Managers often have the best of intentions when it comes to motivating their teams or revamping unproductive processes, but then run out of time and energy. But what if those changes could be done easily – and sometimes at no cost? A new book claims it’s not only possible, but research proves it can be done.
When it comes to influencing others to change their behavior, the smallest changes can make the biggest differences, contends a new book called “The Small Big” by Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein and Robet B. Cialdini. Using scientific research, the authors explain how small changes can help you build a stronger team and make team members more productive and motivated. In this interview with Anita Bruzzese, Steve Martin talks about how managers can be more effective by only making some small tweaks.
AB: Let’s say I’m a manager and I’m trying to figure out how to build better relationships among team members. What small thing can I do to encourage cooperation and a feeling of partnership among them?
SM: Get team members to consider those things they have in common with each other but that are uncommon to outside groups. People want to be part of the gang yet stand out at the same time.
A simple way a manager can help to draw out these uncommon commonalities is ask team members to fill out getting-to-know-you forms before any formal work is done, but rather than ask questions like, “name your favorite TV show” or “list your favorite travel destination,” which will generate similarities that are common, instead ask “name your top five TV shows” which are more likely to identify a shared love of a more uncommon liking.
AB: While some may believe that more money or other rewards can motivate employees to be more productive, you say there is one solution that will only take five minutes and not cost anything. Can you explain?
SM: In today’s hyper-busy world it can be very easy to lose track of the significance and meaningfulness of the jobs we do. So anything a manager can do to remind her team of why their jobs are important can increase motivation levels resulting in more productive individuals. One way to do this is to allocate five minutes at the start of the working week to highlight an example of where their work had made a meaningful difference to a customer or client.
AB: If I’m trying to persuade someone – like my boss or a customer – what small way can I optimize my chances for success?
SM: Think “how can I help that person?” rather than “how can they help me?” People are more likely to be persuaded by those who have given to them first. Remember too, that the best way to enhance people’s appreciation of you (and your subsequent influence) is to provide information and help that is unexpected.
AB: If I’m a manager who wants to re-engage my team—perhaps to find a way to increase sales – can you explain the small shift I can make that involves setting what you refer to as “low-range goals”?
SM: Research shows that to be motivated to pursue a goal, people need a sense of challenge and realism in equal measure. The problem with single number goals, (think “open 10 new accounts this quarter”) is that they are either relatively attainable, relatively challenging or compromise somewhere in-between. High-low range goals however (think “open 8 -12 new accounts this month”). This has the advantage of engaging both these factors. Especially when engaging staff on regular goals, the astute manager considers the high-low, recognizing that people are more motivated to persist for longer to achieve them.
AB: What are the small ways you can ensure meetings will be more effective?
SM: Lots of evidence has found that a significant amount of time in meetings is spent listening to people telling each other what everyone else already knows.
So ask people to submit their contributions in advance of the meeting. This small change can lead to contributions that are less likely to be influenced by those of others and serve to increase both the number of voices heard and the amount of new information shared. And the leader should always speak last so people don’t just blindly follow suit, potentially causing alternative ideas and insights to be lost.
AB: Of all these small ideas you included in the book that net big results, what is the one that has had the most impact for you?
SM: A couple of years ago I was asked to suggest some small changes that could be made to the letters that citizens receive that remind them to submit and pay their taxes on time.
Even though the changes we suggested were costless, they contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds for the revenue. Perhaps most remarkable of all though was the suggestions didn’t come from an examination of the best practices. Instead they came from knowing about persuasion science. That’s hundreds of millions of extra dollars raised just by changing a sentence on a letter. That’s a pretty huge difference for such a small change.