Consequences in the workplace are critical for success. Some consequences in the workplace may be good, such as reward for a job well done. Others may be bad, like providing negative feedback for poor performance.
One of the most challenging places I’ve ever led a team in was one where there were some negative consequences for poor work, but there few positive factors to motivate the staff. There was very little training offered, no bonuses and limited career progression on offer. The financial state of the company was also such that pay rises were a rare occurrence. This is fine if you just want people to be grateful just to have a job. If you want people performing at a higher level so that your business can compete in the market, you need to do better.
A workplace devoid of negative consequences is a place where dysfunctional behaviour becomes normal. A workplace where there are few positive consequences is a place where mediocrity thrives.
Consequences in the workplace are what keep people in check and ensures that people are civil, functional and behaving within a set of acceptable parameters. Consequences in the workplace are also what motivates people to do their best work.
A lack of consequences in the workplace is a recipe for mediocrity
When there are too many negative consequences in the workplace, it generally means that behaviour is tightly controlled. Things must be done a certain way, protocols must be followed to the letter, or there will be trouble.
Such a place is stifling and reduces the autonomy of the people who work there. They fear the repercussions of stepping outside the narrow white lines that bound them. This is an environment where innovation is stifled, where failure is not an acceptable option.
When there are too many negative consequences in a workplace, behaviour is based on fear of failure. Instead of striving because we seek a positive outcome, we chase the target because we fear the consequences of failure.
When people fear negative consequences more than they strive for positive consequences, they will start to learn they need only do “just enough” to ensure they avoid the negative outcome.
Once they are above the threshold to avoid a negative consequence, nothing drives them to do any better.
Why would they put in significant discretionary effort when they have already avoided the negative consequences and are not positively rewarded for doing any more?
Pushing and pulling – balancing positive and negative consequences in the workplace
Having the perfect mix of positive and negative consequences in your workplace will give you potential to do great things.
Negative consequences for poor behaviour or lack of effort push people to produce outcomes to a baseline level of quality. Even if your staff are at this level, you should still achieve baseline 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 through establishment of positive consequences for good work. People will put in greater discretionary effort when they value the positive consequences that exist.
What if there is an absence of push or pull?
An absence of pull factors means the only thing keeping people motivated is the fear of failure instilled by negative consequences.
An absence of negative push factors means that in some cases you are likely to see a level of quality from your teams that is unacceptable. This is primarily because there are no consequences for doing a bad job.
If you have 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 value the rewards being offered will try hard. The rest of the team may perform poorly because nothing exists to keep them in check and improve their performance.
A healthy workplace needs a balance of positive and negative consequences. You need to make sure they are established as soon as possible. There is no point saying “we’ll get to that later when our business is booming”. When business is booming, you need your best quality work being done. This won’t be possible if you don’t establish both positive and negative consequences early.