Make what's not... possible!
By Dan Gregory & Kieran Flanagan
Originally published by CEO Magazine
Today leaders are largely defined by two characteristics: an aptitude for making hard decisions; for reading situations and demonstrating credible judgment whilst amplifying certainty, and secondly, an ability to influence others; to persuade, to inspire and to shift hearts and minds.
Both of these characteristics are informed by a leader’s capacity for insight, their understanding of what drives human behavior.
For years, much of what has informed our knowledge of human behavior has been based on an acceptance of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – like the food pyramid, Maslow’s triangle depicting humanity’s rise from base needs through our evolution to things like self-actualization and meaning.
And that’s where we human beings like to see ourselves – highly evolved and self-actualized.
You may even be reading this article and thinking, “But Dan and Kieran, I am self-actualized. I grew a mustache to raise money for charity; I’ve given money to save animals that aren’t even that cute and guys… I own a yoga mat!!! I’m totes self-actualized.”
Please understand that our goal here is not to deny your better angels (nor ours) but simply to assert that they are not always, or indeed very often, in the driver’s seat when it comes to human behavior.
Of course, it’s nice to think of ourselves as being highly evolved and to proudly proclaim the same is true of our team, our customers and our communities.
But consider that, in the roughest sense, the mathematical concept of average points to half of our workforce being below average competence at what they do, that half our customers are less honest than average and that fifty percent of our communities are more disinterested than the arithmetic mean. Which is not to say that they’re hopeless, simply less ideal in their behavior than most of us would like.
Add to this is the fact that, according to Gallup’s Global Workforce Engagement Study, at least 50% of the workforce is not engaged in what they do, with 20% actively disengaged and you begin to see why we spend a little more time at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid than we would like to admit.
The larger your organization and the more people in your customer base, the closer these numbers come to being true of your community.
So what’s the solution? Bring in a motivational speaker to ‘rev them up’ with a power move and a stirring story of victory over adversity? Or perhaps you’re more into the stick than the carrot and think it’s time to put some people on notice.
The truth is, these numbers will always be at these levels. The question therefore isn’t, “How do I get my people to change in order to achieve the results we need?” it should be, “How do I get my people to deliver these results even if they don’t change?”
In other words, how do we get a largely disengaged workforce of varying levels of competence to behave as if they’re not?
Welcome to the world of Behavior Design.
It starts by working with the current of human nature rather than fighting it. This begins with realizing that our survival brain still drives most of our decision-making (at least initially), and being honest enough to admit our survival brain is selfish, scared and stupid.
That means leaders and executives (and those who want to lead) need to:
# ThinkSelfish – in other words, frame your instructions and goals in terms of what’s in it for them. The more they see your interests as linked to theirs, the greater their engagement.
# ThinkScared – all of us filter the world in terms of risk and opportunity, so ensure that your people see more opportunity in the direction of your goals and greater risk in where they are right now.
# ThinkStupid – make things easy, make things simple, but perhaps more importantly, make it hard not too. The more you make ideal behaviors accessible and less than ideal behaviors difficult, the greater your influence and the more persuasive your leadership.Read More
One of the advantages of growing up on a huge island in the South Pacific – Terra Australis – is that you learn to be a little more ocean savvy than much of the rest of the world. Swimming in the ocean is an entirely different skill to swimming in a pool.
There are two things you learn pretty quickly:
- If you get caught up in a rip tide – swim with the current, and
- Always swim next to a group of British backpackers, because while you probably can’t out swim a shark… maybe you don’t always have to…
Of course, the first point is one that we tend to struggle with, both in the water and in our daily lives. It seems counter-intuitive to swim with a current when your goal is often in another direction altogether. But this turns out to be key to our survival. We don’t tire so easily from fighting a force we’re just not strong enough to beat and using the current actually helps us swim more effectively and swiftly.
So it is with human behavior. We try to cajole ourselves into submission, berate ourselves for not being more disciplined and set up systems that drive us towards more and more unnatural behavior.
The key, of course, is to understand what currents already exist in our behavior and those of our staff and customers and work with them. Each of us is an individual and to expect homogenous behavior is to set yourself up for disappointment and ultimately to miss some of the richness of humanity.
When trying to create change, get clear about what behavioral currents you’re trying to swim against and instead, factor these into your strategy. Not a morning person? Build a strategy around evening activity. Your team isn’t collaborating well? Show them what’s in it for them as individuals – both positive and negative. Your customers are set in their ways? Demonstrate how your new offering is very much like something they’ve loved for years.
