How to Motivate Employees with Pseudo-Set Framing


“Things occur in three’s and seven’s.”  This phrase rings in my ears when I train my pup to point and hold birds.  I first heard the phrase while attending famed-trainer, Delmar Smith’s workshop for amateur dog trainers.

Successful dog training requires mind-numbing, repetitive activities.  To stay focused, I set targets of completing three sets of seven’s; sometimes I vary it to seven sets of three’s.

Many years later, I read in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology” that researchers Kate Barasz and others report that people have an irrational need to complete “sets” of things. Their experiments show that pseudo-set framing (describing things as groups) significantly improves results.

Rather than asking employees to perform the same task hundreds of time during a work day, consider breaking the tasks into groups of ten’s or twenty’s.

You seek a twelve percent improvement in some performance metric; break the request into four phases with each phase representing three percent.  If your team is in tenth place, challenge them to improve three places.  Then ask for three more.

How do you eat the whole elephant?  Take three bites at the time.  Think “sweet sixteen,” “six pack,” “two for the price of one,” “top ten,” “one dozen,” “five, ten, fifteen . . .”

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