Employee Motivation | Behavior Matters! - Part 2

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Behavioral Change Consulting

We are exhibiting at the World at Work Total Rewards Conference in San Diego next week #TR16.  We are excited to showcase some of the services that we offer our clients.  One of those areas of expertise is helping companies understand and impact the behavior of their employees.  We help companies understand how their various total rewards and incentive programs drive both the motivation and behavior of their people and how those align with the company strategy.

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Behavior Matters!

Motivational hack – using our self-identity to drive behavior change

Each of us has a unique self-identity that both drives what we do and is influenced by what we do.  If we were able to hack into our self-identity, to leverage this influence, it would help provide one of the emotional drivers of change that we require.

As I’ve stated before, for most people, purposeful change needs to have an emotional foundation for it to be sustainable (see here, here).  The challenge we face is the fact that tapping into our emotions is very difficult and often a random process, thus making purposeful change harder.

Since our self-identity is innately tied to our emotional core, being able to use our self-identity to help motivate behavior change could be very powerful.

Self-identity overview

We often think of our self-identity as one cohesive overriding concept of who we are.

That’s a misconception.

Psychologists tend to think of people’s self-identity as being made up of a number of smaller self-schemas that are combined together.  These different schemas dominate our personality at different times depending on the circumstance, social group or environment that we find yourself in.  For instance, you might be the strong forceful decision maker when in family situations, but in social situations outside of the family, you might think of yourself as more of a follower.


Our self-identity is comprised of many self-schemas

One way to think about self-schemas is to imagine that they are miniature mind-maps that guide how we think of ourselves in a given situation.  This map helps us envision how we should behave and think. 

This map is the lens of how we see ourselves fitting into and responding to the world. It prescribes what we expect our actions and thoughts to be in that specific situation.

This identity lens also colors our world.  It can have a strong influence on what we see, what we feel, and what we experience.  It also impacts how we interpret and how we respond to what we see/feel/experience.

We have beliefs or self-schemas about whether we are fun or boring, outgoing or shy, combative or peaceful, brave or cowardly, and these schemas shape what we pay attention to, how we encode the information we receive, and what information we retrieve based on the situation (Wheeler, Petty, Bizer, 2005).

In this sense, schemas reflect our core values of who we are and how we fit in the world.

Horowitz (1998) describes it as follows: “Self-schemas include scripts, future intentions and expectations about self-realization, and core values. These self-schemas function as cognitive maps; simplifying details into attitudes…”

Schemas are also temporal in nature which means that we can think of ourselves as behaving and thinking differently based on the timeframe we imagine ourselves in – i.e., whether we are thinking of ourselves in the past, present or future tense.

Therefore, we can visualize our future self as being different than what we are today. Sometimes this future self is labelled our “possible self” or our “ideal self” which is appropriate.  The temporal nature of our self-schemas play an important role in how we plan out our lives and make choices for the future.

Schemas and change

So how does this impact our self-change initiatives?

First, we can think about how well our behaviors match with the schemas we hold of ourselves.  If our behaviors fit with that vision of who we are, those behaviors are “congruent”; if they do not align with that vision, they are “incongruent.”

change - congruent self

Congruent Behavior – reinforces and is reinforced by self-schema

change - incongruent self

Incongruent Behavior – creates angst to stop behavior or reassess self-schema

For instance, if I think of myself as “a walker”, I will have a stronger motivational pull to choose to walk when I have an option between walking or driving (or other mode of transportation).   Walking would be congruent with my vision of myself.  However, if I find myself sitting on the couch, vegging out in front of the T.V., that would be an incongruent behavior that would exert a sense of cognitive angst at not living up to my self-schema and would push me to get up and go for a walk around the block. The more congruent the new change behavior is, the stronger the motivational pull to engage in that behavior.  Conversely, the more incongruent the behavior, the stronger the pull is to stop that behavior in order to get back in alignment. 

This is the self-regulation part of schemas and it works for however we envision ourselves.

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Self Identity – congruent 0r incongruent

Below is a quick scribe video that highlights what happens when your self-identity is congruent or incongruent.

http://sho.co/embed/17FIU“>See Video


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

Plotting progress

Janelle and her 10,000 Step Tracking Chart


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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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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Habit vs Routine

12353863_mAs I’ve been researching how people purposefully change, I’ve been focused on trying to understand their habits.  Habits, are those actions where we have a trigger or cue, engage in a behavior or action, and are rewarded for that behavior, thus establishing a stronger connection and the response becomes automatic.

