The more of your team members you can engage, the more successful your organization will be. The high-performing learning organization adapts more quickly to a constantly changing business environment and leads – rather than follows – the market. People who are engaged enjoy better work/life balance and help to make a good business great.

In order to achieve high engagement, learning needs to be democratized. Making learning opportunities available to more people means understanding what works for different people at different levels in a company. Understanding their behavioral psychology is a crucial step in keeping your learners engaged.

Traditional feedback, unfortunately, can look to many people like bold criticism and evaluation of failure. In short, we’ve found this process to be ineffective. Your goal should be to shape behavior by reinforcing positive behavior rather than criticizing negative behavior. Catch them in the act of “doing good.” Over time, this approach creates a standard of behavior shaped by positive feedback rather than criticism.

Now, what reinforces the right behavior? For some people, the best type of positive reinforcement is money. For other people, it’s time. It varies on an individual basis. In many instances, managers fail to understand what motivates each individual. How do you find out? Just ask.

For example, if you throw a margarita taco party as a form of positive reinforcement, you may miss the employees who really want extra time off to spend with their families or the ones who would prefer a financial reward in the form of a bonus. The reinforcement that you are sure will work could completely fail to serve its purpose. Not only may you not motivate, but you could possibly aggravate.

Reinforcement should be continuous, which means praising the small victories, not just the big milestones. Eventually, employees will internalize the reinforcement, feel good about their work and feel pride. You could even look into gamified online learning tools to keep learners engaged by way of the rewards those tools offer.

Reinforcement is one component of engagement. I’ll summarize the other with this thought: The combination of simple behavior constitutes complex behavior. If you have a client engagement process that you use for client satisfaction purposes, or you have a system that you want your team to use, remember two things:

  • Break it down.
  • Don’t assume.

Use specific steps to outline the process, and don’t assume they know what you want.

According to social learning theory, people learn well through observation. I believe that people are much more likely to engage in a behavior if they’re involved in the decision-making process. Let them into the process by narrowing decisions to a few options you can live with and then letting your team make the decision. If they feel that they contributed to a process, they will be more likely to support and feel a sense of ownership over the result.

By starting by explaining expectations, and then taking your hands off and implementing an intermittent reinforcement schedule, you can create a positive learning environment. People need to be acknowledged, even for the obvious – so if you reward individuals for what they should be doing, you are more likely to keep employees engaged.

Identify what you want out of your team. You can shape that desired behavior by reinforcing it, both initially and continuously. With undesired behavior, drive it to extinction. Give it no attention. Ignore it, and it will dissipate.

Create a process that measures people’s observable progress and learning. Many times, the outcome grabs our attention. Define the most important goal, create a compelling scorecard, and use a cadence of accountability and reinforcement. Democratized learning comes with responsibilities. We have to show we can make the learning work, and engaging our people is the starting point.