Behavior Matters!

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

Tag: change

What drives you to take 10,000 steps a day – everyday for a year!

Plotting progress

Janelle and her 10,000 Step Tracking Chart

Curiosity

Driving home from a wedding on January 2nd 2016, my wife was looking at her Facebook feed on her iPhone and made a little exclamation, “Wow!”

Of course that made me curious, so I said, “what was that for?”

“An old colleague of mine just posted that she walked 10,000 steps every single day last year.” she stated.

Now I was really curious, “Can you get me an interview with her!”

Fast forward a month and half and I sat down with Janelle at a coffee shop on the campus of the University of Minnesota where she worked.  For the next 60+ minutes I was enthralled listening to her story and asking a ton of questions.

“How did you do it?”  “What was your motivation?” “How were you supported?” “What was the hardest part?” “Why?” “What insight can you give to people who want to achieve something like this?”

Some facts first:

Total steps in 2015: 6,456,950 (that is 6 million, 456 thousand, nine hundred and fifty) totalling 2,818 miles walked.

May 2015 was her most active month with an average of 21,388 steps per day and her most active single day of 80,606 steps.

Dang – that’s impressive!

February 2015 was her least active month with an average of 14,190 steps and her single lowest step count on any day was 10,016 (just 16 steps over her goal) on January 16th, 2015.

See more stats at http://www.nivens.me/blog/2015-fitbit-stats

How Janelle did it

I wanted to know how Janelle did it.

Walking 10,000 steps everyday is not easy nor is it a task that you can do by just forming a new walking habit.

It takes concentrated effort and dedication.  It requires that you have an emotional commitment to achieving your goal.  It takes support from friends and family and sometimes even strangers.  It takes coming up with hacks to motivation to keep that fire going all year long.

In my interview, I wanted to find out if Janelle employed any of the six actions that I’ve identified as being key to successful change (see here) and (here).   When I asked her about how she did it, she used all six to some extent: Engaging her emotions, Plotting her progress, socializing her support, harnessing her habits, enabling her environment, and preparing her plan to overcome obstacles.

Janelle engaged her emotions.

One of the key concepts from the change work that we’ve done, is that purposeful change is more likely to succeed if you actively engage your emotions.

Rational change, we found, is not sustainable. However, emotions are hard to consciously activate.

We’ve found that one way to hack into those emotions, is to align your change with your self-identity.  If you can align your change behaviors with who you perceive yourself to be, then your behaviors become easier, and when you behave in ways not aligned with that self-perception, you feel angst to come back into alignment.

Change - Identity

When your behaviors and self-perception don’t match it creates a sense of cognitive dissonance – a pull to change something to get the image and perception back in alignment

Within the first five minutes of the interview, without prompting, Janelle stated, she identified herself as a “walker”.  She talked about how she always liked to walk, how she walked with her mother when she was younger, that when she walked, she felt better.  In her mind, she identified who she was as a “walker” and that implied that she behaved in certain ways (walk instead of drive when possible, take the stairs – not the elevator, etc…).

By identifying herself as a walker, she was emotionally invested in those behaviors.  It made it easier to do them and harder to not do them.  Here is a picture from her Facebook page (Minnesotan’s will recognize the famous Walker Art Museum):

Janelle - Walker

Janelle plotted her progress.

Plotting ones progress towards a goal is important.  Research has shown that progress, no matter how small or insignificant, provides humans with great satisfaction.  We know from behavioral economics that the closer you get to a goal, the more motivated you are to achieve it (see here).

Of course Janelle had her fitbit to track her steps…but that wasn’t all – she had her calendar.  Janelle had gone online and bought a special full year calendar (from Europe), had it shipped over and framed.  This was hung in her home office where she saw it every day.

Each day that she walked 10,000 steps, she added a sticker to that calendar.  Different colors represented different step counts.  Yellow was 10K, blue was 15K,  and red was 20K.

One interesting side note, was the amount of stickers she had actually added to her motivation.  Here is how she describes it:

“In November and December I gained some motivation by the fact that I was running out of yellows and eventually blues. So, I had to walk more to get to the 20K level (red).”

She also set up motivational milestones.  She created a “walk wish-list” of different places or walks that she wanted to do.  She posted these to her Facebook page (adding a social element  that we will talk about later).  When she achieved these walks, she was able to check them off her wish list.

Additionally, Janelle joined a fitbit group (again, we will talk more about the social aspect of this in a bit) that had different walking challenges.  Fitbit calls these challenges, “a fun way to help you stay motivated by competing with friends and family.”  These mini-challenges helped provide ongoing ways to measure her progress.

Her fitbit group also had a leaderboard that showed her daily steps compared to those in the group.  This was a way to track her progress not only against her goal, but as part of a fun competition against others.

