Michel Anteby, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and Curtis K. Chan of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management teamed up on a research project wherein they interviewed 89 Transportation Security Administration employees and their managers to learn more about how these employees responded to the camera surveillance systems that had been installed at their airport workplaces in 2011. The closed-circuit television cameras were motivated by complaints from travelers about their belongings getting lost or stolen during TSA screenings, the authors explained recently at the Harvard Business Review, so the managers “decided to install cameras to catch employees in the act of thieving, or to demonstrate to travelers that theft was not occurring by their employees’ hands at the checkpoints”:
But even if managers had intended for the monitoring efforts to protect employees from false accusations, the prevalent sentiment expressed by TSA employees was that managers were watching them to control them, making sure that every single, little thing that they did was exactly and precisely as planned. TSA officers expressed the sense of constantly being seen by higher-ups. … Officers used words like “Big Brother” and “spying” to articulate how managers were monitoring them, suggesting strongly that they really did not like the feeling of constantly being seen.
At the same time, however, officers expressed that even though they were constantly seen, they were almost never noticed.
It’s not uncommon to think of cybersecurity as primarily a technological challenge, but it’s really more of a human one, Alex Blau writes at the Harvard Business Review, in that cyberattacks so frequently take advantage of human error. Most of the large-scale cyberattacks that have made headlines in the past year at some point involved someone making a mistake or exercising bad judgment and accidentally giving cybercriminals access to sensitive data. Behavioral science, Blau observes, help explain why people (including your employees) have a hard time adopting good cybersecurity habits:
One major insight from the fields of behavioral economics and psychology is that our behavioral biases are quite predictable. For instance, security professionals have said time and again that keeping software up-to-date, and installing security patches as soon as possible, is one of the best methods of protecting information security systems from attacks. However, even though installing updates is a relative no-brainer, many users and even IT administrators procrastinate on this critical step. Why? Part of the problem is that update prompts and patches often come at the wrong time — when the person responsible for installing the update is preoccupied with some other, presently pressing issue.
Blau’s insight here underscores something we discovered in our recent study of organizational culture at CEB, now Gartner. When culture change efforts fail, it is sometimes because employees are unable to manage the tension between the desired change and their day-to-day workflow. Getting employees to adopt a new habit at work means understanding the tradeoffs they need to make in order to do so, minimizing those tradeoffs as much as possible, and giving employees guidance on how to manage them. When best practices in cybersecurity (or any other area where you’re hoping to change employees’ habits) get in the way of an employee doing their work efficiently, the employees is more likely to sidestep them.
At Science of Us, Melissa Dahl discusses an interesting experiment from behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s upcoming book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. In the experiment, employees at an Intel semiconductor factory in Israel were told at the start of their workweek that they would get a modest cash bonus, a voucher for pizza, or a compliment from their boss if they got all their work done, to see which of these rewards had the greatest motivational effect. The results were surprising:
After the first day, pizza proved to be the top motivator, increasing productivity by 6.7 percent over the control group, thereby just barely edging out the promise of a compliment (in the form of a text message from the boss that said “Well done!”). Those in the compliment condition increased their productivity by 6.6 percent as compared to the control group. But the worst motivator, much to the company’s surprise, was the cash bonus, which increased productivity by just 4.9 percent as compared to the control group.
It wasn’t a big cash bonus, at 100 NIS, or about $30. Even so, what happened over the next several days was surprising: On the second day of the workweek, those in the money condition performed 13.2 percent worse than those in the control group. This leveled out over the next several days, but for the week overall, the cash bonus ended up costing the company more and resulted in a 6.5 percent drop in productivity. From the employer’s perspective, a cash bonus is worse than offering no incentive at all.
Pizza and compliments, on the other hand — people like pizza and compliments. Over the course of the workweek, the output of the workers in these conditions slowed a little, becoming by the end of the week closer to the productivity level of the control group (but still better than no incentive). All told, the compliment proved to be the very best motivator, though Ariely thinks that if the experiment had gone the way he wanted, pizza would’ve fared best.