Habits have an element of craving associated with them.  The habit behavior satisfies that craving.  This is why habits are such powerful drivers of behavior.

What is really powerful about habits (for those of us who think about these things) is that we often don’t even realize that they are working on us.

They act at a subconscious level.

Take salt for an example.  By most measures, Americans intake more salt than our bodies require – in some instances, way more.  We don’t really need to add salt to most of our meals; particularly to those meals that are processed or purchased at a restaurant.   Yet, many of us are in the habit of asking “please pass the salt” before we even taste our food.  The habit of putting salt on our food has become automatic and we don’t even realize that we are doing it.

It is this unconscious power that is so enticing when we are thinking about how people change.  If we can harness these habits and steer them in the right direction, then our change efforts are significantly more likely to be achieved.  If we are doing the right behaviors, whether that be exercising, brushing our teeth, meditating, journaling our thoughts or any number of other things, we are more likely to be successful.

The problem is that habits for behaviors that take more effort and focus are not as easy to form – and in some instances, may never be able to be formed.

That is where routines come into play.

Routines are those activities that we do regularly – again, often preceded by a cue.  The difference from habits is that routines never get to that subconscious level.  We always need to consciously focus on our routines.

In my work on purposeful change, I had not focused on routines as much as habits.  Or I conflated the two – combining them into one larger concept.

Routines are the hard stuff that we all know have to be done – but we often failed at.

Routines are getting up at 5:30 AM to get to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Routines are the dedicating the first hour of work to writing your book.  Routines are practicing your piano for 30 minutes every day.

We don’t automatically do these things.

We have to work at routines.  There is no subconscious response to a cue – instead, there is a need to focus on doing them.  The cue might trigger our thought process, but we actually have to make a conscious decision to say “yes” to starting the behavior.

Thus in my examination of what makes purposeful change more likely, I had not put too much thought into these.  Yes, routines were important, but we already knew that.  They weren’t a “hack” that would make change easier.  They were the hard work that you had to do.

These were the plans that we put in place to make a change.  These were the commitments that we would make – like I’m going to go to the gym three times a week or I’m going to write for an hour each day to get my book done.

Routines were the mundane, boring stuff.

But now I’m thinking that was too short-sighted.  That real change happens when you not only harness your habits but when you ratchet-up your routines.

One piece of that ratcheting is to understand how you can make routines more like habits or at least think about them like habits.

How do we get the “craving” to do a routine such that it overcomes any of the excuses we would typically find to “not do” the behavior.

Behavioral economics tells us that we make different decisions for our “future self” than we do for our “present self.”  We make plans or believe that our “future self” will eat the salad with the fat free dressing – but when dinner time comes, our “present self” is tempted by the desire to have the tasty 1/2 lb bacon and blue cheese burger (yum!).  Or the “future self” of the morning will get up early to go for a run, but the “present self” in the morning hits the snooze for another 10 minutes of sleep (3x).

We need to understand how to make that “present self” temptation pale in comparison to the craving of the routine.  

This is the “hack” that I think we need.

Purposeful change happens best when we can circle the wagons and get all of our resources working together to facilitate that change.  We know that habits are great – when we can tap into them.  We know social support is key.  That enabling our environment can help (see here for more information on the 6-steps to making change happen)

Routines are also important and we need to become better at making sure that we stick with them and that they become more habit like.  That they are not those actions that we detest, but ones that help satisfy a craving that we have.

Over the next couple of months, I will be focusing on this.  If you have  stories about how you have made routines work for you – please let me know.  I would love to find out what is possible.

Leave a response – I would love to hear from you!

Welcome Ben Granlund!


I am very excited to introduce Ben Granlund as our new Vice President of Communications.  Ben has been working with us as a strategic partner for over 6 years and finally caved to my request that he join us full time.

He brings a wealth of knowledge and skill to our work.  Ben has a background in architecture and design and has worked a wide spectrum of projects both nationally and globally.  Using his design background, he takes a critical look at how we merge design and behavioral science.  He enjoys the challenge of creating custom solutions to the issues that our clients face and seeing those projects come to life.

Ben will primarily be responsible for growing the communication side of our business and ensuring that we are staying cutting edge in the delivery of our behavior based communications.

Ben is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.  He enjoys skiing, mountain biking, traveling as much as possible and spontaneous adventures with his wife.

Please join me in welcoming Ben to the Lantern Group team!


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