Much as I love the words ‘please', ‘thankyou’ and ‘sorry’, there’s another word out there that can make a big difference.
It’s a principle of human behaviour that if you’re asking for a favour, you’ll be more successful if you give the reason why. If you’re asking people to do something they like to know why they should.
A psychologist Ellen Langer carried out a simple experiment on the power of ‘because’, back in the day. She asked if she could go ahead of a large queue of students waiting to use the xerox machine (before the digital age) to make 5 copies. When she offered no reason, 60% let her cut in. When she explained, “because I’m in a rush” people letting her cut in significantly increased to 94%
Now you could think that people had done her the favour since “being in a rush” was a valid reason but she tried a third time using ‘because’ but with a feeble reason: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” Once again 93% complied.
The researchers surmised it was not the reason as a whole, but the word ‘because’ that made the difference. This was true even when the reason was not very compelling. They theorised that people go on automatic behaviour as a form of short-cut, and that hearing the word “because” followed by a reason, no matter how feeble, increased the likelihood of compliance.
They repeated the experiment for a request to copy 20 pages rather than 5. In that case, only the “because I’m in a rush” reason resulted in a heightened figure.
So they summarised: “When the stakes are low people will engage in automatic behaviour. If your request is small, follow your request with the word "because" and give a reason - any reason. If the stakes are high, then there could be more resistance, but still not too much.”
This has got application for management, sales, trying to get your kids off their phones or trying to queue jump when you’re in a rush. (I wonder if “Now wash your hands” followed with “because x y z..” would work!)
This is the reason why we advocate developing ‘how to’s’ which not only explain or demonstrate the ‘one right way’ to do the task but also explain the reasons behind that process. So useful too when you're training new people in that task that they understand the 'because'. People respond much better knowing the reasons and benefits rather than just being told what to do. (And of course being involved in establishing the ‘one right way’ increases buy in even more.)
Now the question is, "Is ‘because’ still as powerful today; after all, the research was from 1978?"
Do one thing: Try the power of ‘because’ and see if it works either in a ‘safe’ environment or, if you’re feeling brave, try it next time you’re in the queue at a coffee shop….
I would love to hear how you get on. I’m going to experiment too just not sure how brave I’ll be!
Thanks for reading.
As featured here in HRD Connect
2020 will be a big year for new beginnings. How can leaders ensure their best people stay put?
A new decade can be a catalyst to kick-start your own journey to accomplish your life goals.
Members of your team who dream to be somewhere else and start their own business, move to the seaside or whatever they aspire to may well be more likely to up sticks this year, however those that do were never fully invested in your business anyway.
So, my question to you is, is the culture of your business a nurturing and positive culture, or is it stagnant and negative?
Do your team have a clear career progression plan, or do they drift along in the day-to-day seemingly ‘stuck’ in their job for life or until they leave? If it’s the later then worrying about the high turnover of your workforce increasing dramatically this year may be valid. If you have a low staff turnover and a happy team, you’re probably on the right track in terms of your business culture.
The real question here is: How do you improve your business culture?
If you want a culture of ownership and accountability, a positive and engaged workforce and lower staff turnover, ask yourself:
Hiring the right people
The ‘right’ people are those who share your values; who get what you are trying to achieve with your business; who see your vision and are inspired by it.
It’s important to immerse every new team member in your culture from day one. Tell them stories that demonstrate how people take ownership in your business, and how you empower and encourage everyone to make decisions and be accountable.
Show what your culture is through your actions: arriving on time, everyone greeting the new starter warmly, explaining your ‘rules of the game’ to them, and demonstrating your personal values through everything you say and do.
Engaging your people
A strong business culture relies on the whole team buying into it. If you’ve taken your time in hiring the right people you will have no problem in engaging them in your vision and goals for the business, and in your culture.
You have the right people, so involve them in finding solutions to problems, planning for the future, setting their own targets. If your current team is far from engaged, call a meeting and share your vision, help them to understand what they’re a part of and why they’re each so important. This isn’t an overnight thing, so keep sharing wins and positivity. Say thank you.
Develop simple, logical and repeatable systems, and train your team to follow them.
Help them to understand why consistency is so important. Make sure that they understand not only what is expected of them, but the high standard you expect them to perform to. Give them all of the information they need to do the job on their own, and then get out of their way and let them get on with it!
Monitoring and measuring performance
Engaging with great people is easy. But on occasion, you will get your hiring all wrong, and you’ll take on someone who just doesn’t fit your culture, your values or the ethos of your business and they will have to go. It may be that 2020 will be the catalyst for this anyway.
It’s always good to give people a second chance, and I’m personally very big on forgiveness, but when a second chance has been wasted, make sure that you have the performance management system in place to manage them out of the business if needs be.
The negative impact of someone who doesn’t fit is simply too great and, in a growing business with a small team, you simply can’t afford the consequences for your customers, your team and ultimately lost revenue and profit.
Have quarterly performance reviews, but at your annual performance review, build the following questions in:
With the members of your team who are the right fit and who are invested in your business and who can see themselves progressing, their answers to these questions will be detailed and show a will to progress up the ladder. They will ask for things from you.
You will also have your loyal ‘steady stayers’ who love their role and don’t wish to progress. This is ok too of course, some people aren’t naturally ambitious. However, still try to work out some sort of target and reward system for these team members and make them feel part of the journey.
Communicate Communicate Communicate
While your business is still growing, you are your business, you are the leader, and people will want to contact you personally – both your customers and the individuals in your team.
How you handle this will say a great deal about you and your business culture.
Communication is vital in any relationship. Your business simply can’t do without open and honest communication through channels that are clear and easy to use. If you want to build a culture of ownership and accountability it’s absolutely essential.
Marianne is the author of three books, and is currently working on her fourth, whilst regularly writing her blog, we hope you enjoy it :-)