Posted tagged ‘Obama’

How the Obama Administration Motivates Behaviors

May 26, 2009

The Time Magazine article was extremely instructive in helping us to understand the behavioral science oriented steps being taken by the Obama administration. In this post we’ll focus on a number of them. Specifically, they are:

  1. Supplying knowledge
  2. Making it easy
  3. Creating social norms
  4. Legislating the activity

According to the Time Magazine article, studies suggest that better information can help us make better choices. This information can be disseminated in the forms of public service announcements (PSA’s) or appeals from well respected figures (remember our discussion about the use of Hubs in building communities) and even serial dramas.

What this means is that aggressive rules for disclosure and clarity will likely result in people making more informed and better choices. Documenting best practices will also produce meaningful results.

The second way to influence behavior is to make it easy for those who wish to make the choice that you wish them to make. This is why default options – opt-out instead of opt-in – are very successful. The push to create an electronic health record (EHR) is one step along the path of making generic drugs our default prescription of choice.

The creation of social norms is yet another way to influence what we choose. An appeal to conformity is very effective as we are a herdlike species. If our peers are obese, we are more comfortable choosing to be that way. What works is creating a sense that choosing not to participate in an effort sets us apart from social norms and therefore, we will take steps to be in sync with our peers. This is a technique that has been used successfully even in forwarding goals that are inappropriate or morally wrong (think McCarthyism).

The last factor that the Time Magazine article addresses is what happens when a nudge is insufficient. At that point, a strategy of making something mandatory is very useful. That’s why there is interest in taxing undesirable behaviors such as cigarettes, alcohol and even trans-fats consumption and subsidizing desirable behaviors such as weatherizing a home or the purchase of fuel efficient cars.

Now, when we hear a new initiative being proposed by the Obama Administration, our awareness to the work of the behavioral scientists will be present. Let’s hope that these efforts though are used to move us in the right directions.

In the ensuing posts, we’ll look at like some of the other models and variants that allow us to influence others.

Understanding the Science of Change

May 22, 2009

I have always been a big believer that the universe has a tendency to bring ideas, concepts and even people to you when you need them to be in front of you. When that occurs in my life, after I finally recognize that it is happening – and yes, sometimes it takes me a while to notice — I begin to immerse myself in the idea or get to know that person better.

Lately, a new concept has been showing up and so over the next few posts, I’m going to write about it. I’m also going to read about it and share what I learn along the way.

In the April 13th, 2009 edition of Time Magazine, there was an article by Michael Grunwald called “How Obama is Using the Science of Change.” The article cited the work of behavioral scientist Robert Cialdini who found that that the most powerful motivator was that “people want to do what they think others will do.” Cialdini is the author of the best seller “Influence.” (For what its worth, Cialdini is the name that keeps popping up…more on that in the next few posts)

According to Time, Obama leans heavily on the work of the behavioral scientists to understand what makes people tick and then, using this knowledge, he intends to spur behavioral change throughout the country. He’s leveraging what he learned about people to move forward his agenda on the economy, healthcare and energy.

The power of these nudges is huge. For example, is there a difference in the number of people who participate in a 401 K plan if they have to sign up or would that number change if they were signed up already and had to opt out? Well, a 2001 study showed that only 36% of women joined a 401K plan when they had to sign up for it…but when they had to opt out, 86% participated.

The implications of using behavioral science in our business and personal lives are huge. This notion affects sales, marketing, management, leadership and even how we lead our communities or exist within our families.

So how is the Obama Administration using what they have learned? Consider the way Americans received the $116 billion in payroll tax cuts from the stimulus package. Obama chose NOT to send one lump sum check even if that would have put the money in the hands of Americans faster. His administration was concerned that a lump sum check might be viewed as a windfall and deposited in a bank account instead of being spent to rev up the economy. Instead, the money is being released through decreased payroll withholding. Smaller amounts spread over time are more likely to be spent. The idea is to subtly nudge us to spend the extra cash.

Make no mistake – this is a radical departure from the way that we have let the free market dictate how things work. Some might call this “manipulation,” but to change our ingrained behaviors, this might be necessary. And we may discover that behavioral science is compatible with free market thinking as it may prove to be an accelerator in how we interact with the free markets.

The Time magazine article goes on to highlight several elements that help us to change behavior. And that will be the subject of the next post.

Courageous Leadership? On the Line at GM

February 23, 2009

After a recent session that I presented on success measures, I was asked by one of the participants about the fiscal crisis plaguing our three major United States automakers, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. The person was wondered why these three manufacturers, with all of the many intelligent and professional leaders in their employ, continued to build cars that the American public did not want to buy.

I responded by explaining that the automakers knew what they were doing and how their cars were being received.  In fact, the problems plaguing the car manufacturers were not one of knowledge but rather of courage.

Paul Ingrassia, Wall Street Journal writer and bureau chief, articulated this issue as it relates to GM beautifully in his Journal opinion column on February 19th.

According to Ingrassia, there are several issues that have created this predicament. Here are two.

(1)   The car manufacturers agreed to let auto workers retire with full pension and benefits after 30 years, This means that it is very conceivable for an employee to be paid for thirty plus years and not contribute to the end product. Couple this scenario with greater life spans and rising costs in health care and the cost structure take a painful hit. Add in the nation’s desire to have smaller cars with smaller price tags and competitive margins and the problem is exacerbated. One can only surmise that new and fresh ideas and the investment in R&D was limited because of these cost factors.

(2)   GM continued to keep two losing brands alive – Saab and Saturn – even though it was costing them money to do so. This was done because the company had spent $1.3 billion dollars to shut down its Oldsmobile brand in a way that allowed them to comply with state-dealer franchise laws.

