Behavior Matters!

Harnessing the power of behavioral science to improve how organizations, leaders, and people work

Category: Leadership (Page 1 of 7)

Cognitive Load – What it is and why it’s important

Back in January we introduced you to the concept of integrating Behavioral Science into Graphic Design. If you did not have a chance to read, or for a recap, click here: http://blog.lanterngroup.com/behavioral-science-graphic-design

Today we will expand a bit more on the idea of “cognitive load”.
Not only is cognitive load a valuable resource to utilize in graphic design; but it is also extremely valuable in communications, speaking engagements, presentation’s and an all-around useful tool for improving understanding.

Let’s take a quick look back at what cognitive load is:
Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in working memory. Rationally, we would think that the more information that a person is given, the better informed they would be; therefore, they would make more sound decisions. However, this is not typically the case.

  • Too much info and the brain can become overloaded and confused.
  • Break it down to the essentials and things just might stick!

In short, quite often: Less is More.

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Don’t Be A Communications Relic – Using behavioral science to make communications more effective

Communication Relic - LGWant to make communications more effective – use behavioral science

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.

Thankfully, this is starting to change.

Today, organizations realize that they need to invest time and resources into their internal communications to optimize their value and impact.  As companies make this investment we are seeing a significant improvement in the design and visual appeal of internal communications – from incentive compensation to benefits to operations; the production value of employee communications has risen.

However, merely making a communication look pretty and appealing isn’t sufficient in today’s hyper-competitive world.  Organizations need their communications not just to inform, but also to spur new behavior and actions.

When companies communicate about programs that require employee action, they often only see a small change in employee behaviors (or no change at all) – even when these actions have clear benefits for the employee (i.e., increasing their contribution to their 401K plan, using a flexible health care spending account, or changing their selling behavior to align with the new incentive plan to maximize their own earnings).

This is where behavioral science comes in.

Behavioral sciences such as psychology, sociology, and behavioral economics help improve organizational communication and drive both action and behavior change.  These cutting edge scientific concepts are currently being used heavily in consumer marketing with positive results – and now they are being implemented by many companies as part of their internal employee communications to achieve similar results inside the company.

Read further to make sure that you’re not being left behind. 

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A bike, some lights and motivation: what a stationary bike hooked up to an LED panel of lights can teach us about motivation!

Kurt Nelson, PhD and Ben Granlund

IMG_4449

As part of our exhibit booth at the World at Work 2016 Total Rewards Conference, we designed a method for giving away our promotional t-shirts that simultaneously acted as an experiment to help us understand what motivates people.

What we found out was intriguing and reinforces some key behavioral insights about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, recognizing accomplishments and having specific goals.

Our process involved a stationary bike that was hooked up to a bank of LED lights1 – the faster and longer you peddled, the more lights lit up, sounds basic enough right?

The six LED light panels set up on a vertical pole that lit up from the bottom to the top – once all six lights were lit up, all the lights flashed and the process was over.

We set our process up a little differently

To earn a very cool “Behavior Matters” t-shirt, all people needed to do was get on the bike and light up one of the lights.

We did not require that people light all six lights, and we did not assign a time length for peddling to earn a t-shirt.  All they had to do was light up one light – a relatively easy process.IMG_4473

Additionally, people could get their name written on our leader board if they were one of the five fastest people to light up all the lights.  This white board with hand written names on it was updated whenever someone earned one of the top five spots.

Our original concept was to have people read one of two sets of written rules – one positive and encouraging; the other bland and discouraging.  The intent was to see if the different messages impacted how people performed or felt about the activity.  We quickly realized that our original plans were not working – too many people wanted to ride the bike and the process ended up being us telling participants the rules instead of them reading them thus invalidating the initial study.

Luckily for us, this is where things got interesting!

Results

While the original communication experiment didn’t pan out, we were still able to gather very interesting findings.  Specifically we were intrigued by some of the insights we gained into extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, the power of leader boards, and the impact that specific goals have on performance.  First, let’s look at the overall results:

A total of 103 people rode the bike over the two days the exhibit hall was open (some participants rode multiple times).  Their performance is shown in table below.

Highest number of lights lit up 1 2 3 4 5 6
# of people achieving level 1 0 6 14 34 48
% of people achieving level 0.9% 0.0% 5.8% 13.6% 33.0% 46.6%
Average time to reach level
(in seconds)
15 0 68.7 46.1 32.5 20.6

The average ride time was 31.7 seconds – with the fastest time being 4.8 seconds and the longest time being 80 seconds.   There is some obvious differences based on physical fitness here as shown by the inverse time required to reach the different levels of lights (i.e., more time on average to reach 3 lights than 4 lights, etc.) which played out in how well people did.

