This book with the fun title, Green Beans & Ice Cream, informs the reader about positive reinforcement. The title represents an early life experience of Bill Sims Jr. It’s an example of positive reinforcement used by his mother. If you eat something nasty, green beans, you’ll be rewarded with something fantastic, a bowl of ice cream. In this little experiment by his mother Sims found his life’s calling.
Sims writes that employers should desire actively engaged employees supportive of company programs. Companies shouldn’t be satisfied with workers that only put in their time to get a paycheck. Engaged employees are more satisfied workers, leading to an increase in productivity and profits.
Unfortunately, many companies don’t believe in rewarding outstanding employees. These companies motivate through punishment. In Green Beans & Ice Cream Bill Sims Jr. calls this the leave alone and zap culture. Employers only interact with employees as a result of worker noncompliance. If the employee isn’t performing, zap, they’re fired. In this environment employees are not rewarded for optimum output, only punished for poor performance.
Sims states, this type of attitude by the company does not create an over achieve mentality among the staff. It does not create an engaged and committed work force. Employees visualize their job as merely a way to pay bills. Eventually good employees will leave the firm to find better working conditions. In these situations both management and workers need a cultural change.
Sims explains a change in behavior leads to a change in culture, resulting in improved employee attitudes. He designs behavioral modification programs utilizing positive reinforcement to institute a new organizational culture. He shares these techniques in Green Beans & Ice Cream.
Positive reinforcement is not something that Sims created. It has been used for many years and is supported by scientific research. Several of the chapters present this scientific foundation.
For instance, in chapter eight Sims shares the work of Dr. Frederick Herzberg, who wrote The Motivation to Work. Herzberg found the two greatest motivators of employee satisfaction were recognition and achievement. Positive reinforcement lets employees know their efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Throughout the book Sims provides numerous anecdotes illustrating the correct approach for implementing his methodologies to bring about attitude adjustment. However, he warns incorrect implementation could result in more harm than good. In “Chapter 18: The Teacher’s Pet Syndrome,” Sims presents a situation in which the reward creates animosity among the work force. In this case the reward was applied in a biased fashion.
Some other positive reinforcement philosophies discussed by Sims that exemplify bad implementation include company outings and bonus pay. Slackers should not receive bonus pay or invites to picnics; they must earn the privilege. One size fits all programs punish engaged employees by demeaning their efforts.
Current literature exhibits some controversy in regards to engaged employees being the happiest and most productive employees. The bulk of the literature reviewed still leans towards Sims’ viewpoint. One example is the Gallup Q12 Meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees; the survey found engaged employees had greater job satisfaction than non-engaged employees.
However, there is an increasing body of literature that finds otherwise. A report by Leadership IQ, a consulting firm in Atlanta, found that the least productive employees are the happiest while the most productive are unhappy. The engaged employees were overworked, covering for the underachievers. The companies in this study could use a little cultural change.
Green Beans and Ice Cream contains 33 short chapters of three to four pages each. Some of the chapters include QR codes so the reader can access additional materials that reinforce the discussion. It’s a fairly fast read with only about 130 pages, but it packs in a lot of useful information.