Archive for month: January, 2012

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Procedure!

Categories: BMT Courses, Employee EngagementAuthor:

Near the end of the courses we teach in organizations we encourage the attendees to find and complete a small performance improvement project.  Generally, people are pretty happy to have an opportunity to improve some aspect of their work environment and take this assignment on with enthusiasm.  We have seen some absolutely wonderful, high impact projects come from this.  The course attendees feel reinforced by their success as well as the encouragement they receive from their peers and bosses.  In other words, we have at least temporarily created a work environment where people want to do projects that add value to the workplace.

Yet, it never fails that senior leaders, hoping to maintain this momentum, decide that the best course of action is to create a standard procedure for doing projects.  Because nothing says, “let’s give this all we can!” like an 8-page procedure.

To illustrate why this won’t work, let me provide an example from one of our client sites.  A woman who recently took my course decided her project would be reducing unnecessary and redundant paperwork and was going through each set of paperwork on the site and creating a leaner, and more useful solution.  She had eliminated a lot of stuff already, saving them time and money, and she was everyone’s hero for doing so.  After all, no one wants to enter in the same expense three times.  One of the site leaders said that they had never seen her so motivated.  I would hate to see that spark of enthusiasm squashed by trying to make her fit what she was doing to step-by-step a procedure.

Procedures don’t motivate people, consequences do.

They didn’t need a procedure, they needed champions who would continue to encourage and support their efforts.  They needed a little time each week to work on making improvements.  They needed to create a community of people at their workplace who were highly committed to behavioral science and continued to talk and learn about it after I left.

A lot of times, people say, “that sounds too hard, wouldn’t a procedure be easier”.  It is hard to sustain BMT or any large-scale initiative, but it’s the only way to create a lasting shift in the culture of your organization.  Writing a procedure is easier, and it is also easy to file it away and never look at it again.

It’s what your people do and say everyday that matters, no matter what is written in your procedures.

Be Careful What You Reinforce

Categories: BMT Courses, FeedbackAuthor:

In our courses, we often say, “punish the behavior, not the person.”

So, instead of saying, “Jim, you are such a downer,” you could say, “Jim, whenever I bring you a new idea, you tend to list all of the reasons it won’t work rather than thinking about what value it could bring and ways it could work.  It makes me not want to bring you ideas.”

The first one sounds like a trait that can’t be changed and such a sweeping statement might produce a serious blow to the ego and maybe even retaliation.  The second one, while still probably difficult to hear, describes a behavior, the consequence of that behavior, and what you’d like to see instead.  It’s actionable and less likely to make Jim want to throw his coke in your face.

However, I have rarely, until recently, heard people articulate that we should be careful to reinforce behavior, not people.  Some recent research highlights why it’s important.

Researcher Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Columbia University conducted a study with children who completed IQ tests and praised one group for their intelligence and the other group for their hard work.  When asked if, for the next problem set, the kids would prefer an easy or hard test, most of those praised for their intelligence chose the easy test and most of those praised for their effort chose the hard test.

Why would this be?  The kids praised for their intelligence may have wanted to continue to appear capable while those praised for their hard work may have wanted to continue to demonstrate how hard they work.

When given another round of tests that were equally as hard as the first test, those praised for effort improved and those praised for smarts got worse.  You can read more about this study here:

Think about this study the next time you give a performance review and ask yourself if you are reinforcing or punishing behaviors or traits.

Frame Your Feedback To Increase Impact

Categories: Feedback, One on One CoachingAuthor:

When delivering feedback that may be tough to hear or that you really want someone to listen to and follow, it can be helpful to frame your feedback.  In other words, the goal is to create an environment where the person knows the piece of feedback you are about to deliver is important and requires action.  Creating dialog about the feedback you will deliver can increase the impact of that feedback.

For example, you could ask questions that force the person to agree that they want to hear the feedback.  This includes questions like, “Are you sure you want to hear this?”,  “Are you sure you are really ready for it?”, “Is there any reason I should be holding back the feedback I have for you?”  This creates demand-pull and forces the other person to request the feedback.

Another strategy is to connect disagreeing with the feedback to harming your relationship.  I would only suggest that you use this strategy if the other person not listening and responding to your feedback would indeed harm how you feel about them.  To do this, you could say, “I am not sure if our relationship can withstand this feedback I am about to give but I think it is so essential to your performance that I am going to give it to you anyway.”

You could also ask the person to write down the feedback you are about to give because it is that important.  If it is unusual for you to suggest writing something down, than this small request for increased effort around the feedback will make it seem more valuable.  Asking someone to write the feedback down has the added benefit of creating a record.

Another way to create some demand-pull around feedback is to overload the person with positive feedback.  Once you have gotten to about 10 pieces of positive feedback, most people will ask if there is anything they can do better.

There are probably other ways to create some demand-pull around the feedback you are planning to deliver.  If it’s really important, than it’s worth taking the time to think about how you will deliver it to produce maximum impact.

What do you do to frame your feedback?