Janelle socialized her support.

When she decided to commit to her 10,000 steps a day for a year challenge, she purposely posted her decision on her Facebook page.  She told me that she did this to create  accountability.  By publicly stating her intentions, she enlisted her Facebook friends to become part of her social support team and keep her on task.

We often feel more pressure to do things for other people than we do for ourselves.  I call this “other focused motivation.”  For some people, this motivation is much stronger than the motivation that they have to complete things for themselves.

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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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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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Purposeful Change – 6 steps to help keep you motivated and achieve your goals

Based on new research from behavioral economics, neuroscience, motivation and habit formation…six steps that can help you get and stay motivated to achieve your goals.

We need your thoughts and experiences on change and achieving your goals

[polldaddy poll=7082655]We are looking for input from people like you to answer some questions on how you were able to change something in your life or set out and achieve a goal.   We want to understand how you were able to lose weight, get a promotion, start a new hobby, eat healthier, change a bad habit, start a new positive habit, complete a project, etc…).  We are trying to uncover the underlying factors that help people purposefully changed a behavior or attitude.  This research will be used as input to a model of change that we are developing as well as possible inclusion in a book we are writing on the subject.  In the comment section, please share the following:

1) What did you purposefully set out to change or achieve?

2) What was your motivation that drove you to that do this (was their a specific trigger or was it something that you had focused on for a long time)?

3) What were the key actions that you took to achieve that change or result?

4) Did you change things in your environment to achieve this (i.e., move the treadmill into the bedroom or hang a progress chart on the wall)

5) Did you tell people (or a single person) what you were trying to do?

6) Did you set milestones to your goal?

7) Did you measure your progress against those milestones?

8) What was the hardest part about the process?

9) What was the most important part of your change journey?

10) What tips would you give for someone else who is trying to change this aspect of their life?

Leave your response in the comment section 0r send me an e-mail at kurt@lanterngroup.com   – Thank you!

Improving performance in uncertain times using non-cash incentives

Change creates an emotional response

Even in the best of times, companies experience different competitive and environmental factors that can lead to organizational change and thus employee uncertainty. In hard economic times, those changes occur at a much greater pace and employee uncertainty can be even greater.   Employee uncertainty creates a number of challenges for organizations as employees often feel anxious, disillusionment, disappointment, confusion, and even anger over their lack of control in an unknown situation.  This often leads to decreased employee motivation, focus and subsequent decreases in productivity and performance.

Companies can employ a number of different mechanisms to help recharge employee motivation in changing environments.  One key mechanism is the use of targeted incentives to help engage employees and focus them on improving productivity.  Because incentives can be structured in a number of different ways and use a variety of reward options, it is important to understand what aspects of incentives will drive the greatest return given the uncertainty and emotional response that is felt by employees during these organizational shifts.

Understanding the psychological response:

The emotional response of individuals to potential negative changes is theorized to go through a process similar to grief.  The Kubler-Ross Reaction to Change[i] cycle shows how employees typically flow through recognized stages when faced with change.

Kubler Ross Change

Initial denial is followed by resistance, then a period of self-doubt and worry, followed by a time of letting go, with acceptance of the change and exploration of options, and finally moving to new commitment and focus.  This is an emotionally charged process that requires time to respond to change.

Organizations need to be able to manage this process and move people through these stages as quickly as possible.  The engagement of the emotional elements of the brain is vital to being able to achieve this. During the high stress, denial and resistance stages, our brains do not process rational arguments as easily or readily as they usually do.  In order to gain a foothold in this emotional cauldron, incentives need to have an emotional hook.  Non-cash incentives achieve this hook through a variety of behavioral economic principles.  First, they provide hedonic luxury escape which is about being able to remove yourself from the current state and imagine yourself with a luxury item or good[ii].  Second, they activate different sectors of the brain associated with visualization (i.e., right hemisphere brain functions) versus the more rational sectors associated with transactions (i.e., money and left hemisphere brain functions)[iii].  Third, non-cash elements do not push employees into a calculative modality in which they equate effort with monetary amounts.  In stressful situations, this calculation is short-changed and often interpreted as “they are trying to bribe me.”  Non-cash awards are evaluated as a separate, non-financial component that is viewed in isolation and not in factors that are associated with other compensation factors.[iv]

Examples:

Many organizations have utilized non-cash incentives in periods of uncertainty and change.  The following are just a few examples of these incentives and the results that they generated.

Y2K Angst

A technology firm out of Des Moines, Iowa was experiencing high levels of turnover and angst with its software programmers because of the uncertainty surrounding Y2K and how their jobs were going to be negatively impacted.   A non-cash incentive program aimed at achieving specific Y2K milestones was implemented across the organization.  AwardperQs (a non-cash point system) were awarded to individuals and teams that achieved specific milestones.   This program provided clear focus and motivation for the software programmers and achieved in excess of 90% of employees engaged/ participating/hitting one or more milestones.

