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.
In my business I often come across managers with one thing in common; they are flying by the seat of their pants! People who are ‘accidental managers’. You know, the great team member who is plucked from their team and given a management role or the talented business owner who finds themselves managing people as their business grows. They have little or no training or development and rely on what they’ve learned along the way from managers around them, good or bad. And if you need a great management role model, we can learn some really crucial lessons from Gareth, and his signature waistcoat.*
Lesson 1 - Nurture your Culture
Many clients say to me, ‘I really want to improve the culture of my business. I want to get it right.’ So what can we learn from Gareth? First of all, he had a really clear idea of what he wanted the culture of Team England to be. The thing with culture is that it starts with values; it starts with the values of the person at the top. Gareth clearly is a man who has strong opinions, strong values, a really clear idea of how he wants to operate. What I think he did brilliantly was choose people for his team who shared those values. I don't think it's any mistake that certain people were not brought into the England setup, people who maybe had massive egos, big superstar baggage or people for whom it was ‘all about them.’
Just look at the individuals within that team and how well he brought them together. Regardless of what team they came from, he managed to bring in those people who shared his values, who bought into the idea that ‘we are one team,' and he did a fantastic job of building that culture.
He talks about the England DNA. If you think about the last 20 plus years, the England DNA has been big egos; it's been superstars; its been cliques, it’s not been about pride in wearing the England shirt. Look how many people have pulled out of playing for England, have not seen it as a real privilege. They've seen it as a chore, and he, in a very short space of time, has been able to turn that around.
The fact that he'd raised a few of these guys from a very young age as manager of the England under-21s, proves there’s an awful lot to be said for growing your own talent - bring in the attitude and then develop the skill.
Obviously, with football you have to have natural talent, but attitude is so, so important. In a lot of situations it's not the superstars who win, it's the collective, it's the team. Look at Croatia - great example. Look at England - great example. We got all the way to the semi-finals, and Argentina with Lionel Messi went out. Portugal with Ronaldo went out. The collective, bringing together a great team, will always win, and Gareth Southgate as the manager was responsible for that.
So great first lesson, nurture the culture you want to build. Think about your values; it starts with values, then bringing in people who share those values.
Lesson 2 - Build Unity
Within the England setup, there was no us and them. There was no ‘the staff and the players’. That was really clear from what you saw on TV, how they were with the physios and the psychologist and with Gareth himself. Although a few of them did slip into calling him ‘Gaffer’ they mostly called him Gareth, which was just unheard of in the past. There was no us and them. Absolutely, they were one.
Gareth Southgate was great as a manager in sharing any praise. It was always, ‘We, the team,’ ‘We, the squad,’ ‘We, the entire group of staff and players.’ And taking responsibility for any blame, ‘Yeah, I'm responsible. I'm the manager.’ I absolutely loved that he was brilliant at sharing praise and shouldering blame.
He was also very good at supporting those who were having a hard time. Take Raheem Sterling, the England scapegoat; Gareth was great at protecting him and keeping his confidence high. Not just because he recognised that Raheem was so crucial to the team effort, but also just because this was in line with his values, that he would look after the team. He would keep that person feeling confident and part of the team.
So the second lesson is unity. Make your business one team.
Lesson three - Develop Relationships
As a manager, you need to build great relationships, and Gareth did just that with his competitors.
When you saw him going around at the end of each match they played, he seemed genuine in his congratulations to the other players, to the other staff, made a really big point of shaking hands with everybody. Perhaps that’s easy when you’ve won, but even in defeat, when it must have been absolutely killing him when they lost to Croatia, you saw him going around to every single member of their team and to the staff, hugging them, congratulating them.
Then going to his own team to just remind them how far they'd come and how well they’d done. Building relationships was really important, just as he did with the managers of the players he brought into the England squad. He didn't antagonise them in the old ‘club versus country’ way, but was just very firm, fair, and friendly with everybody that he had dealings with.
So the third lesson is about building relationships.
Lesson 4 - Inspire and Motivate
One of the common questions I get asked by people on our Management Development Programme is, ’What's the difference between a manager and leader?’
There'll be books written on how managers are the logistic experts, they just keep things ticking along. A big part of a management role is making sure that the attention to detail is there, that mistakes aren’t made and if they are, that they're learned from and so on.
