Gotcha! A New Approach to Positive Reinforcement

Try to catch your employees doing things right

By Daniel Abramson, HRSource

In 1982, Ken Blanchard wrote the bestselling business book, “One Minute Manager,” in which he said we need to catch people doing the right thing, rather than catching them doing things wrong.

“People who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves,” he wrote. This simple concept could also help BrandSource members improve employee engagement and retention of staff.

Unfortunately, some dealers are focused on catching their employees making mistakes or not doing the job right. To be fair, managers for the most part do this to improve the company’s productivity and enhance its efficiency, although this approach generally has the opposite effect.

Here’s some food for thought: 

  1. What exactly is “catching people doing things right”?

Catching people doing things right is a new lens on the way you view others’ behavior and performance. It’s about recognizing effort and input as well as final product and output. It is saying thank you and expressing gratitude. It is commenting even on seemingly small things that someone is doing to move the ball forward, even if incrementally.

It is also catching yourself doing things right too. It’s the times that you made a strong effort, the times you were patient in the face of adversity or had a difficult customer who was giving you agita about a delivery or return.

The more that you catch yourself and others doing things right, the stronger this “right-catching” habit becomes, and the more focused that lens will be. Catching people doing things right is a relationship building and enhancing tool. Done properly, it will build competences, increase skills and knowledge, and improve attitudes.  

2. Catching people doing things right is not a once-a-year performance review discussion. 

Many performance review sections include space for a “what went well” sort of discussion: goals you met, accomplishments you attained, successes you realized, blah, blah, blah. While this is a great time to discuss strengths and celebrate success, if that is the extent of catching people doing things right, then it is ineffective and falls short on performance and motivation. You don’t need to wait for a formal occasion to catch people doing things right. It can happen every day; indeed, it should happen several times a day. It should occur three times as often as catching people doing things wrong. Annual performance discussions, even with quarterly or monthly touchpoints, will not even come close to having the same positive effect.

3. Catching people doing things right is not just empty praise.

Telling someone “Good job” or “You did that well” or “Thorough report” or “Whoa, that was a big furniture sale,” is the verbal equivalent of a high-five or a pat on the back. It feels good in the moment, sure, but it doesn’t tell the individual what they did right. It’s end-praise for a job well done, rather than process praise for hard work.

Best of all, catching someone doing things right doesn’t cost any money and as mentioned up top, can help improve employee engagement and staff retention. If you want to step it up a notch, purchase a bunch of $5 Dunkin’ or $10 Starbucks gift cards and present them to employees with a handwritten note of appreciation. Either way, your return on investment will be immeasurable.

Daniel Abramson is managing lead of HRSource, a comprehensive collection of customized employment tools and turnkey solutions exclusive to BrandSource members. Contact Daniel at (540) 535-8484 or

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