returned the space shuttle Discovery safely to earth following the tragedy of the shuttle Columbia, NASA as a whole was recognized for the changes they made to the space program.
These changes included efforts to address the culture and values that may have contributed to flawed decision-making, as well as a redesign of major components of the entire system.
Yet, even when this recognition for their success, the individual employees at NASA can sustain the change only if they are recognized and their contribution is acknowledged and appreciated.”
Each change effort is a chance to change how you limit or enable future change efforts:
“In the absence of continual reinforcement, it is possible that old habits and norms will creep back into the work environment.
If this occurs, then the organization builds a negative history related to change.
When the next change comes along, individuals remember how previous changes were managed and how they were treated during the process.”
Reinforcement Can Be as Simple as Genuine Appreciation
It’s far more important that you reinforce positive behaviors and desired changes in a timely, relevant, and personalized way, than wait to do some big event in the future.
Authentic appreciation goes a long way.
Catch people doing something right, yourself included, and appreciate the efforts.
This is gratitude at its finest.
Because of the social impact of change, silent or invisible appreciation is the worst approach.
Appreciation expressed in a visible way, can go a long way, towards reinforcing the desired behaviors and changes and help everyone involved deal with inevitable resistance and peer pressure, or to deal with even just a simple lack of motivation.
“Reinforcement does not always required major events. In a study of customer service employees, the number one recognition desired by customer service agents was a personal thank you and an expression of appreciation by their supervisor.
This gesture is meaningful because of the unique nature of the employee-supervisor relationship.
It tells the employees that they matter and that their contributions are being notices and valued.”
The 4 Factors of Reinforcement
According to Hiatt, the 4 Factors of Reinforcement are:
- Factor 1 – Meaningful reinforcements: The degree to which the reinforcement is meaningful to the person impacted by the change.
- Factor 2 – Association of the reinforcement with accomplishment: The association of the reinforcement with actual demonstrated progress or accomplishment.
- Factor 3 – Absence of negative consequences: The absence of negative consequences from the change and performing the behavior.
- Factor 4 –Accountability systems: Accountability systems to reinforce the change.
How to Build Reinforcement for Change According to Prosci
Here is how to build Reinforcement of change according to Reinforcement-The Prosci ADKAR Model:
Successful reinforcement may require:
- Rewards and recognition
- Corrective actions
- Visible performance measurement
- Accountability mechanisms
Potential Challenges and Resisting Factors
- Rewards not meaningful or not associated with achievement
- Absence of reinforcement for accomplishments
- Negative consequences including peer pressure for desired behavior
- Incentives that directly oppose the change
Tactics for Fostering Reinforcement
- Publicly visible performance scoreboards that positively show compliance to a new process
- Feedback from supervisors directly to employees, including saying “Thank you”
- Visible recognition by senior level sponsors
- Project-sponsored celebrations for employees
- Compensation and appraisal systems designed to support the change
3 Keys to Making Reinforcement More Meaningful
The more relevant, personalized and valuable you can make the reinforcement, the more effective it will be.
- The recognition or reward applies to the person being recognized.
- The person providing the recognization or reward is someone the individual respects.
- The reward is relevant or valuable to the person being recognized.
Beware of Negative Consequences
Who wants to change if the end results are going to have negative consequences?
Some people will resists change and insist on doing things the same old way or “the way it’s always been done.”
Peer pressure and social norms can put pressure on people to fall back to old ways or avoid changing their ways.
This is why modeling behavior by influential people is such a big deal.
People want to fit in, and it’s difficult if they are doing things that go against the grain or conflict with their peer groups.
While you can try to remove or reduce negative consequences, sometimes the best solution is empowering people to see and act beyond peer pressure, by teaching them skills to grow beyond their container. See How to Defeat Peer Pressure.
“When a person experiences a negative consequence for exhibiting the desired behavior, the change process is impeded.
Peer pressure is a good example.
In the work setting, this can occur if some employees insist on doing the things the old way and apply social pressure to their co-workers to do the same.
In high school we observe many types of peer pressure, some good and some bad.
If peer pressure is opposing the change, the resulting negative consequences become a barrier to the change.”
B.F. Skinner on Reinforcement
B.F. Skinner (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)
B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist, author, behaviorist, inventor, and social philosopher, best knowns for his advocacy of behaviorism and its application to psychology and life,
According to Skinner, how you positively reinforce behavior is more important than the amount:
“The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount. A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.” — B.F. Skinner
Also, according to Skinner, conditioning takes place because of timing:
“To say that a reinforcement is contingent upon a response may mean nothing more than that it follows the response.
It may follow because of some mechanical connection or because of the mediation of another organism; but conditioning takes place presumably because of the temporal relation only, expressed in terms of the order and proximity of response and reinforcement.
Whenever we present a state of affairs which is known to be reinforcing at a given drive, we must suppose that conditioning takes place, even though we have paid no attention to the behavior of the organism in making the presentation.” — B.F. Skinner
How Positive Reinforcement Maximizes Performance
Positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to maximize performance by compounding discretionary effort.
Aubrey Daniels is a former clinical psychologist who has dedicated his life to applying behavioral science to achieving outstanding results and performance improvement in the workplace. He is also famous for coining the phrase “performance management”.
Here is a gem of insight about positive reinforcement from Aubrey Daniels:
“Positive reinforcement generates more behavior than is minimally required. We call this discretionary effort, and its presence in the workplace is the only way an organization can maximize performance.” — Aubrey Daniels
How To Get Less Out of People
Sometimes it helps to contrast what you do want with what you don’t want so that you learn at a deeper level.
Here is a gem of insight from Bill Walsh, an American professional and college football coach:
“People thrive on positive reinforcement. They can take only a certain amount of criticism and you may lose them altogether if you criticize them in a personal way… you can make a point without being personal.
Don’t insult or belittle your people. Instead of getting more out of them you will get less.” — Bill Walsh
Get the Book
You can get the ADKAR a Model for Change on Amazon:
ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and our Community by Jeffrey Hiatt
Call to Action
- Read the book ADKAR: A Model for Change so you know how to change yourself and others more effectively.
- Practice reinforcing change with yourself, by being grateful and appreciative when you do the tough stuff and do your desired behaviors.
- Practice reinforcing change in small ways with other people such as expressing genuine “Thank You’s” that are relevant, specific, and timely.
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