In his speech at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, former US president Bill Clinton brought up a number of occasions on which his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, had taken actions that produced little fanfare but significant (in his telling) positive change. Politics aside, his depiction of her as a tireless crusader who gets too little credit for her achievements speaks to an experience many women have in the workplace every day: being team players, helping others out, and doing the drudge work that gets the job done, but not getting the accolades when the project succeeds.
Some women business leaders have urged their peers to take on leadership more boldly, to claim the credit they deserve, to “lean in” and prove that they can work just as hard (or as competitively) as men—but perhaps what’s really needed, Danielle Teller argues at Quartz, is for organizations to rethink the way they recognize employees’ contributions, to better capture the unsung efforts women often make. She points to the NBA’s use of “hustle stats” as one way to achieve this:
“Lean in!” Sheryl Sandberg says to women. That’s probably excellent advice, if being aggressive, self-aggrandizing, and unafraid to bite off more than you can chew is what it takes to succeed. The problem for many of us, though, is that such a change would require a personality transplant. Even if it were possible to change ourselves so radically, we like being generous team players and mentors. We like being considerate to others and modest about our accomplishments. We think we’re pretty great the way we are, thank you very much. The workplace should think we’re pretty great the way we are too. …
As part of its ongoing research into employee engagement, Gallup conducted a survey to find out how employees evaluate the meaningfulness of recognition. Its findings “reveal that the most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized”:
Acknowledging employees’ best work can be a low-cost endeavor — it can be as small as a personal note or a thank-you card. But the key is to knowwhat makes it meaningful and memorable for the employee, and who is doing the recognizing. In a recent Gallup workplace survey, employees were asked to recall who gave them their most meaningful and memorable recognition. The data revealed the most memorable recognition comes most often from an employee’s manager (28%), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24%), the manager’s manager (12%), a customer (10%) and peers (9%). Worth mentioning, 17% cited “other” as the source of their most memorable recognition.
What’s most surprising about these findings? Nearly one-quarter said the most memorable recognition comes from a high-level leader or CEO. Employees will remember personal feedback from the CEO — even a small amount of time a high-ranking leader takes to show appreciation can yield a positive impression on an employee. In fact, acknowledgment from a CEO could become a career highlight.
Our research at CEB has found that rewards and recognition must have meaning in order to influence employee behavior. It makes intuitive sense that praise from on high would have a more lasting impact than praise from a peer, but that type of recognition doesn’t scale easily: At a large organization, the CEO may not have time to personally recognize the contributions and achievements of hundreds or thousands of individual employees: As Paul White and Daniel White wrote at ATD’s Human Capital blog in March, in order for employees to experience recognition as authentic appreciation, it needs to be communicated frequently, on an individual basis, and in ways that are relevant to the employee. How do leaders deliver meaningful appreciation when it can’t always come from the C-suite?
Meaningfulness is a key theme that has come out of recent analysis we’ve done on incentives and their impact on employee behavior. Many organizations put tremendous resources—from complex performance management systems to detailed pay guidance provided to managers—into ensuring that fine-grained differences in employee performance are reflected in differentiated rewards on the back end. But what we’ve found across different employee populations (sales and non-sales, junior and senior), in different parts of the world, and across different compensation and reward vehicles, is that fine-grained distinctions simply don’t matter. To encourage employees to make outsized contributions to their organizations, rewards must, most of all, be meaningful.
Three examples illustrate the importance of this theme:
The first is about differentiation. When we analyzed the impact of differentiation on employee performance, we found that small differences had little effect. Take bonus payouts as an example: Bonus payouts for high performers need to be at least 50 percent greater than the payout for the average employee to have any meaningful impact on employee behaviors. Anything less than that simply isn’t perceived as meaningful by the recipient.