Rewards are one of the most common ways that people think of to get other people to do stuff. In the talks that I give on the topic I tell people that rewards are actually one of the least effective ways to get people to do stuff! Rewards are one of the seven ways I cover in my book How To Get People To Do Stuff. And almost all of the other 6 are more powerful than using rewards.
But, having given that caveat, people are used to giving and receiving rewards. So if you are going to use rewards to motivate people, you’d better know the science behind rewards. There are effective ways to use rewards and ineffective ways.
in the 1950’s B.F. Skinner researched rewards — when to give them and how often to give them. He described reward “schedules” and the effect of using different schedules. For example, should you reward someone every time they do the behavior you are looking for? Or just sometimes?
In this post I want to tackle the question of what schedule to use if you are trying to establish a new behavior. In future posts I’ll cover what kind of reward schedule to use after the behavior is established.
Let’s say that you have an employee that doesn’t turn in his expense reports on time. You decide to try out using rewards to encourage him to get the expense reports in. Since he currently doesn’t ‘do this behavior, you are trying to establish a new behavior. In this situation the best thing to do is to reward him every time he turns his expense report in on time.
Or, in another example, let’s say that you want your customers to use a new feature of your software that you provide as an online app. It’s new, so they aren’t used to using it. It hasn’t become part of their usual way of using your product. You should reward them (for example, with points, or a credit towards next month’s bill) every time that they use the feature.
These are examples of “continuous reinforcement schedules” — you reward every time the behavior occurs. In the next blog post I’ll explain what you should do after the new behavior is established. So stay tuned!
What do you think? Have you tried using rewards to get people to do stuff? Have you tried using a continuous reinforcement schedule to establish new behavior?
To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.