We are all unique individuals, with our own tastes and preferences and voices. But a study of human behavior shows that people are remarkably similar in their ways of reacting to certain stimuli. Knowing those similarities and using them in developing recognition and rewards can greatly benefit your organization.
That was the primary message conveyed by Charlotte Blank, chief behavioral officer of Maritz, in a recent webinar hosted by RPI. Blank is a highly-regarded expert and speaker who leads Maritz’s practice of behavioral science and innovation through expert applications of social psychology and behavioral economics. Her passion is exploring the truths about human nature and discovering what “makes us tick.”
She began with a study where people were asked to complete a complicated set of tasks on paper – a lengthy and time-consuming effort, for which they were compensated with a decreasing amount of cash each round. The researchers studied how long the workers would persist, before giving up the task. Upon completion of the tasks, they were told to turn their paper in to an instructor at the front of the room. The instructor reacted to the papers being turned in one of three ways:
- with a simple nod of acknowledgement
- with no reaction at all
- by dropping the completed paper into a shredder
Somewhat predictably, the subjects whose papers were shredded were the first to give up. Those whose work was ignored, came in a close second. Interestingly, those whose work was acknowledged with a simple nod of the head persisted much longer than did those who had been ignored, or those who had seen their papers shredded. The lesson, Blank said, is that well beyond compensation, acknowledgement matters, and gives people’s work a sense of meaning. Even a simple nod goes a long way.
The webinar explored important questions, like what makes someone take the time to recognize another’s efforts? Why is this so important? How can firms create a culture of gratitude and recognition?
The scientific study of human behavior reveals fascinating insights into the motivation of recognition – and surprisingly simple tactics to nudge behaviors that contribute to this virtuous cycle. A huge part of Blank’s work is to learn how taking a scientific approach to recognition can enhance employee engagement in the workplace.
For example, it’s human nature that most people are delighted by receiving an unexpected gift. Studies in the workplace have shown that gifts can be as efficient a tool as adding another worker in terms of boosting productivity. If part of a worker’s payment for a job is framed as an unanticipated gift, it predictably boost output and job satisfaction.
Blank also espouses the power of the nudge – a small change to the environment that can have positive outside effects on behavior. Among the tactics she advocates to make a positive change include:
- Using image-based vision statements. For example, an abstract notion like “delight our customers” is less powerful than an image-based statement like “put a smile on every child’s face.”
- Operational transparency. People better understand the value of something if they see the work and the steps that are taken on the way to the finished product. An example of this is restaurants that have a window into the kitchen, so diners can see the steps being taken to create a meal, and better understand the value of it.
- Make recognition a social norm. Behavior studies show that often people like to conform. So for example, a hotel room sign asking people to re-use their towels is less effective than a sign stating, “Most guests staying in this room re-use their towels.” If we feel similar to others, we are more compelled to do what others do.
With years of research behind her, Blank has much more to offer and share on the topic. Her most recent webinar and additional contributions she has made to the field of study are available for RPI members at www.recognition.org.