Management Department


Date of this Version



The Academy of Management Executive 13:2 (May 1999), pp 49-57.

doi: 10.5465/AME.1999.1899548


Copyright 1999 Academy of Management. Used by permission.


Perhaps the most talked about, if not actually implemented. practical solution for making human resources more productive is pay for performance. Yet many researchers and practitioners doubt the true effectiveness of this approach. To help solve this controversy. we suggest drawing from reinforcement theory and behavioral management. This approach can be used to explain the simple statements: You get what you reinforce. but you do not necessarily get what you pay for. We first critically review the traditional pay for performance practices and address the question of whether rewards. not reinforcers. do more harm than good. Next, we discuss the theoretical foundation that you get what you reinforce. Finally. we outline the behavioral management steps of organizational behavior modification (O.B. Mod.). When O.B. Mod. has been systematically applied over the years using both monetary and nonmonetary reinforcers. our recent meta-analysis found that performance on average increased 17 percent. The contingencies and practical implications of this behavioral management approach that advocates reinforce for performance instead of payor even reward for performance are discussed.