Consequences in the workplace are critical for teams. Some consequences in the workplace are good, such as reward for a job well done. Others are bad, like providing negative feedback for poor performance.
In one of my previous challenging workplaces, there were some negative consequences for poor work. However, there hardly any positive factors to motivate team members.
There was very little training offered, no bonuses and limited career opportunities. The financial state of the company meant that pay rises were rare. This is fine if you just want people to be grateful just to have a job. If you want your team performing at a higher level, you need to do better.
A workplace without negative consequences is a place where dysfunctional behaviour becomes normal. A workplace where there are few positive consequences is a place where you’ll see bad performance.
Consequences in the workplace are what keep people in check. They ensure that people are polite and showing positive workplace behaviour. Consequences in the workplace are also what can motivate people to do their best work.
A lack of consequences in the workplace leads to poor performance
When there are too many negative consequences in the workplace, leaders tightly control behaviour. Things must be done a certain way, processes must be followed to the letter, or there will be trouble.
Such a place is unpleasant and reduces the autonomy of the people who work there. They fear the consequences of making a mistake. This is an environment where there is no innovation and where failure is not an option.
When there are too many negative consequences in a workplace, fear of failure drives behaviour. Instead of striving because we want to do well, we chase the target because we are scared of failing.
When people fear negative consequences more than they want to succeed, they will start to learn they need only do “just enough” to ensure they don’t get in trouble.
Once they have done just enough to avoid negative consequences, nothing drives them to do any better.
Why would they put in significant extra effort? They have already avoided punishment and are not rewarded for doing extra.
Balancing positive and negative consequences in the workplace
Having the perfect mix of consequences in your team will give you the potential to do great things.
Negative consequences for poor behaviour or lack of effort push people to produce outcomes to a minimum level of quality. Even if your team are at this level, you should still achieve minimum standards because people don’t want punishment. However, having only these push factors won’t be enough.
You also want to pull people upwards towards a higher goal by using positive consequences for good work. People will put in extra effort when they value the positive rewards that exist.
What if there is no push or pull in your team?
When there are no pull factors, the only thing keeping people motivated is the fear of failure from negative consequences.
When there are no negative push factors, you are likely to see low quality from your team. This is primarily because there are no consequences for doing a bad job.
Consider a situation where there are only pull factors where good work is rewarded, but there are no push factors. You will find that some people will put in a great amount of effort.
However, only those people that care about the rewards will try hard. The rest of the team may perform poorly because nothing exists to keep them in check and make them want to get better.
A healthy team needs a balance of positive and negative consequences. You need to put them in place as soon as possible.