The Meaning of Reinforcement Management

Rewarding salespeople for high performance with vacations is an effective form of positive reinforcement management.
Rewarding salespeople for high performance with vacations is an effective form of positive reinforcement management. (Image: Another day at the office image by Keith Frith from

Reinforcement management is a process in which a person’s reaction to an action increases the likelihood the action will occur again. If a child puts his toys away and gets rewarded with his favorite food, a cupcake, he will be more likely to put his toys away in the future. If the child does not put his toys away and the cupcake is withheld, he will be more likely to put his toys away in the future to avoid the negative outcome of not getting a cupcake.


The roots of reinforcement management are in psychologist B.F. Skinner’s idea of “operant conditioning.” Operant conditioning can be used to change behavior by rewarding partial behavior or random acts that approach the desired behavior. According to Skinner, a good example of this is the way children are rewarded with positive reinforcement in the form of affection while they learn to talk. They start off being rewarded for making sounds similar to words and eventually they are able to say words.

Reinforcement Management Uses

Some of the most common objectives reinforcement management methods can be applied to are personal improvement, learning, achieving goals and fighting addictions. All of these objectives can be broken down into incremental actions. If you set a goal to get into shape for a marathon, you could set incremental rewards based on the increase in the number of miles you were able to run without stopping. Then you could give yourself a bigger reward if you completed your marathon.

Positive Reinforcement Management

Positive reinforcement management is providing immediate positive stimuli to increase the likelihood that a positive action will occur again. A child would like to go outside and play, but her mother wants her to finish her homework. Her mother immediately rewards her for completing her homework by allowing her to go outside and play. In the future the child will be more likely to complete her homework, so she can go outside and play.

Negative Reinforcement Management

Negative reinforcement management is when a person is directed to do something to avoid a negative outcome. The two types of negative reinforcement are avoidance conditioning (preventing a negative outcome from occurring) and escape conditioning (stopping a negative outcome from continuing). An aerobics instructor who encourages her students to exercise to avoid being fat (avoidance conditioning) or to exercise to avoid gaining more weight (escape conditioning) is engaged in a form of negative reinforcement management.

Punishement Reinforcement Management

Punishment reinforcement management is when there is a negative outcome for an undesirable behavior. If the desired behavior is that a person drive within the speed limit and a person drives over the speed limit, a punishment for that if he is caught is a speeding ticket. To avoid the punishment of getting a ticket, there is a higher incentive for a person to drive within the speed limit or avoid getting caught driving over the speed limit.

Organizational Reinforcement Management

Organizations often use reinforcement management by setting specific objectives that can be measured and by defining a series of either positive or negative reinforcement outcomes along the way to motivate their employees to achieve the set goal. A customer service manager wants her representatives to stay on the phone no longer than three minutes with each customer. Using positive reinforcement management, she could give bonuses for every month in which the employee’s phone calls were all within three minutes. Using punishment reinforcement management, she could dock the pay of the employees who did not keep their calls within three minutes. Using negative reinforcement management, she could withhold bonuses from the employees who did not reach the objective.

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