Ever hear the old saying, “You'll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar”? What's that got to do with you and your business?

Most business owners that contact me are reaching out because they're frustrated by what their employees do and don't do. Rarely does someone contact me to let me know they love what their people do and that they're the best in the business. Most owners think poorly about the quality of work done by their employees. This is truly unfortunate. The negativity actually invites more bad performance.

Try to relate this to raising kids.

Imagine if you spent the better part of the day berating them, screaming at them and telling them what a disappointment they are. Think this treatment would foster a desire in them to do the right thing to please you? Not likely!

What happens when you find your kids doing something right and you make an effort to praise them and give them a hug? Are they more eager to repeat that positive behavior? No doubt about it!

If we know this about kids, why would we expect adults to work better with sarcasm and threats? After all, we are all kids in adult clothing. It's in our human nature.

Berating our team members and expecting them to maintain good behavior is unrealistic. I'm not suggesting you skip the steps of discipline. In fact, I strongly advocate that you do let your employees know the consequences of their actions, both good and bad.

However, I am advocating that you make as big an effort to catch people doing something right and make a big deal out of it as you do when they do something wrong.

We may have been raised in a family where we were taught - incorrectly - to think that, if we praise someone or reward them, they'll take it as a signal they can slack off. Actually, the opposite is true. Reward someone for doing something good and you can bet they'll do their best to be more productive to gain your favor again.

It's also a fallacy to think if we catch them doing something wrong and take them to task, they won't dare do it again. How's that approach working for you so far? Not too well, I bet.

The fact is, those people will repeat the same sins but just get better at hiding them.

Attitude Adjustment: I wasn't always the kind of guy who acted upon the flies-and-honey philosophy. Frankly, I'm a native New Yorker, so sensitivity was never a strong suit. The senior staff members and I loved to catch a five-year to 10-year tech screwing up.

That gave us the opening we needed to say, “You've been a tech for 10 years and you don't know that!” Wow, what a good time that was. We all had a good laugh. It made us top guys feel like men and made them feel like boys.

The bad news is this method actually backfired. It made these techs far less likely to show us what else they didn't know. Fortunately, I learned a better way to react when someone didn't know something.

The change came when management changed its attitude. We took responsibility for providing the training, without judgment, for what our techs didn't know. We accepted the job of providing all the ongoing training needed to find the holes in the current technicians' knowledge. It became important that we make it safe for our existing technicians to learn.

What we learned to say to our techs was, “Whatever you don't know, it's our responsibility to show you. Whatever you're unsure about, it's our responsibility as owners and managers to impart the skills and knowledge.”

We began to take them to workshops; we got them the training videos and the resources and books they needed;. we took them into our in-house training center so they could practice and know it was safe to show us what they didn't know.

The only catch in this deal was that they also knew that once we'd shown them, and they demonstrated to us that they'd mastered the skills, if they then decided not to perform the tasks correctly in the field - well, we no longer treated it as a training issue. This became a compliance issue - a whole other story.

All existing technicians should be expected to continue their training by taking ongoing classes you offer to master one or more of the trades you do. Their incentive is a bump in salary and more lucrative calls so they can make more money in your generous bonus program!

In addition to taking trade classes, existing technicians should be required to attend ongoing meetings each week. The meetings need to focus on sales training, operational and technical training.

Ongoing training shows you care. You're offering a career and not just a job. And it provides more opportunities to find them doing something right. Try to be generous in your praise and your rewards. Display the positive letters you receive from satisfied clients.

Save your criticism for when it's really necessary. Make it a part of your set procedure for handling discipline. But don't criticize until you've given them the training they need first.

Try this form of honey and watch your business get buzzing.

Join Al at our "Innovating Thinking 2006: Hiring-Training-Retention" conference, June 12-13 at Emerald Pointe Resort, just outside Atlanta.
He'll be discussing "Staffing Power - Finding, Keeping & Training the Employees You've Always Wanted," June 13, 10:45 a.m. Visit www.innovativethinkingconf.com to register.