The most obvious way to explain operant conditioning is to use the example of “clicker training” used by dog trainers. The puppy associates the sound of the clicker with a treat. Each time they hear the clicker, they respond in a certain way, knowing they will get a treat afterwards.
The term itself was coined by B.F. Skinner, a behaviorist. He labelled the process “operant” to signal “active behavior” that operates upon an environment to generate consequences.
Operate conditioning is currently one of the trendiest discussions in human resource circles these days as employers seek new and innovative ways to enhance productivity, encourage teamwork and improve customer service.
Essentially, it is based on four key ideas:
1. There must be positive reinforcers for specific behaviors such as rewards or praise that encourage a person to engage in the behavior again and again.
2. There must be negative reinforcers that indicate something will be taken away if the behavior is not performed.
3. There must be positive punishments that involve the application of something distasteful if the behavior does not occur.
4. There must be negative punishments that involve the removal of something desired if the behavior does not occur.
Examples of operant conditioning in a workplace include verbal praise, designation of employee of the month, special awards or rewards, or pay increases to elicit desired production responses.
If human resources personnel are charged with enhancing the working relationships on project teams, they can also use operant conditioning. In this case, it can involve setting a reward that is attainable only if everyone on the team achieves the project goal. When everyone fails, or if one fails, there is an incentive to help each other.
It is often used as well in employee training, especially for managers who are asked to be sensitive in their growing global workforce. When even one mistake can make the difference in securing a contract or causing a major human relations issue, it is vital that training about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable is done precisely and will all chances of error eliminated.
If you plan to incorporate principles of operant conditioning into your human resources programs, be genuine and respectful to your employees. Ensure that the rewards being offered are worthy of their efforts.
Take full advantage of technology to incorporate your operant conditioning. You might want to send coupons for special services or trips as rewards, or offer deals to acknowledge excellence outside of your central office. Consider using gaming in your operant conditioning as well.