Use of Reinforcement Theory to Overcome the Restraining Forces of Change

People refuse to new changes brought in the work environment due to many reasons of insecurity, uncertainty, etc. thus they do not accept the change and stand against it. Here we are trying to use reinforcement theory to achieve our objective. Restraining forces as the forces that make change more difficult. Restraining forces are those factors that resist change to occur; few examples are lack of skill and knowledge, antagonism between the employees and the manager, poor job description.

There are many forces that restrain to a change in the work environment such as:

  • Uncertainty regarding change.
  • Fear of the unknown.
  • Disturbances in the routine.
  • Loss of existing benefits.
  • Threat to the current position.
  • Redistribution of power.
  • Disturb in the existing social networks.
  • Conformity to norms and culture.

The general principle here is that whenever a change is perceived as creating some threat to the employee having his/her needs met the more likely resistance will be overcome. These above-mentioned forces restrain to any changes in the work environment because they don’t know what may happen with a small change brought in their work life and are against it. To overcome such forces we can utilize the theory of reinforcement and help the employees adopt to the new changes.

Reinforcement Theory

Reinforcement is the process of managing ones behavior by having a contingent consequence that follow a behavior with the intent of promoting a consistent pattern of behavior responses. It is basically a behavioral approach, which says that reinforcement induces behavior. Management application of reinforcement theory rest on the assumptions that people in positions of authority can be thought to use environmental consequences to stimulate and shape behavior of other employees.

Probably the best-known application of the principles of reinforcement theory to organizational settings is called behavioral modification. Typically, a behavioral modification program consists of four steps:

  1. Specifying the desired behavior as objectively as possible.
  2. Measuring the current incidence of desired behavior.
  3. Providing behavioral consequences that reinforce desired behavior.
  4. Determining the effectiveness of the program by systematically assessing behavioral change.

Reinforcement theory is an important explanation of how people learn to change ones behavior. It is often applied to organizational settings in the context of a behavioral modification program. Although the assumptions of reinforcement theory are often criticized, its principles continue to offer important insights into individual learning and motivation.

There are four ways trough, which you can shape up ones behavior. They are:

  1. Positive reinforcement: The positive reinforcement occurs when a successive employee is chosen to be rewarded by the managers; the employer is positively reinforced for the desired behavior in organization. It provides a favorable consequence that encourages repetition of a behavior. For example an employee may find that when a high quality work is done the supervisor gives a reward of recognition hence the behavior is reinforced and the employee tends to do a high quality work again to gain the reward. It basically occurs after presenting any desirable behavior in the form of rewards or incentives.
  2. Negative reinforcement: Negative reinforcement is defined as the removal of the unpleasant or the employee’s unwanted behavior. He/her is negatively reinforced by the manager in order to stop that behavior not happened again. This reinforcement is also a type of encouragement but it differs from positive reinforcement. It occurs when behavior is accompanied by removal of unfavorable consequences, there fore it are not the same as the punishment. Consistent with the law of effect, behavior responsible for the removal of something unfavorable is repeated when that unfavorable is again encountered. It is when a particular stimulus is removed after a behavior, and this causes the behavior to increase as a result. Negative in this sense does not mean “bad”, but that something is subtracted or taken away.
  3. Punishment: The punishment is the physiological treatment for the employees by the managers to completely reduce the undesired behavior of the employee in organization. It is the administration of the unfavorable consequence that discourages a certain behavior. It needs to be used with caution because it has certain limitations. A major one is that punishment majorly discourages undesirable behavior but it does not directly encourage any kind of desirable behavior too until and unless the person receiving it is clearly aware of the alternative path to follow. Another problem is that the punishers may also become disliked for the disciplinary actions, which may place strain in the work relationship and reduce the punisher’s effectiveness when offering future reinforcement. Also people who are punished may be unclear about what part of the work or behavior that they are actually being punished for and it is possible that some desirable behaviors may also get discouraged.
  4. Extinction: Extinction is the state or a fact of being not rewarded or positively reinforced by manager for the person desired behavior in the organization were he /her may not continue their undesired behavior. It is the holding of significant positive consequences that are previously provided for the desirable behavior. Such desirable that is learnt behavior needs to be reinforced to encourage the person to repeat the action in the future. If there is no reinforcement by the manager then the behavior tends to diminish through lack of reinforcement. It is basically used to remove any undesirable or unwanted behavior with out hurting them.

The other strategies that can be used to overcome the resistance is by proper education and communication about the new change which is tend to arise. By proper negotiation and reward systems would also help one to overcome the resistance. Motivation before your employees are really motivated to work at change, they must be convinced of the personal and professional benefits to themselves, as well as to their organization. In addition, management must realize that work will slow during the transitional process. Often temporary help must be brought in or overtime authorized to help get the more mundane tasks accomplished. Give chance to employees to express opinions Persuasion needs a user-friendly approach. User-friendly in this context means giving employees an opportunity to vent, to express their own ideas and to make mistakes. It means that managers involved in the process must remain positive and approachable, and have an encouraging demeanor. Part of the change process involves conducting teambuilding and management development workshops to promote change, get input on needs and work with different management styles.

Schedules of  Reinforcement

The timing of the behavioral consequences that follow a given behavior is called the reinforcement schedule. Basically, there are two broad types of reinforcement schedules: continuous and intermittent. If a behavior is reinforced each time it occurs, it is called continuous reinforcement. Research suggests that continuous reinforcement is the fastest way to establish new behaviors or to eliminate undesired behaviors. However, this type of reinforcement is generally not practical in an organizational setting. Therefore, intermittent schedules are usually employed. Intermittent reinforcement means that each instance of a desired behavior is not reinforced. There are at least four types of intermittent reinforcement schedules: fixed interval, fixed ratio, variable interval, and variable ratio.

Fixed interval schedules of reinforcement occur when desired behaviors are reinforced after set periods of time. The simplest example of a fixed interval schedule is a weekly paycheck. A fixed interval schedule of reinforcement does not appear to be a particularly strong way to elicit desired behavior, and behavior learned in this way may be subject to rapid extinction. The fixed ratio schedule of reinforcement applies the reinforce after a set number of occurrences of the desired behaviors. One organizational example of this schedule is a sales commission based on number of units sold. Like the fixed interval schedule, the fixed ratio schedule may not produce consistent, long-lasting, behavioral change.

Variable interval reinforcement schedules are employed when desired behaviors are reinforced after varying periods of time. Examples of variable interval schedules would be special recognition for successful performance and promotions to higher-level positions. This reinforcement schedule appears to elicit desired behavioral change that is resistant to extinction.

Finally, the variable ratio reinforcement schedule applies the reinforce after a number of desired behaviors have occurred, with the number changing from situation to situation. The most common example of this reinforcement schedule is the slot machine in a casino, in which a different and unknown number of desired behaviors (i.e., feeding a quarter into the machine) is required before the reward (i.e., a jackpot) is realized. Organizational examples of variable ratio schedules are bonuses or special awards that are applied after varying numbers of desired behaviors occur. Variable ratio schedules appear to produce desired behavioral change that is consistent and very resistant to extinction.

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