Psychologically speaking, real time metrics motivate the human brain to excel at job requirements
More than just catch phrases, change management efforts and digital transformation are reshaping how we think about big business.
Scientific studies have shown visual performance metrics are a better motivator than “Warnings” and fear-based control tactics. In fact, the human brain is wired to track, retain, and gravitate towards positive feedback.
In this motivating Ted talk on TEDxCambridge,
Dr. Tali Sharot, a Behavioral Neuroscientist at University College London gives some concrete examples of how task compliance increases when the right type of data is available. Watch on YouTube
The brain’s default is to focus attention on positive outcomes
Dr. Sharot explains that negative warnings, such as health risk labels on cigarettes and alcohol, have very little impact on behavior. In fact, these types of fear-based threats can build up mental “resistance” to the information being presented.
For example, a smoker might rationalize that from their own observations, such as a family member who was a lifetime smoker and lived to old age, their genetics means they are immune from this risk – the human brain constructs a positive story to mask the danger.
Neuroscientists refer to this as the boomerang effect.
In another example of how this works, Dr. Sharot’s team at the Affective Brain Lab studied investors habits when monitoring their stock portfolios. The study found that individuals logged into their accounts frequently when the market is up.
This phenomenon derives from the brain seeking pleasure in the form of repetitive positive feedback.
Conversely, investor login activity dropped off dramatically during a down market. Science believes this illustrates the brain’s natural tendency, when possible, to reasonably avoid bad news.
The exception to this is when a major market “crash” occurs, in which case the study showed investors log in to their accounts like crazy – as their minds wrestle with the immediate financial threat at hand.
This runs counter to some of our historic thinking on motivation – where conventional wisdom held that the stimuli of fear would generate action in the form of “flight” or “fight”; more recent experiments involving animals have shown that a threat more commonly induces a “freeze” or “flight” reaction.
Dr. Sharot says that this evidence points to the fact that the human psyche is skilled at quickly determining the value or potential outcome of an action.
Good news for change management initiatives
If the action will not make an immediate difference to an individual, then they will avoid the effort of taking action – even when the risk of reacting too late is obvious.
Related studies have shown people listen better, and make more sound judgements, when confronted with positive information.
In another example, Dr. Sharot points to observations from a corporate initiative involving medical professionals. Based on the premise that the number one way to combat the spread of bacteria and disease is for medical staff to wash their hands thoroughly, a UK-based hospital conglomerate started a program that would require doctors and nurses to wash their hands before and after examining a patient.
At the outset, corporate directors made it publicly known that cameras were being installed in all patient rooms to monitor compliance with the new policy. Despite the “threat” of future consequences after being observed in violation of policy, results showed just 1 in 10 medical professionals were washing before and after exams.
Then corporate leadership took another approach, which Dr. Sharot referred to as an “intervention”. In addition to the camera, they added a monitor screen to each room. Essentially a metrics “dashboard” the screen would display how well the individual was adhering to policy requirements. Additional data would show the individual’s metrics when compared to other staff on that shift as well as progress towards weekly and monthly department goals.
Suddenly sanitation compliance shot up to 90%!
Three principles of motivation at play
When examining why this phenomenon occurs, the results are based on three factors that strongly influence human instinct to take action. First off, social incentives are a powerful motivator. As a species, we desire to know what others are doing – and our natural tendency is to think we can do better than others.
The British government used this theory effectively by adding one sentence to a form letter sent to delinquent taxpayers – the new line read “nine out of 10 Brits pay their taxes on time.” That year compliance numbers shot up 15%.
Secondly, the human brain seeks immediate rewards. It’s not that we don’t care about the future and the consequences of our actions, but it’s just not as alluring to us as an immediate “tangible” prize. Even if the reward is reading good news (speaking of which, is it time to check my stock portfolio again yet?!)
The medical staff in the above example felt “good” about the immediate feedback and the impact their contribution had on the rest of the department reaching its performance goals. They now had a positive incentive to comply with the handwashing policy.
The final factor is what Dr. Sharot calls progress monitoring. The human brain is adept at processing positive information about the future, but not as much with negative information. Therefore, it is easier to get people to pay attention by highlighting progress rather than illustrating decline.
Conclusion for change management leaders
A major element found in today’s corporate transformation strategies in introducing new technology – and then convincing the workforce this type of digitization is in everyone’s best interest.
When considering the right ERP system, look for robust solutions that can bring all departments under one software umbrella. This allows data to be presented to users that is accurate with the whole of the organization and helps visualize personal progress towards FTE goals, department goals, and overarching enterprise goals.
IFS Applications™ 10 allows for the creation of onscreen dashboards, called Lobbies. The software is mobile responsive, allowing for use on desktops, laptops, tablets, and even cell phones.
This flexible functionality puts users in the driver’s seat and gives a sense of control, which, as science demonstrates, is the better way to incentivize employees.
Fear induces inaction. Try using positive strategies instead of “threats” to capitalize on the human tendency to seek progress. The thrill of positive “gains” will induce action and may serve as the employee motivator you are seeking.