Walking the Walk: #2

From an abbreviated version to be posted in 'Our Family Business at Odds.'

By Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Despite setting a trial period for Jenny's entrance into the business, I actually did not wait for three months to pass. I learned about a networking event for people under 40 to be held at the Boston Estate Planning Council, one of several professional organizations of which I am a member; and I told Jenny about it. She agreed to go. My senior advisor (my wife/her mother) had also pointed out that Jenny needed a business card. After asking myself whether Jenny deserved one; and answering the question affirmatively—she had been responsive to my need for her to complete business tasks promptly—I told Jenny about that, too.

I did not realize until after she hung up that Jenny was pleased at the gesture. I had not said anything to her about our working together since our meeting. Telling her about the networking event (and the business card) was a form of positive feedback.

The more I think about it, the more I see how encouragement and positive feedback is vital for our children. We forget. We give positive feedback to others and forget how important it is to give it to our own children. We're good at noticing where they make mistakes. We need to be just as good in recognizing when they do something right.

Forgive me for sounding like a psychologist, but, as B.F. Skinner, the foremost behavioral psychologist has taught us, it is possible to shape another's behavior by rewarding productive or correct behavior. An unintended consequence of positive reinforcement is that it increases people's ability to hear when they have exercised poor judgment or when they are underperforming.

Giving both positive and negative feedback is the most important aspect of helping people grow in their jobs. The family business is a wonderful place to encourage your children without taking their motivation away.