Use Nudges to Influence Reluctant Responders


“I want to tell you a success story.  I became frustrated with an employee in another department.  I had to complete a monthly report which required information from the employee.  Often, the information was late or incomplete—frequently, both.”

“What did you do?”

“I talked with my boss, the employee, and the employee’s boss.  (I also complained to my spouse, in-laws and kids.)  All were supportive and the employee agreed to do better and did—but improvement was short-lived.”

“OK, what did you do next?”

“I heard a lecture on the value of professional nagging.  So I began sending the employee frequent, reminder texts and voice messages. Occasionally, I just dropped by to visit.  I was always pleasant and offered to help.  The employee has become much more responsive, and I think we actually get along better.”

Professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, in their book NUDGE, describe how we can influence others’ behavior by gently reminding them of choices.  Managers at Google use nudges to help their employees eat healthier foods, invest better and improve teamwork.

Nudges are not shoves.  They are not demands.  Nudges high-light choices and may take the form of texts, posters, emails, signs, voice mails, drop-ins, seat-belt dinging and other forms of professional nagging.

 

When The Pronoun “I” May Be More Effective Than “We”


While jointly writing checks to pay bills, one party says to another, “We need more stamps.”  While the first party may simply be acknowledging a need, he/she is more likely, by implication, making a request of the second party to buy stamps.  Communication by implication is fraught with risks.

Consider these implied messages from mangers to employees.

“We need to be more responsive to clients.”

“We need to improve our on-time deliveries.”

“We need to reduce overtime.”

In each of these examples, the person hearing “we,” may not see the need to do anything differently because the manager has retained co-ownership of the issue.  Consider making the requests with the pronoun “I.”

“I would like for you to be more responsive to our clients.”

“I want you to improve your on-time deliveries.”

“I would like for you to reduce overtime in your department.”

By using the pronoun “I,” the manager owns the expectation and more clearly assigns the responsibility for achieving the expectation to the employee.

I understand the importance of teamwork and I get “there is no “I” in team.  I also believe that leaders who use the pronoun “I” more clearly identify their expectations.  And they do so without diminishing teamwork.

 

This May Not Work for You, but . . .


Felix said to his manager, “I have an upset customer who claims we should be responsible for repairing a product still under warranty.  However, I think the customer caused the damage by improperly servicing the equipment.”

After listening further, Felix’s manager gave him a specific checklist of actions to take with the customer.

Felix approached the customer and began working through his manager’s suggestions.  The customer remained disappointed and later wrote a nasty complaint on social media.

Later, the manager asked Felix, “Why didn’t you get that issue resolved the way that I told you to?”

Felix responded, “I did exactly what you said. He just wouldn’t listen.”

I recall asking a friend how to get a stubborn horse to take the bit.  My friend said, “Now, this may not work for you but this is how I do it.”  Then he successfully performed the feat while I watched.

Of course, the next day as I tried to execute my friend’s methods, the horse resumed his bad behaviors.  However, I knew that I still owned the issue and did not consider my friend accountable.

Felix’s manager, I believe, should have put qualifiers on his suggestions.  Felix would know that, although the manager offered advice, the customer issue was still his to resolve.

Do You Create a Jekyll and Hyde Issue at Work?


Lucius said, “My new manager is very friendly.  He’s always asking about my kids and he likes to talk golf.  I thought we had a good relationship.”

Lucius continued, “Yesterday, the boss got upset because he thought I had not done enough to help to a younger employee.  I tried to help the new guy but he ignored my advice.”

To Lucius, the manager was unpredictable because he seemed to turn from “nice guy friend” to “jerk boss.”  Author Bruce Tulgan calls this the “Jekyll and Hyde” problem.

The Jekyll and Hyde issue emerges when managers build relationships based on sharing personal matters at work.  Eventually, a manager will need to have an awkward conversation about a work problem.  Employees are surprised because they see the relationship flipping from boss-friend to corrective-parent.

Managers, Tulgan believes, should save most of their personal talk for after work, social events and other encounters.  At work, the boss’s role is to keep people laser-focused on quality, deadlines, customers, safety.  This requires constant work talk.

Effective leaders strive to create trust and rapport with employees by mature discussions about what is going well and what needs improving.  For most, there would not even be a relationship were no for the work.

 

If You Chase Two Rabbits, You Will Not Catch Either One


After a manager presented the departments’ ten objectives for the upcoming quarter, a supervisor asked, “Which are the most important?”

“All are important,” the manager replied.  “We have to achieve all of them.”

Another employee said, “Sometimes, we get surprises and it may not be possible to achieve everything.”

“Yes,” added another, “and some are in conflict.  When there is a quality issue, do I fix the glitch and miss the on-time; or do I ship on-time, knowing the product may be returned?”

The manager stated, “I expect you to make every effort to achieve all of the objectives.”

The manager’s comment shut down the discussion but did not address the issue.  No one believes all of the objectives are equally important.  To paraphrase a quote from George Orwell’s novel, ANIMAL FARM, “All of the objectives of the department are equal but some of the objectives are more equal than others.”

For an agricultural promotion, a state representative said, “We are Number One in egg production but not Number One in chicken production.  You can’t be Number One in both of those.”

We achieve great things by laser-firing our efforts toward being good at one thing at the time.  “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one,” states an old proverb.

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 . . .”

How to Respond When Squeezed Between Boss and Employee Requests


Top managers, in different organizations, discussed sensitive issues–combining departments, potential layoffs, prospective mergers–with their direct reports. All top managers requested that they “keep this in the room for now.”

In every case, rumors surfaced and employees questioned their immediate managers who made responses like:

“Where did you hear that?”

“I’m not at liberty to talk about that.”

“I’ll let you know something when I know something.”

“If I were you, I’d just do my job and not worry about rumors.”

These responses, and other similar ones, do two things. One, mid-managers maintain loyalty to their bosses by “keeping the information in the room.” Two, although unintended, the responses actively encourage employees to believe the rumors and pass along grossly exaggerated versions.

Unfortunately, managers too often find themselves squeezed between their bosses’ requests and employees’ questions. While it is not always possible, I suggest that managers strive to honor their bosses’ while maintaining employee confidences.

For example, “While I do not have an answer for you at this point, I want you to know that we are seeking decisions that best serve our customers while valuing our employees.”