Sales Force Integration

A leading medical technology company was moving from a product-centered sales philosophy to a customer-centric team approach.  This involved a realignment and adjustment to the sales force that created significant uncertainty in the field about their jobs and roles.  A six-month incentive program was developed that rewarded people for sales that required integration of two or more product groups.  A fixed award pool created a sense of urgency and engagement in the incentive.  The client realized a return of more than 300:1 on this program.

Realignment

A pharmaceutical firm was going through a major realignment of territories and product allocation due to a large product soon to come off of patent.  Many sales representatives had new managers, new doctors and new products that they needed to work with.  A short-term team based award was put in place that offered teams the chance to earn from selected merchandise if they were in the top 20% of districts across the nation.  Quota achievement across the division came in above the stretch goal, even with the distraction of realignment.

Other Factors

Obviously there are other factors that influence how quickly organizations move their employees through angst to engagement in situations that are stressful or uncertain.  While this paper does not expand upon those, two key factors that relate to incentives include:

  • Incentives should be short-term to allow for readily available goal progress particularly when dealing with uncertainty.  By providing short-term incentives and tracking to that, individuals will achieve a sense of progression towards goal which increases the perception of certainty in the program.
  • Communication is key.  Incentives cannot be viewed of as a bribe or they will be summarily dismissed.  The tone and narrative of the communication needs to be set up to have the most positive impact and create a separate interaction with the incentives that sets it as different from the cause of the uncertainty.

 


[i] Kübler-Ross, E. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, Simon & Schuster Ltd.

[ii] Kivetz, R. (2010) Rewards Hierarchy and Hedonic Luxury, presentation at BIW Forum

[iii] Jeffrey, S., (2006) Cash or Hawaii: The benefits of tangible non-monetary incentives, dissertation

[iv] Jeffrey, S., (2008) The benefits of tangible non-monetary incentives, Incentive Research Foundation

Changing Behavior – The Real Reason Motivation is Important

I’m a pragmatist.

This means that while theory is nice, what is really important is what happens in real life.

Most of the time when clients hire us, they hire us because we can impact the bottom line through changing the behavior of their employees.  Most of them don’t care about the theory behind that change no matter how wonderful it is (e.g., The Four Drive Theory of Employee Motivation) – what they want is results.

Which gets me to the point of this post – if we are really about changing behavior, why do we care about motivation?

Think about it – motivation in and of itself does not change anything.  You can be motivated and pumped up and rearing to go and still not accomplish anything.  I’ve been motivated for years to loose weight – yet up until a few months ago, I haven’t done anything about it.  In their book, “Change Anything” Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler (the guys from Vital Smart who wrote Crucial Conversations and Influencer) talk about how motivation is just one aspect that is required to achieve personal change.  Indeed, they talk about the fact that if all we have is motivation, no matter how much it is, we are most likely headed for failure.

To drive change we also need to have the skills, tools and knowledge necessary to achieve that change.  We need to have a social network that supports us in our change efforts and isn’t trying (actively or passively) to derail that change.   We also need an environment that helps us and doesn’t hinder us.  In other words, motivation by itself is not enough.

Yet…

Motivation is vital to this whole equation.  It is the impetus to get us off our butts and start doing something.  It is the pressure that is applied to us throughout the change process – the pressure to continue and not quit when it gets tough.  It is the internal drive and fortitude to keep going and keep pushing oneself.  Without motivation, no change would happen.

And that my friends, is the reason that motivation is important.

Stuck

The plan was to take this week off and use it to get some much needed down time and relaxation.  I was going to use it as a mini refreshabattical and recharge my batteries, get a fresh perspective on the upcoming months and years, and maybe even have some fun.

I had intended to go to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and actually get to spend time there without feeling rushed; take a few walks around Lake of the Isles or Lake Calhoun – maybe sit on a bench and just watch the people go by; spend a few hours in the garden; go to a daytime Twins game at the new stadium; sit back with a drink on the front porch in the afternoon and say hi to all my neighbors; go camping for a night with my four year old son; take some time to do some fun reading and writing…but then, real life comes crashing in.  A client  decides that they finally need to finish some compensation plan books that we started in January – and now there are changes that require significant rework.  Tenants call and complain about sash cords being broken – and need them fixed now (even though they’ve been that way for a few months).  Dissertation committee needs to have a draft of Chapter 5 – sooner than expected.

So much for my relaxing week.

I have to say that I started to feel pretty bummed out about this yesterday.  I had these expectations for this week and those expectations were definitely not being met (not even close to it).  Then I started to really think about it – was this week that bad?

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