Could this crisis have been averted? Very possibly but it would have required courageous leadership to take on the unions early on and absorb the short-term losses inherent with shutting down a failing brand early on.

Some weeks ago, we spoke about the concept of false kindness and the consequences of putting off uncomfortable decision s regarding staff. The car crisis today is yet another example of the need of leaders to be willing to do unpopular things, when they need to be done.

What I’m Telling My Clients – Part 2 (or how they can create their own economic stimulus package)

December 23, 2008

So what would a client referral meeting look like?  Here’s one possibility.

The underlying context to this meeting is the recognition that the greatest challenge that any business owner faces, particularly in these challenging economic times is to drive new business to the company. The second greatest challenge is to fix a problem or capitalize on an opportunity that they might see but don’t quite know how to address.

Each of these referral meetings would last an hour. Only a small number of clients, perhaps six to eight clients, would attend each meeting. Ideally, they would have complimentary businesses.

Each client would  discuss

  • What values his or her company provides,
  • Its ideal client and
  • A particular problem or opportunity that it is facing.

The idea is to try to get each a client new business via referral or find them a company that can help them meet a pressing need or opportunity.

That’s the whole agenda.

The only thing that is required is that each company approach the meeting with a mindset to offer a warm referral to any of the companies represented in the room. By doing so, this gathering of leadership would create more growth and value.

And each company will get more business and / or be able to grow its business more effectively.

What I’m Telling My Clients – Part 2 (or how they can create their own economic stimulus package)

December 18, 2008

As the bailouts and their discussions whirl about us and as the list of companies laying off or employees or shutting down operations grows longer and longer, I began to wonder if there wasn’t a small business version of an economic stimulus package that could be implemented.

And if there was a version of economic an economic stimulus package for small businesses, who could and would provide it?

It appears to me that there is such a “package” out there and the ones that can provide it may be small business themselves.

Arguably the greatest challenge that any business owner confronts, particularly in these testing economic times, is to drive new business to his or her company. Fundamentally speaking, as it always has been, the key to long term growth is to “grow the pie” and attract more business. Provide more appropriate services that make a difference and you will earn more business and a greater share of the customer’s wallet.

Many companies provide services to organizations and businesses that are in related fields. Others provide services to companies in a wide range of industries. What if, each company leveraged its customer list to grow their clients’ businesses?

Imagine, if you will, a meeting of six or seven of your clients who work in one industry but provide different services within that industry. More than likely, each of these clients knows other companies within the particular industry. Because each of these companies is your clients, you are related to them and a reservoir of trust has been established.

Suppose next that each one of your clients attending this meeting was asked to participate with the intention of referring one of its customers to one of the businesses represented in the meeting. The economic impact of these referrals would be profound.

Referring clients to one another would create a reciprocal relationship built on real economic value. Additionally, in effect, because your business would be in the upper parts of the minds of your clients, the number of people selling and promoting your value and services would grow geometrically as the trust that you have demonstrated in them would be returned in their discussions with their clients.

In a short time, you might discover that you have an army of salespeople selling your value.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the structure of such a meeting and how to make it work for you.

In the meantime, please write and share some innovative ways you are growing or helping others grow their businesses.

How many business improvement initiatives can a company manage at any one time?

October 24, 2008

Operating a business in these challenging times is certainly not easy. In the last two posts, I introduced a number of strategies that make sense during an economic downturn. One of these strategies can best be classified as a sales strategy – that is, how to reignite opportunities that one would otherwise expect to stagnate when the economy is in difficult straits and businesses are adhering strongly to the philosophy of hoarding cash because “cash is king.”

The other strategy looked to the internal workings of a company and focused on how a company might best use underutilized resources that are suddenly available because sales are lagging. In this context, we discussed the development of best practices and the optimization of internal processes.

It is on this internal opportunity that I would like to discuss in today’s post.

The internal business process redesign discussion begs the question as to how many initiatives can a company manage at any given time. Is there an optimal number and if there isn’t, how does one determine how many initiatives are manageable so that business opportunities and the needs of clients continue to be addressed?

In all of my research and studies, I have yet to come across a discussion that addresses this particular question. To address this question, I will rely on my thirty years of experience as a CEO and consultant and share with you what I have learned from my experiences as a strategist.

To perform this analysis, one must:

  • Understand your company’s strategic goals
  • Define what tactics are required to support these strategic goals
  • Establish what each department must do to achieve the strategic goals
  • Determine the time and effort required by departmental staff to support the achievement of the core goals that essentially enable the company to deliver value and stay in business

What remains after performing this analysis is the amount of time available for personnel to address new improvement initiatives.

In other words, this analysis is predicated on assessing the company’s priorities and the core roles that must be fulfilled. After all, customer support personnel must perform their support function or the company risks client defections. Sales and relationship professionals must be engaging prospects and customers to assure growth. Accounting and internal support staff must make certain that the infrastructure exists so that the organization can run efficiently. These are the prime functions of these departments.

So is there an optimal amount or maximum number of initiatives a company can manage? As best as I can tell, the number of enterprise-wide initiatives that a company can swallow is typically between one and three. (Note added 11/09/08: Interestingly, several weeks after this post was written, the Obama Transition Team was enagged in a similar conversation and may have reached a similar conclusion.)

The reason that I believe this to be so is that I have concluded that most people have a difficulty managing more than five significant goals or projects simultaneously at any given time. And if one considers that the average person has two or three core functions for which he or she is accountable, this only leaves so much space for professional and organizational development without impacting the core responsibilities that each of us have.


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