Great article last week in The Wall Street Journal on “What Gives Social Norms Their Power.” The research doesn’t have direct implications to HR, but you can derive much out of not just how social norms/the unspoken rules of a group, shape not just behavior but also the attitudes of your employees.
From The Wall Street Journal:
These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice…
The more public an object or behavior is, the more likely it is to spread, Dr. Berger says….
Rarely does any one individual set an entirely new norm for the group. Group leaders, however, help perpetuate or shift the norm. Unlike innovators, leaders tend to be high-status “superconformists,” embodying the group’s most-typical characteristics or aspirations, says Deborah Prentice, a social psychologist at Princeton University. People inside and outside the group tend to infer the group’s norms by examining these leaders’ behaviors…”
Making a metric public changes it overnight
So, here’s what I’ve discovered over my 18 years in HR: if you make a certain HR metric (let’s say turnover) very public and your leaders talk about it publicly – you change nothing but just that communication – then that metric will almost always change for the positive overnight.
That’s funny right?
“Why is that funny, Tim?” It’s funny because we spend so much time in “Retention Committee” meetings, and “Retention Strategy Team” meetings, and meeting with vendors who guarantee to drop our turnover by 10 percent, and build programs that cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours – when all we had to do was print off about 50 black and white 8 1/2 by 11? inch sheets of paper with the words: CURRENT EMPLOYEE TURNOVER — 9.7 percent. Tape them all over the halls, on the back of doors, inside the elavator, and, oh yeah, and have the CEO talk about it.
About 23 minutes of work – and about $5 in office supply expense – and your turnover is lowered!
“Well, yeah, that might drop turnover a little – but we are really more concerned with the leader behaviors that created turnover in the first place…” Blah, Blah, Blah…
This can work for ANY program
Look, it works for more than just turnover:
- Referral program – post how many referrals were hired in the last month, in the last six months – what total percentage of your hires?
- 401(k) utilization – post how much money was left on the table from people not taking advantage of their match – show a picture of a pile of money!
- Safety training compliance – post a list of names of those individuals who haven’t finished the class.
And don’t forget, make your executive talk about it – a lot.
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Here’s the key to make it work, because I know some of you’ll will actually do this and lose your minds and go overboard. So, DON’T MISS THIS; you can’t get results with this if you try and fix everything at once. This takes sustained focus.
Post the signs of your current turnover at Week 1. The next post will show the current and the improvement (or even if it gets worse), Week 3 the new metric, Week 26 the new metric … get it? Stick to one thing you really want to change.
You can do turnover one week and 401(k) enrollment the next, but it won’t work. People won’t get that it’s important if you keep jumping around trying to change everything. And, your leader will lose credibility.
Now if you have some budget money, you can go beyond copy paper postings – you can build a dashboard, make posters, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. The key is to make it public – very public — the more in your face the better. And don’t stop sticking it in their face. Think forehead tattoos!