Published monthly by Sharon Eakes, Hope Unlimited, LLC
FOCUS: Penguin Training II
Disciplines: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Systems Thinking

"Whenever the penguin does anything like what I want, I notice him....Give him a hug and a fish." Penguin trainer.


I got lots of e-mails on last month's Fresh Views regarding the above technique used to train penguins. The majority were some form of "I've tried this simple formula with wild success!". Others carried questions:

--> Isn't too much praise bad?
--> Does this work with people?
--> What if the person doesn't like fish?

So I did some research and found that this approach works with children, adults, dogs, dolphins and many other critters. And some refinements make it even more effective.

In answer to questions about too much praise, here's the scoop. Studies have found that children praised for everything they do may begin to view praise as nothing more than "white noise" OR become so dependent on it they expect recognition every time they do something good. Research shows that "intermittent reinforcement" may be more effective. In other words, once children (or penguins or adults) know they will be valued for certain behaviors they will strive to find others that are pleasing, if rewards are not forthcoming every time. This is a relief, because we couldn't possibly be there every time one of our kids or direct reports did something we wanted to see more of!

For applying these ideas in the workplace, I recommend a highly readable book by Douglas and Dwight Allen, Formula 2+2: The Simple Solution for Successful Coaching. The Allens help with one of the biggest issues managers have with their staff - communication. Their formula coaches a manager to build a communication style of regular, continuous, positive feedback which makes course corrections much easier.

The 2+2 formula works in families as well.


For penguins a hug and a fish may be great every time. Research shows that people respond more positively when the recognition:
1. acknowledges solid improvement, accomplishment or effort.
2. is sincere. Phony praise is counterproductive.
3. is creative (not a fish or even a hug every time). Comment directly to the person, write a note, tell a third person and ask her to deliver the message, etc.


Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to share ideas about the power of the penguin-training-ways of influencing behavior. Call Friday, April 1 at 12:15 p.m. EST (11:15 a.m. CST, 10:15 a.m. MT, 9:15 a.m. PST) 1-425-818-9401 X925 No need to register....just call at that time! Note the 15 minutes later start time - and this is not an April Fool's joke!

Contact me for a free phone coaching session. 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

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