Our podcast encourages listeners to tell us about problems that they would love some behavioral science or practical insights into helping them solve. We call it “I’m in a pickle,” and it is about solving real-world problems with the principles we discuss. I thought I would share a recent one we had come in here with you because many of you readers might have the same problem.
Our listener Rachel wrote in because she thinks the values and mission statement are not guiding enough of the decision making in her organization. In other words, Rachel wants her boss to prioritize these values in their strategy and hiring practices.
I had this problem when I was working at British Telecom. I read Joe Pine’s book, The Experience Economy, and felt inspired by it. I wanted to prioritize the Customer Experience, which was part of our mission statement and values. So my strategy was to give my boss the book with pages marked for him to read.
Now, this strategy might not work for Rachel. However, it leads me to my first point about convincing Rachel’s boss to do something: The reason he isn’t doing more to support the values of the mission statement is that it’s not important enough to him at the moment. Therefore, it is Rachel’s task to make it essential to him. To do that, I recommend:
Making it personal to him: Now, to clarify, I don’t mean Rachel should threaten her boss. That would cause a problem with Rachel’s career. What I mean is that it is essential to understand why the boss is reticent to act.
Making a financial case for him: If you can show how doing what you want will benefit the metrics that measure his success, either by producing results or reducing barriers, he will likely change his behavior. In other words, motivate your boss by providing him with incentives.
This advice is essentially the same advice we give for Customer Experience. If you want to change what your customers are doing, you need to motivate them. To do that, you need to understand what is essential to customers and what they value. Then, you use these things to encourage the change. Getting your boss to see the need to change is the same idea, only instead of directing it at customers, you are sending your efforts upstream in the organization to your managers.
Also, finding ways of incorporating what you want into the metrics that get reported will help change behavior, too. Many organizations create these great values and visions, put them on posters, and then forget about them. However, suppose you institute getting weekly or monthly updates on how the organization achieves these aspirational goals. In that case, the updates will keep the mission and values top of mind for everyone. This emphasis will encourage the boss to accentuate these values in their leadership in the future. So, is there a way to measure these concepts to make them salient for the boss?
You might also scare the boss about what would happen if they didn’t do what you wanted. Again, I don’t mean threatening. However, by showing how your competition outperforms your organization by incorporating these ideas into their hiring and decision-making, you demonstrate how the lack of consistency in these areas has an opportunity cost.
The idea of Reference Points comes into play here. When we are comparing things, we all have a reference point we use for comparison. Therefore, if you want to compare how your organization measures up to the competition or how your department performs related to the other departments (or how they don’t), you provide a Reference Point for the boss.
Another way of incentivizing the boss is to incorporate those visions and values into everyday processes within the organization. Many times, these concepts are broad or abstract, very high-order ideals. However, making them more concrete makes them more achievable. For example, a professor who wants to offer a new class should show how the new class reflects the university’s vision. In an organization like Rachel’s, it might mean explaining how accounting uses one of the visions in their daily activities or how sales hire individuals with a particular trait specified in the organizational values.
(It is also important to remember that there is no one silver-bullet solution to solve this problem. However, there are many little things that you can do that will get you where you want to go. Embrace the art of the possible and think about how you can make these values more important to your boss.)
Another critical way to get your boss to change priorities is to take opportunities to nudge your boss gently in the direction you want to go. For example, ask them to talk about the vision statement and values at the next meeting. In deciding how to communicate this to the team, your boss will be thinking about the visions and values. Instead of forcing a plan on the boss, you allow them to communicate about it more and, in turn, think about it more. Some other examples could be recommending TED talks on the topic or podcasts you like. (We did a podcast on the Five Rules Guaranteed to Create ROI that might help, too.)
Try creating Social Proof within the organization. Suppose you can get other employees excited about the idea that the company vision statement or values are not getting enough attention. In that case, it will create positive social pressure for the boss to take it more seriously. One person alone is easy to ignore. However, if several employees talk about it and it keeps coming up in meetings, the concept becomes harder to ignore. In Rachel’s case, she was genuinely excited about the work the company did on the vision statement and values, so it would be appropriate for her to express that enthusiasm to her fellow employees and get them excited about it, too. It could create a groundswell to nudge the boss in the direction of taking it more seriously.
One of the first companies that engaged Beyond Philosophy was a water utility in England. Someone there wanted to convince the team that Customer Experience was necessary, so we obliged. One of the ways we did this was to create a power map, which lists the influences of the key opinion leaders in the organization. However, we knew it was not just the leaders’ bosses that influenced them. Other people in the organization, friends, long-time allies, and coworkers, affect them, too.
We also created a training course about understanding what Customer Experience is. Then, every time we ran a session, we would ask the participants who we should invite to the next one. Then, we would invite their suggestions to the next month’s session. Gradually, we created this environment where everyone started to talk about it, and the bosses effectively couldn’t ignore it.
Also, remember that leadership can emerge from anywhere. First, there is hierarchical organizational leadership, and then there are natural leaders.
Making yourself the champion of the mission statement and values can be a way to lead the organization.
I hope Rachel successfully leads the charge in her organization to uphold the vision and values outlined in their mission statement. Theory means nothing if you can’t use it. The concepts we talk about, like Reference Points and Social Proof from the behavioral sciences, are interesting and explain why human beings do what they do. But if they can’t help you do what you need to do in your daily work, they are useless.
There you have it. No promotions, no gimmicks, just good information.
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