We can’t always beat the current, but used well, it can actually get us to where we want to be more quickly
DAN GREGORY & KIERAN FLANAGANRead More
Leaders and management consultants often try to invoke a spirit of mental toughness in their employees and audiences. And certainly, a measure of persistence and resilience is a good thing and necessary for growth and confidence.
What often gets overlooked however, is the idea of mental flexibility.
Mental toughness allows you to pick yourself up after running into a brick wall and run at the wall again without any loss of enthusiasm.
Mental flexibility however, allows you to look for a door, or a window, or a way under or around the wall, or to build a ladder, or to use a bulldozer…etc…etc…
Too often we point to a lack of motivation as the reason for failure, when it’s just as likely to be a lack of creativity.
DAN GREGORY & KIERAN FLANAGANRead More
Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” is an extraordinary book that explores how meaning and purpose can drive human beings to lift their game and amplify buy in well beyond simple incentive based motivation.
And this is certainly evident in many of the extraordinary businesses and social causes we see around us – certainly, it’s what drives us at The Impossible Institute to #makewhatsnotpossible.
However, where this theory can become undone, and why you might like to consider starting with ‘What’s In It For Me?’ lies in the assertion that this is a motivator for all workers in all manner of jobs. Which isn’t necessarily the case.
An entrepreneur building a business in an emerging part of the economy is far more connected to the meaning in their work than say someone sitting in a cubicle-based call center pasting on a fake smile and droning, “Good morning, you’ve called ‘Faceless Corporation’, my name is Compromise, how may I pretend to care for you today?”
Now you might suggest that the above script is laced with cynicism and doesn’t reflect the level of enthusiasm your employees possess, but consider that Gallup Research has revealed that 50% of workers are not engaged in their jobs and a massive 20% HATE THEIR JOBS. And these are just the respondents willing to be honest.
What makes this worse is, these are the good statistics. In some economies, workplace disengagement is far, far worse. But, sure, go ahead and tell your people about how much meaning you provide for their lives… but remember, a little less than half are actually listening.
The truth is, some people do find meaning in their work, but others find meaning in other parts of their lives – their families, their hobbies, in the sports teams they coach on weekends. And for many of the latter, the 9 to 5 is just a job!
One of the issues we face when we start with WHY is that it’s typically OUR WHY. The meaning we seek to offer may not align with the meaning they’re seeking. We do the same in sales, talking about features and benefits of a product before we really understand what’s driving the people we’re wanting to sell to.
So before you begin to share your inspirational WHY (which, by the way, is incredibly important), take a moment to consider your audience. Maybe their aspirations are different to your own.
And here’s the rub, the more you align your WHY with a little of their WIIFM? the more effective and influential you’ll be.
DAN GREGORY & KIERAN FLANAGANRead More
Too often in our attempts to drive change in our organisations, our selves or our communities, or in an attempt to lift the performance of our teams, we tend to resort to things like discipline and motivation.
The problem is, both discipline and motivation, whilst useful, are only ever meant to be used in short bursts to effect short term change.
As a result, when these short term measures fail to create the kind of long lasting change we want, we blame the human beings involved (even ourselves) rather than the strategies we’ve chosen.
In the long term, to drive real change and engagement, Design beats Discipline!
Consider this example – Dan has been trying to spend more time at home – he does a lot of hours at the office. But no matter how motivated Dan is to get home, or how disciplined he was in turning off his computer and hitting the road, it never seems to make a difference.
So we decided to do the math:
Here’s the issue: Dan has a 1 hour commute to work and an hour drive home at the end of the day. That’s an extra 10 hours a week – or one long work day a week.
This equates to 52 of those days a year which, with weekends factored in, creates an annual total of an extra 2 months a year away from home!!!
Motivation won’t solve that problem.
Discipline can’t solve that problem.
It’s a design failure.
If Dan applied no further motivation or discipline to his day and simply moved the office half an hour closer to his home, or moved where he lived a half an hour closer to where he worked, he would automatically and virtually effortlessly get an extra month a year at home.
So consider where you’re applying discipline where design would be more appropriate. The key is in how long you need the change to remain in effect. In the long run, design always trumps discipline.
DAN GREGORY & KIERAN FLANAGANRead More
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