But these days in any business, you have to be a leader as well. You have to inspire and motivate the team, and quiet as his media persona was, our Gareth was clearly a very inspiring and motivating guy. He didn't immediately crack the whip. When he first met with the squad, he took them into a room and shared his vision of what it was like to be an England player and how privileged they were to wear the three lions shirt.
That is something I find that a lot of managers and business owners miss. They miss sharing their vision. ‘Where is this all headed? Where are we all going together as a team and why?’ He inspired and motivated them so well.
He clearly showed them how much he believed in them, and as a result, they believed in themselves. Every interview there was no talk of, ‘Oh, well, crikey. If we get to the quarterfinals, we'll be lucky. We'll have overachieved.’ No. ‘We're going to win this. We're going to win this.’ That's what inspired the country. It's coming home. He got those players to believe that they could win it, that they really could win it.
He also treated them like adults. Sometimes, particularly new/young managers feel their role is to be the boss, to talk at people, to tell them what to do. When you have adults or adult conversations with people in your team, when you give them the training and development and support that they need, when you really believe in them and remember that you have a responsibility to help them to fulfil their potential, that's when you get your team to take ownership. That's when people start to step up and go, ‘All right. I'm responsible for this. This is my job.’ And you saw that right through the tournament with England. The team were taking ownership. The team were taking responsibility, and they were acting like adults.
Fourth lesson - look to inspire and motivate your team to build ownership and belief.
Lesson Five - Have fun!
It became obvious as the tournament progressed that the team were enjoying themselves. They had an enormous amount of fun, which was something, again, that Gareth Southgate encouraged. He wanted them to enjoy themselves.
We are lucky with what we do, a lot of us, and why not have fun doing it? Why not encourage our teams to have fun? People are at work for so many hours of the day, it's part of our responsibility as managers to help people enjoy it, not to dread coming into work and be managed by us.
Fifth lesson- create an enjoyable workplace. This goes back to culture and values as well.
Lesson 6 - Learn, learn, and then learn some more!
The final thing that I really wanted to bring up as a lesson from Gareth was his desire to learn, his desire to be the best possible manager he could be. Look how he went and studied other really successful people, both in sport and in industry. He really wanted to learn how the most successful teams operate, and he left no stone unturned. He will continue to learn. He'll have already learned lessons from this tournament. He'll already be preparing for the next because he wants to be the best he can be.
That's really what I want for each of you. I want you to be the best possible people managers that you can be. So think about the lessons from Gareth. Think about your values and your culture. Think about how you can create unity in your team. Think about the development and support that you're giving not to the team as a whole, not just to the stars, but to every single individual, however minor their role is in the team.
Think about the relationships you're building and how they will help you to be a better manager. Think about how much you're inspiring and motivating the team who work with you, and then think about how you're going to become a better manager, what you need to do, the skills you need to develop, where you can learn those lessons that you need to learn to keep improving, keep developing, and be the best manager that you can be.
*waistcoat optional ;)
Do two things: think about how you need to develop as a manager then think about the areas you need help.
We run a highly successful online Managers' Development Programme; the next is starting in August. To find out more, click here
‘I'm only two modules in, but I've already grown in confidence in leading my team and I'm no longer nervous around giving them constructive feedback. Thank you to Marianne for her wisdom and expertise!’ - Maddy Kelly, Boda Skins
‘Since starting this programme, my team’s productivity and progress is going up, consistently, month on month. And not just by a few percent! It’s significant. I’ve got my team into a really good position. Everybody knows what’s expected of them. Everyone is looking at their performance, and looking at their goals. I’ve shared my knowledge with other team leaders in the business, and they are starting to implement change in such a positive way throughout the whole company.
On a personal level, I’ve gained confidence, I’ve become more direct and clear with my expectations. I feel like a manager now, and I can also manage upwards to my boss effectively.’ - Ryn Moser - Chief Language Officer, Supertext
How do you split your time between your superstars, your under-performers and your steady, reliable team members?
I’ve spent some time this week working with a couple of my private clients, talking to their teams, individually, one-to-one to discover:
The first was a revisit, to check the progress that we’ve made and also address any new or remaining niggles. The other was a first visit – new client, new team, many of the same challenges.
What I learned from the new team will help me to help them over the next 12 months. It’s a great exercise for a business to do. The thing I love most about it is that you get to talk to both the old-timers, people who have been around a few years and also the newbies – team members who’ve been around less than 6 months.