Insights

Do you just want a shirt or are you looking for something more? 

We needed to have an incentive to get most people on the bike.  True, there were some who just wanted to get on the bike and see how many lights they could get, but the vast majority of the people got on the bike to earn the t-shirt.  In other words, they needed an extrinsic reward to participate.

But that’s not the interesting part…

The interesting part was that only one person stopped at the first light (1 out of 103, that’s less than 1%)!  Once they were on, the majority of participants moved past the threshold for earning a t-shirt and continued peddling to see what they could do.  This was not easy – we had the settings on the bike be rather hard. This meant that peddling for more than 15 seconds was difficult for most non-athletes.

We believe once they started the activity, they intrinsic motivation of the bike  kicked in.  The lights tracked their progress immediately and they could directly see how they were doing against the goal.  They wanted to see what they could accomplish.  They no longer worried about the t-shirt – but instead, focused on the event.

 In other words, they challenged themselves to see how many lights could they light up?

They had already committed to participate in order to acquire a t-shirt (the reward) – now they were pushing beyond what was required for the shirt because of the challenge that they were presented with.  If we think about the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation (for more info see here, here, here) we see that the Acquire component was instrumental in the motivation to initiate the event, but the ongoing motivation was propelled by the intrinsic drive to Challenge oneself and see how they could do.

Application:

The idea of using an extrinsic motivator to entice people to participate in programs or activities that they are not excited about and then allowing their natural Challenge drive take-over should not be undervalued.  Additionally, the more that a program uses a measure of goal progression, highlighting an individual’s progress, the more a participants Challenge drive is activated.  In other words, the design of your extrinsic incentive program can impact the intrinsic motivation that is activated. Finding cohesion between these extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can certainly help drive the right behaviors.

What’s up with the leader board?

We had a leader board where riders got their name featured if they were one of the five fastest people to light up all six lights.  They did not earn any additional extrinsic reward for being on the leader board – no fancy give-away, no grand prize, not even an extra t-shirt.

So did it make a difference?

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Our new commercial

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Welcome Tim Holdgrafer!

Tim with his BIG catch!

Tim and his BIG catch!

Please join us in welcoming Tim Holdgrafer to The Lantern Group team.  Tim joined the team last month as our sales director in the Midwest region.  He will be responsible for managing all of our new sales for our Motivation, Team and Workshop solutions.

He brings over 20 years of experience in delivering financial services and business solutions to a wide range of clients from large multinational companies to local start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Tim has a passion for driving change within an organization.

Additionally, Tim is an experienced facilitator having worked with The Lantern Group since 2014 helping deliver some of our most exciting and challenging team building programs.

Tim earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management and is a long suffering Gopher football fan.  In his spare time he enjoys staying active through running, softball, golf and playing hockey every sunday night.  He uses his team building and leadership experience to help his coaching of youth soccer and hockey in Minneapolis as well as being the Cubmaster for over 90 young boys.  When he has some downtime, he also enjoys reading and researching genealogy.  Tim is married and has three fantastic boys.

Please give a big welcome to Tim!

Behavioral Economics and Change

brain - left and right

Rational vs Emotional

For the past 20 years, I have been exploring how people change their behavior.  This exploration has led me down many different paths and lines of inquiry.  One of the most fascinating areas of research that I’ve investigated surrounds the now hot topic of behavioral economics.

I often describe behavioral economics as the “fusion of psychology and economics in order to gain a better understanding of human behavior and decision making.”

So what do we find out when we fuse psychology and economics together?

“Humans often act in very irrational ways.”

Now that is not ground breaking news for most of us.  Even when I graduated with an economics degree, I knew that people didn’t always act in rational ways – or at least I didn’t  (otherwise why would I stay up watching bad T.V. until 2:30 AM when I knew I had to get up by 7:00 AM for a meeting or why would I spend a hundred dollars on a dinner out but fret over buying a steak that was over $10 at the grocery store?).

However, for many economists, that statement was hearsay.  Many economic models are based on the fact that people act in rational ways to maximize their own utility (i.e.,  happiness).  These theories stated that we might make irrational choices in the short-term, or when we don’t have enough information, or that at least your irrational behavior would be vastly different than mine so that on average, we would be rational.

The truth discovered by behavioral economics is that is not often the case.  We don’t act rationally – in fact, we sometimes act exactly opposite of how an economist would think we should act.

