Safety professionals need to understand how positive reinforcers--the kind Dr. Daniels talks about--differ from other positive consequences. More important, safety pros need to convince others of the astonishing power of rewards, celebrations, and recognition, as well as positive reinforcement.
When Dr. Daniels warned the Houston audience not to presume their recognition, feedback, and celebration programs were "positive reinforcers," this is what he meant. Just because you give a person a positive consequence, you do not necessarily influence the behavior you'd like to improve. And if you don't improve targeted behaviors, you don't truly have a positive reinforcer.
This is why I use the term "reward" instead of "positive reinforcer." A reward is a positive consequence given to an individual or a group with the intention of improving or maintaining desired behavior. The reward can be one-on-one recognition, a group celebration dinner, a positive feedback presentation, credits toward the purchase of a catalogue gift item, a financial bonus, or a small trinket containing a safety logo.
A reward given long after the desired behavior has occurred is unlikely to have a direct effect on that behavior. Some rewards are not even associated with specific behaviors. The behavior most likely reinforced by awarding companies with a safety improvement placard is someone walking to the stage to receive the prize and public recognition.
The strict behavioral approach to safety does not recognize much, if any, value in rewards. If a behavior analyst observes no change in a target behavior when a particular consequence follows it, then that consequence is considered useless in that situation and no longer is applied.
But here's my point: even if a reward does not improve behavior directly, it has other special benefits. This is why I urge you not to decrease your use of recognition, feedback, and celebration processes.
Let me explain by asking:
This justifies using rewards, even when behavior is not directly influenced. Delivered appropriately, rewards always bring out the best in people because they improve those feeling states--self-esteem, self-efficacy, personal control, optimism, and belongingness--that make it more likely for an individual to help another person. Look for opportunities to reward quality performance, and deliver the reward well.