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If you want to modify employee behavior and encourage productivity, what can you do? This lesson discusses organizational behavior modification and how it can be used to adjust the behavior of your employees.

What Is OB Modification?

Imagine that you’re the sales manager for a major tech company, B-Tech, in New York. In this position, you’re in charge of making sure employees meet their sales quotas and follow company policies.You believe that your department is successful because you are a firm believer in organizational behavior modification (OB Mod), also known as reinforcement theory. This means that you use various responses to encourage or discourage certain behaviors. Using this method, you help to reinforce sales quotas, timeliness to the office, quality of reports and customer service.

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There are four components to OB MOD, and you emphasize each of them as you see fit. They are:

  1. Positive reinforcement
  2. Negative reinforcement
  3. Punishment
  4. Extinction

Depending on the behavior, you can use one or a combination of these four responses.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is your favorite way to encourage employee behavior because it refers to recognizing an employee for doing something good.For instance, last week your employee Anna surpassed her sales quota by 25%.

She did way more sales than you had asked. Since you want Anna to keep doing whatever it is that has allowed her to be so successful. In order to reinforce this good behavior, you gave her an extra 10% on top of her typical commission.Now, you know it is important to use positive reinforcement randomly, so you don’t always give out extra bonuses. Instead, sometimes you:

  • Give praise in front of other staff
  • Thank high sellers at the company meeting
  • Throw a random office party and tell everyone they can thank this specific employee for their extra hard work and earning the team a party.

Using different types of positive reinforcement and using it selectively will preserve its value.

This is because too much positive reinforcement can becoming boring and make staff less interested in doing well.

Negative Reinforcement

You find negative reinforcement to be a personal relief. Negative reinforcement means that you stop using negative or unwanted consequences because an employee has improved the negative behavior.For example, Mark would never turn in his company reports on time.

You would have to pester him every week to turn them in. You finally set up automatic emails that he would receive three times a day, reminding him that his reports were due on Friday by 3:00 PM. When Mark turns in his reports on time, three weeks in a row, you stop sending him the reminder emails.

This is a clear example of how you can use negative reinforcement, but some of the other methods you use include:

  • Ceasing required overtime when staff regularly meet their sales quotas.
  • Stop holding daily sales pitch meetings when sales begin to increase.
  • No longer requiring employees to check in twice a day when their performance meets your desired standard.

In each of the negative reinforcement methods, you are able to ease up on employees who perform well, thus reinforcing their good behavior.


Punishment is by far your least favorite reinforcer. The purpose of punishment is to try to decrease this unwanted action by imposing an undesirable punishment. When you use punishment, it means that an employee has done something wrong or reduced their productivity, and you have to make sure that they know that it is unacceptable.

Just a few weeks ago, Marisa, one of your best sales persons began to show up to work late. After a week of regularly being late and missing mandatory meetings, you also noticed her sales had reduced by 50%. In order to correct this behavior, you took away some of Marisa’s paid time off to cover for her tardiness and you suspend her for three days.There are several ways that you use punishment to push your employees and make sure they don’t fall into bad habits. This can include:

  • Requiring overtime when someone misses their sales quota
  • Suspending employees who are insubordinate or disobey company policy

Depending on the severity of the action, you work hard to gauge the right punishment, remembering that too much punishment can discourage the staff from trying at all.


Similar to punishment, extinction is meant to prevent unwanted behaviors. Instead of making a new punishment, extinction takes away something good that an employee expects to receive. You recently used extinction with John, a relatively new sales team member.

John hadn’t made one sales quota and so you took away his bi-monthly bonus until his performance improves.You know that extinction can be very good, but it also has its problems. If one month you constantly praise Marge for exceeding her sales quota, and the next month you ignore anyone who goes above and beyond, you may reduce the likelihood that staff members will work hard to exceed sales.

Because of this, it is important to be careful when using extinction and mindful of the rewards you give and take from employees.

Lesson Summary

Organizational behavior modification (OB Mod), or reinforcement theory, can be applied to your business in order to help you adjust, modify, and mold employee behaviors. By using the various behavior modifications techniques with the right balance, you can adjust the behavior of your organization and help your staff to be more efficient.If you have a certain behavior you would like the employee to exhibit, then you can use positive reinforcement, such as praise and bonuses to encourage the positive behavior. You can also use negative reinforcement which refers to ending negative consequences for an employee that improves a negative behavior.

This includes examples such as ending required overtime for staff who exceed their sales quotas. When an employee deviates from a desired behavior you can punish them with suspension or required overtime in an effort to correct the negative behavior. Finally, you can use extinction to prevent unwanted behavior such as taking away something for an employee not showing the desired behavior.

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