Motivation | Behavior Matters! - Part 2

Category: Motivation Page 2 of 9

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

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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

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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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.

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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 (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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Behavioral Based Incentives: Do’s and Don’ts

Behavioral based incentives (incentives that recognize behaviors and actions instead of results) can be very powerful motivators inside of a company’s overall reward framework.  In many instances, behavioral based incentives are the only way that an organization can recognize employees for work that is vital to their success.  This includes times when outcomes cannot be effectively measured, where outcomes are not immediately contingent on individual contributions, and where there may be ethical or legal components that prohibit outcome based rewards.   Research also suggests that behavior based incentives can be advantageous to the organization in a number of ways including but not limited to: the ability to reward long-term behaviors that will not have a short-term payoff, improve fairness of recognition due to inequities in the market place, provide more focus on soft-skills necessary to long-term success, and help drive non-sales activities that are desirable by the organization (Anderson & Oliver, 1987 & 1994; Baker, Jensen and Murphy, 2012).

While behavior based incentives can be very powerful motivators, they also can have a negative impact on overall moral and motivation if not properly implemented.  There are a number of potential pitfalls with how

Some Potential Roadblocks:

Ambiguous measurement / Perception of fairness: Behavior based rewards often have ambiguous qualitative rating processes which can result in different interpretations of the same behavior or action.   In other words, one person might feel that they are exhibiting exactly the right behaviors while another would view those same behaviors as poor or unsatisfactory.  This dual interpretation can lead to individuals feeling as if they are being unfairly measured.  Research by Meyer has shown that 58 percent of employees rated their own performance as being in the top 10 percent of their peers and that 81 percent rated themselves in the top 20 percent while less than 2% of the people rated themselves below the median.

Lack of Trust: Individuals often state a lack of trust in both the organization and in their manager to effectively be able to assess their performance.  Often this is related to the perception of fairness listed above, but many times this is also the result of lack of understanding on the incentive process.

Short time horizon vs long term impact: Behavior based incentives are powerful motivators, in part, because individuals can be rewarded shortly after they exhibit the desired behavior, thus reinforcing that behavior.  This short-term focus however, does not always correlate to long-term success.  Thus behaviors often revert back to the status quo once the incentive is removed.

Gaming the system: as in any incentive scheme, behavior based incentives can be gamed.  Participants might act differently when they know they are being observed by their manager or otherwise try to create a false impression of their behaviors.

Some Best Practices:

Specificity: There needs to be a very clear definition of what is being measured and how it is being rated.  This specificity needs to be clearly understood by both the participant and the manager.  While this does not imply that there cannot be qualitative judgments made about an individual’s behavior, it does mean that the manner in which those judgments are determined needs to be transparent and agreed to in advance.  This requires significant investment prior to implementation to fully identify, define, communicate, train, and create tools to ensure full understanding.

Leaders should ensure that they have fully invested in the measurement process and communication of the behavior measures.  This includes:

  • Clear definitions around behavior expectations
  • Behavior examples that are used as illustrations for expected behaviors
  • Training campaign for managers on both “how to” measure as well as “how to” communicate their rating (provide feedback)
  • Communication campaign that clearly and succinctly highlights expectations and outcomes

If there are quantifiable elements (that are relevant and valid) that can be included as part of the overall measurement process, these should be included – even if they are used as back-up or reference components and not directly tied to the payout.

Measurement process calibrated across managers:  Key to success is the consistent rating of individuals across managers.  Top organizations ensure that there is training on how to measure, but also do periodic check-ins to ensure that the measurement process is calibrated (i.e., that managers are giving similar ratings for similar behaviors).  Note, this is not a calibration of ratings at the end of a quarter or period, but a review of processes and feedback for the managers for how they can be consistent to the norm.

Milestone check-ins with long-term bonuses:  Behavioral economics shows that individuals place higher value on relatively smaller rewards that are achieved in near term over larger rewards that require longer time horizons.  Motivational research shows that near term rewards can drive quick uptake on behaviors, but does not correlate to long term behavioral change.  However, incentives with longer time horizons have been shown to drive more long term behavior adoption.   Combining these factors, best companies have used a process whereby they have a long-term bonus kicker with short-term milestone check-ins.  Often, short-term check-ins are done as on-the-spot rewards given by managers from specific discretionary budgets for this purpose.

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.

It’s all about people

“ The bottom line in all of it is that, in life, it’s all about people.”  Colin Powell

I saw Colin Powell speak way back in the 1990’s and I can still remember one part of his speech.  He talked about how he had two dogs – a small dog and a big dog.  He stated that his small dog was the alpha and had no fear.  He stated that this was because the small dog’s only reference point was the big dog.  It looked at the other dog, saw that it was big and powerful, and assumed that it must be big and powerful itself.

It is often the same with people.  We tend to use the people around us as reference points on who we are.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that, “A person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57%  if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval.” (Christakis & Fowler, 2007).   The theory of self concept explores how we view ourselves – which is shaped by who we hang out with and who we surround ourselves with.  Jim Rohn states, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” 

So it’s all about the people you surround yourself with.

Do they have a positive outlook or a negative one?  Do they work hard or not?  Do they live life to the fullest or complain about what they are lacking?

So ask yourself this – who is in your circle of friends?

 

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