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VIEWPOINT: Change behaviour for the better

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“All humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to seek hope and avoid fear, and finally to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection.”  B J Fogg

I recently read an insightful book by B J Fogg, a Stanford-based scientist best known for his research into creating systems to change human behaviour.

His book, called Hooked, taught me much about human psychology that I am certain can be used to lead people more effectively.

Knowing how humans tend to behave gives one an advantage in leadership. To illustrate this point I would like to share a simple example from the book. In an experiment, two groups of people were given loyalty cards for a car wash. The first group was given a loyalty card in which they needed to first get stamps for eight paid car washes for their next car wash to qualify as free.

The second group was given a loyalty card with ten car washes in total, in which the first two car washes were given as free. The study was run with various different groups and without fail the groups that had been given two free washes upfront had an 82% higher completion rate.

What can we learn from this? It’s clear that the ease or difficulty in completing wanted or necessary actions greatly impacts the likelihood that these actions will occur. But note that the same level of effort was required to obtain the free gift: both sample groups needed eight washes to qualify for another free wash.

The difference lay in the positioning of the given task. As leaders, how we position tasks is incredibly important in driving optimal results and completion. We ought to use positioning to our advantage to incentivise our people in more effective ways.

As Fogg notes: “People creating products need to understand how human behaviour works. All humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to seek hope and avoid fear, and finally to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection.” It is our responsibility as leaders to learn the psychology of human behaviour, and then to apply these general principles and patterns to guide and motivate our teams.

Plato once said that all learning has an emotional base. By increasing our emotional intelligence – that is, by improving our capacity to interpret and respond appropriately to the emotional needs of others – we can unlock the full potential of our teams. I believe that the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem-solving is vital to strong leadership. When an understanding of human psychology is used to change behaviour for the better, we are guaranteed better team performance. ❐

Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Health

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