Reinforcement Goals

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Creating and Using Reinforcement Goals

We all know what goals are; goals give direction, goals have to be S.M.A.R.T, goals can motivate or sometimes frustrate.

In this article I want to discuss the reinforcement goals. I often notice that reinforcement goals are being confused with learning goals. In many cases these 2 are the exact opposite. For example, with classroom training the focus is on awareness. The goal for the reinforcement will not be on awareness; often the contrary. To determine the proper goals, the first step is to identify the problem.

Too often I see that the development of reinforcement courses starts with goals instead of the real issues. This could create a situation where you are solving problems that are not there. A good discussion with the client is necessary to determine the real problem in order to set the reinforcement goals. In conversations with clients, Mindmarker in this stage will use questions like:

  • Why is that important?
  • What will they actually do?
  • What bad things will happen if they don’t know or do this?
  • How will they know if they are doing it right?
  • What does it look like if they get it wrong?
  • What things causes most problems in daily practice and why?

A common situation is that the goal or the objective is too large. For example: the participants need to be better managers. That’s like saying meet me in China. It’s a destination but it doesn’t help you to arrange your agenda, book a flight, a hotel and arrange transportation. Once you start breaking these down you can formulate much more specific routes and destinations where you need to go.

Because many of our reinforcement programs are based on behavior change, many goals are based on doing. I see lots of people use words in the reinforcement objectives like define, describe or explain. Because these are observable actions you can witness someone describing, defining or explaining. But you don’t actually care if they can define it, you want to know if they can DO it. For every reinforcement objective, ask yourself:

  1. Is this something they would actually do in their work?
  2. Can I tell when they have done it?

If the answer to either of those questions is NO, reconsider the objectives. When we set a goal for reinforcement we also consider the following elements:

  • Remember (tell someone what it is to understand)
  • Explain (what it means)
  • Apply / do (use it)
  • Analyze (look at a situation and explain why)
  • Evaluate (critic review)

You can imagine that “Remember” is easier than “Evaluate”. Many reinforcement specialists see this list as a progression.

First you must Understand before you can Analyze. Of course this thought is correct but not always standard for a good reinforcement result. It can be good for a participant to Analyze a number of meetings to Understand the intended principle. Or a self-Evaluation can lead, for example, to a better Understanding.

In fact you could create a great reinforcement course by changing the order completely. Keep in mind with this form of mix and match, that it must meet the reinforcement goals. When the goal is that the participants start Using a certain management model, your reinforcement design will not stop at Understanding.

When determining the reinforcement goal, the determination of the real problem is essential at the same time. As soon as the reinforcement specialist and the client define the reinforcement goal, they want to know why this goal has not been reached. What is the gap between their current situation and where they want to be? The reinforcement specialist will pay attention to the different gaps:

  1. Knowledge gap (is the information enough?)
  2. Skills gap (don’t know how)
  3. Motivation gap (see my previous article on motivation)
  4. Environment gap (enough support to be successful and enough time)
  5. Communications gap (enough directions, procedures, etc.)

So which comes first? The reinforcement objectives or the gap? There is no clear answer to that question.

In daily practice we notice that the best reinforcement course is reached by constantly deepening the gap analysis and intensifying the reinforcement goals. One thing is feeding the other. As soon as this thinking process is finalized, only then can a focused and effective reinforcement course be built.

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