For example, research has shown that we will judge the value of an unknown item using totally irrelevant data to help us in that decision.  Dan Ariely ran a wonderful study where he asked people to bid on a wireless keyboard (something that they were not very familiar with at the time), but before they answered, they had to write down the last two digits of their social security number (a totally irrelevant piece of data).   The results of the bid were fascinating (top 20% being SSN that ended in 80 or above, the bottom 20% being SSN that ended in 20 or below):

Anchoring results

This is a significant difference in how much they bid – entirely based on the last two digits of the SSN.

Here’s another one.

Would you work harder for a set amount (say $10) or for an uncertain amount (say 50% chance of $10 or 50% chance of $5)?  Most rational people would say that they would work harder for the guaranteed payout of $10…that isn’t the case.

In a study that looked at drinking a large amount of water in two minutes – some people were offered a $2 fixed amount for finishing it – the other group was told they would earn either $1 or $2 (random chance of either).  So what was the result?

Behavioral Econ Uncertainty

43% completion rate for the certain award versus 70% completion rate for the variable?  Not what you would think right?

Note – that this doesn’t apply to people choosing to participate – existing research suggests that we prefer certainty over uncertainty when deciding if we should opt-in for a goal.  However, uncertainty is more powerful in boosting motivation en-route to a goal.

So what does any of this have to do with change?

We so often want to drive change in ourselves or our organizations and think through the process of this – in a rational and systematic manner.  I’ve worked with companies who are baffled that they don’t see a long-term increase in employee productivity and satisfaction after they increase their wage (Hedonic Treadmill Effect).  I know people who have mapped out their exercise routine for the next day, only to hit the snooze button instead of getting up and going for their morning run (Hyperbolic Discounting).

Too often we try to implement a change program based on a belief that we are rational beings.

Behavioral economics highlights that this just isn’t the case.

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Willpower – is it the key to change?

I’ve been reading a lot of books and articles lately on willpower.  It is incredible the new research on willpower and how we can build our willpower reserves up and how they get worn down.  I am fascinated by the larger impact of this research and the implications that it has on our ability to change.  It is fairly evident that the more willpower one has and that one applies to their change process, the more likely that change will occur.

So how do we build up our willpower muscle and use it most effectively?   This is probably old hat to many of my readers, but here are some of the key take-aways that I’ve learned from this research:

  1. Willpower is like a muscle – in that it can be built up with repetitive training, but also in that it wears out the more you use it during the day.  Every time we resist some temptation – whether that be not eating the donuts that your coworker brought to the meeting, holding off on looking at that latest text ding, or not blowing up at your boss when he is making some really stupid demand for the 10th time in the day – we use up some of our willpower.  Research shows we more easily give into temptations or lose our cool at the end of the day than we do at the beginning.  That is because our willpower muscle is fresh in the morning but gets depleted throughout the day.
  2. Set up some rules or change the environment to decrease temptations in your life – this will provide you with greater willpower over the course of the day.  If you can make it so that you are not having to actively resist a temptation – either because you have a set of rules (i.e., I don’t answer texts at work) or alter the environment (i.e., turn off your text alert on your phone when at work) you will preserve your willpower longer.  Of these two options – changing the environment may be the harder one to initially do, but is the more effective of the two methods.
  3. Willpower requires energy – specifically, glucose.  We tend to have less willpower when our bodies are hungry or glucose deprived.  Counter-intuitively,  quick hit of chocolate can help you stay on your diet!  The brain takes up about 3% of our bodies mass, but uses about 20% of its energy.  Willpower is one of things that uses up a lot of that brain energy.
  4. Willpower is revitalized after rest / meditation –  we can increase our willpower throughout the day by relaxing our brain and letting it rest.  Meditation has been shown to be one of the best ways to revitalize our willpower.  Meditation also is a great training method to help increase our willpower.  Practicing purposeful breathing and not letting outside thoughts enter into our mind is a great training method for our ability to concentrate and keep out outside distractions (i.e., willpower).

There are many more wonderful insights that can be gleamed by this new research.  I encourage you to read two books:

  • Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.  Roy Baumeister & John Tierney
  • The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.  Kelly McGonigal

Whose job is it to motivate?

I had a client send me an e-mail the other day – with this question – “Whose job is it to motivate?”  Here is the response that I sent her…

“Whose job is it to motivate?

This was an interesting question – one that, at first glance, seemed like it could be quickly answered if I did not spend too much time thinking about it.   So I spent some time thinking on it…and like the proverbial onion, it has many layers.

