A study conducted
by Gary Latham PhD, replaced 12 words in an e-mail from a company president to his
employees to demonstrate the power of word choice.
Half of the company received the president’s original e-mail and half of the company received the same e-mail with 12 achievement-focused words added in. The result? After a week, objectively measured performance showed an increase in effectiveness by 15% and efficiency by 35% for the employees who received the achievement centric email.
Have you ever experienced a company with a culture so powerful that you notice it immediately? There is a positive tone in the conversation, a joyful way in which people interact, a different feeling that you get walking through the door.
Those companies are rare.
It is more likely you’ve experienced a company with a culture that is toxic. One where the tone of the conversation is so negative that it instantly brings you down, were the interactions between employees seem hostile, and where you would like to run out the door shortly after entering.
If we were robots, then when we are underperforming or not working, a simple diagnostic process would show us where the issue is. We would need to determine if it was a hardware or software issue, work through the bugs, and identify the component issues. It might be hard, but it is a structured process that a sound engineer can handle. And in the end, you know when you get it right because the issue is solved.
But we are not robots. We are human.
We are complex, context-driven, emotional, overstressed, and irrational. We often tell people what we think they want to hear, not what we really feel. We tend to avoid conflict and repress our feelings. Hell, we don’t even understand our feelings a lot of the time.
Habit and routine, we often use the two words interchangeably, for example, “It was his habit to wake up at six every morning” is easily replaced with “It was his routine to wake up at six every morning.” For purposes of this article, however, each term has a specific meaning. Habit is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” Whereas they define routine as “a regular course of procedure.” The distinction is important.
No, this isn’t one of those government studies where you wonder how it ever got approved (i.e., how long can shrimp run on a treadmill or does playing FarmVille on Facebook help people to make friends and keep them?*).
Socks and behavioral science. The two do not seem to fit together, yet I consistently use my socks as a personal behavioral modification tool.
Back in September, I partnered with Tim Houlihan to start “a monthly gathering of curious minds” which we called Behavioral Grooves. We thought it would be interesting to get like-minded people together to talk about applying behavioral science to life and work.
We had no idea if others would be interested in this…
We announced the meetup and were hoping to get at least a few of the friends that we had contacted to show up. We ended up with 24 people for that first session where we talked about habits – how they are formed and what people can do to improve them.
We were thrilled!
From there, it took off. We have over 180 members signed up to our meetup group and it is growing fast. We have had three monthly sessions as of early January 2018 and our fourth is lined up for two weeks from today. We have over 20 people who have made it to two or more of the sessions.
I guess we struck a nerve.
For our second session, we invited Professor James Heyman to speak and thought, hey, since he’s here, why don’t we interview him and make a podcast out of it. Thus, our Behavioral Grooves podcast was born. Tim and I both loved that so much that we decided that we didn’t want to wait for the next Behavioral Grooves session to record our next one – so we started to invite people and interview them – both live and over the internet.
To date, we have seven interviews recorded and three more in the works. These podcasts mirror the Behavioral Grooves sessions in that they are conversational in nature where we geek out over behavioral science and how we can apply behavioral science insights into our daily work and lives.
They have been a blast!
In reflecting on this, it appears to me that these two outlets provide us with a way of both learning and sharing. We want to be advocates for good, ethical use of behavioral science. We believe that there is much to learn and we can improve our work and lives by understanding and by applying these principles in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.
We also realized that we love the community that this is creating. A community of curious minds who are interested in science and the application of that science. A community of people that we can bounce ideas off of. A community of people that can push us to think about things from new perspectives.
This is ultimately what we have been building and hope that it grows and provides a place and outlet for others, as well as ourselves.
If you are ever in Minneapolis on the third Thursday of the month – please come and join us at our meetup (find out more info here) and if you can’t make that, please listen in to our podcasts (click here to find the latest).
Sometimes, it is the unexpected things that can inspire us.
I remember ripping this ad out of a magazine. I pulled it out and taped it on the wall next to my computer. It was the right time, the right moment in my life for this particular message. I had decided to quit my job and start a company.
Those first few months of going off on my own were scary. No steady paycheck. No insurance. Having just enough money in the bank to survive for three months. This message was one that helped inspire me to keep going.
To not let my fears stand in the way of my hopes.
To try something I never tried before.
To risk it.
To just do it.
Sometimes we need that inspiration. Words can create emotional appeals that grab us and don’t let go. Words can tug at the heart. They can move us to think in new ways. To explore new options.
Over the past few years, we have seen a shift in how organizations value their internal communications. In the past, employee focused communications were often an afterthought. Companies would spend significant time, effort and money on developing out their incentive plans, making sure they were designed to drive the right behaviors and performance, only to communicate it to the field in an e-mail with a 30-page, single-spaced legal contract attached.
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