Quite often, you’ll hear people say, ‘Oh, you won’t get anything useful from new people, they’ve not been here long enough to know how things work’. But that’s actually the point – you get their fresh view on what has become the wallpaper to everybody else. You know, when you walk into a new house sometimes and you’ve got a wall that you need to sort out because it looks hideous and then you find you’ve been living in the house two years and that wall still looks exactly as hideous but you’ve just stopped seeing it? New people spot things that the longer serving team members no longer see, or recognise as an issue.
Yes, you can learn a lot about a business from talking to those who work there. But how often do we do it.
I was talking to my sister about this very thing in advance of my client meetings, and she reminded me of the analogy of the choir, the crypt and the congregation.
The choir are the people in your team who are the real superstars, the people who you love having around you – your high flyers. The people that you give the big jobs to, to get them sorted.
The crypt are the people who are under-performing. They are sometimes the rotten apples in your barrel, the people who are either constantly moaning or constantly asking the same questions over and over again, or simply very high-maintenance.
Then in between sit the congregation very often forgotten because they are steady, they are reliable, they are consistent. They don’t ask for anything, they are possibly never going to be your high flyers or you may just not notice their potential. But they are absolutely solid as a rock, you know that they will come in, they will do a really good job and then they’ll go home. No trouble, just really consistent, steady stayers.
So, what percentage of your time do you spend on your superstars, your under-performers and your steady reliable team members?
Perhaps your choir, your superstars don’t need too much of your attention because by definition they are self-starting, high-achievers. Your time is spent with them on public praise and in high energy gatherings, on setting new challenges and keeping them stretched and fulfilled. After all, you want to keep them!
What about the crypt? People in here may just need to be trained and nurtured to progress to the congregation or even the choir. But how much time do you spend on someone who you know is just not the right fit but you dread having that conversation with and so put it off? What about the person who does an okay job but who is incredibly needy of reassurance, of constant affirmation who picks on any little thing, who just sucks the life out of you on a daily basis? How much time do you spend and how long do you persevere?
And then how much time does that leave to spend on people who simply do their very best every day, the congregation? They may not be superstars in the recognised sense of the word, they may never achieve greater wealth or status than they have already, but they go about their work cheerfully every day, and they do it consistently well. They are the sort of people who you would want beside you in the trenches (do people still say that these days?); the sort of people who are calm and measured in a crisis; who have had their share of hard knocks, but who just keep bouncing back; the sort of people you can rely on to be…well, reliable!
Someone who springs to mind was a carer for my dad.
Now I loved my dad to bits, and he was a positive, loveable man…but he was also 90, had run his own business since he was knee high to a grasshopper, and as a result of both combined, he could, at times, be a bit difficult. But this lovely lady had him wrapped around her little finger. I’ve watched and listened in awe on many an occasion, as she arrived at 8pm, as cheerful as the first visit she made at 8am, with tales of what she’d had to deal with in the pub (that she also managed) the night before! My life! It’s not like she was paid a fortune for what she did for my dad and others like him.
And he loved her… for her ‘not phased by anything’ attitude, for the fact that she didn’t need to be asked if she saw a job that needed doing, and the fact that she brightened up his sometimes boring days with her banter and cheeriness. I know she’s the sort of person who he would have loved to have working with him back in the day – great at keeping the customers happy, seeing and solving problems before they arose, a good hard reliable worker. I bet we would all welcome someone like this into our teams.
So how much attention do you give these people – the congregation? Do they get the public praise? Do you set them challenges? Do you encourage them to aspire to the choir? Or do you just let them carry on… being reliable?
Do one thing: organise some one-to-ones with your team.
Find out what one thing you could do to make their job easier, and help them to serve your customers better. Let them talk, and listen to them.
And if you feel that you wouldn’t get straight answers then bring in an outsider, bring in a friend, bring me in to talk to your team and get this information because what I’m picking up with my clients teams’ is absolute gold dust.
The sort of stuff that doesn’t readily come out; feedback about where people see themselves; feedback about who’s sitting next to who and how that’s affecting their work; feedback about how poor communication is.
Little stuff maybe, but it’s always the little stuff, isn’t it?
Have a great week.
Marianne is the author of three books, and is currently working on her fourth, whilst regularly writing her blog, we hope you enjoy it :-)