A quick response would be that it is the manager’s job to motivate.   They are in charge of their team of people and one of the responsibilities that they have is to make sure that their team is doing their job.  You get people to do their job by motivating them.  As a manager, you are likely to be in control of many of the motivational levers that organizations typically use, such as performance ratings, incentive components, special role assignments, recognition and a host of other tools that are designed to help motivate employees.  As a manager, you are often the closest link to the organization that employees have – as such, you are key to ensuring that they know the strategy and vision for the company.

So the job of motivating is the managers….

Except that when you peel away another layer, and ask the question, “can a manager really motivate his or her employees?”  This comes down to a theoretical question about our ability or lack of ability to really motivate another person?  Sure, you can motivate through fear and intimidation, but those are not typically the types of motivational forces that we think of when we think of a manager (outside of the threat of firing).   The question is revolves around the idea of having someone else motivate me or do I need to motivate myself.  You can put all of the rewards and accolades in front of me, but if I choose not to be motivated by that, then is there anything that you can do to motivate me?

Think about this in another way as a hypothetical question – what would motivate you to bring great physical harm to another person?  Would any amount of money sway you to do that?  Would any type of promotion or praise get you to do this?  Probably not.  You would have to have an intrinsic motivation to be able to do this (if even that would suffice for many people).

If we go down this path, then motivation is self-derived and is ultimately the job of the employee…

However, you peel away another layer and look at the role that our environment plays in our behavior and attitudes.  For instance, we know that people eat more when their plate is larger – even if they are not motivated to do so, or more ominously, motivated to not eat more (i.e., on a diet).   It has been shown that the work environment that we are in can have a significant impact on our attitudes and ultimately our performance.  We know that people’s behavior is changed when they are presented with an incentive or reward for doing something.   Studies, as well as our own experience, show that we will work longer, harder and more tenaciously if we know that there will be a luxurious reward as the result of our effort.  This points to the fact that a company’s leadership and the culture, environment, systems and processes that they develop are key to motivation.

Taking that line of thought, it is leadership’s job to motivate…

Except they do not often have an immediate presence or interaction with the employees.  That is relegated to the manager and how those systems, environments and culture are interpreted often relies on their actual practice of them…so we are back to the manager…and to the individual…

Ultimately, it comes down to a combination of all three.  That the job of motivating is everyone’s job.  

This is not a simple matter to say that “motivation” falls within someone’s job description…it is indeed a larger issue that has its roots in so much of what everyone in the company does every day.  We know that employees are complex individuals.  That each of us is driven by different needs and different goals.  The Four Drive Model helps us put those drives into categories, but those drives are still hugely complex in their nature, and that it takes a large amount of effort by the company, managers and individuals to really motivate us to our fullest potential.

Ok – hope I didn’t get too long winded or philosophical and that this was insightful to you…

Let me know if you have further questions.

Thanks.

Kurt Nelson, PhD.”

 

Change is Hard – So What Did I Do About It?

Today I'm Motivated ToLast week I wrote about how I have not kept up on my own goal of writing a book on achieving goals (i.e., change).

Ironic?

Yes…very ironic.

As mentioned, over the past two years I’ve been researching how people change.  That research indicates that there are six major components that help people achieve purposeful change.

In reviewing my own lapsed change goal of writing five pages a week, I found that I had only leveraged two of those six components.  Doing the math, that means that I was not doing four of the six.  Those were:

1. Writing was not an emotionally driven goal – it was a rational goal

2. I had not established a habit around writing

3. I had not changed my environment to help facilitate my writing

4. I did not have social support network set up to help me

Last week I identified two of those six as easy fixes, one as moderately easy and one as very difficult.  Here is my work to date on those:

My easy fixes (weren’t so easy):

4.  Social support network.  In response to this, I talked to my wife and asked her to help me on this by holding me accountable.  She refused.

Yes, that’s right, she said, “no.” 

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Change is hard (4 ways I defeated my own change process)

Change is hard

Change is hard

For the past two years, in addition to my regular day job, I’ve been researching what it takes for people to make meaningful and purposeful change.

It has been fascinating.

I’ve talked with a number of people about their change journeys.  I’ve read countless books and journal articles on change.  I’ve been introduced to a number of new insights from neuroscience, motivational theory, behavioral economics and habit formation that, when brought together, can have a huge impact on how people can effectively change.   I have identified what I think are six major components that help drive successful change.

I’ve lived this, breathed it, and dreamed it…

And yet…

I’ve not been able to keep my own change habits going.

At the beginning of the year I had set out to write five pages a week on change (not quite a New Years resolution, but very close).  I thought that would be a manageable goal and one that would allow me have enough material for a book on change by the end of the year.

Five pages a week isn’t even a page a day – how hard could that be?

Well it was hard.  Very hard.

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