This week’s insight should help you if you are in charge of other people, especially if you’re trying to improve the performance of people who report to you at work.
I’ll illustrate the insight by asking a question – do you have any of those cards you get in cafes that get stamped each time you buy a drink and that can be redeemed for a free one when full? If you do then great, if not then I’m sure you’re familiar with them as they hold the key to what I’m exploring. They relate to what psychologists call the Zeigarnik effect, named after a Russian psychologist from the early part of the last century. His research was initially related to how our memory is affected when we are interrupted halfway through a particular task, (it holds the data far better than when the task in finished). However, psychologists have taken that research and looked at task completion more generally and have found that, as humans, we tend to like to finish tasks that we’ve started.
Now, when it comes to performance you’ll have heard of procrastination – when we talk about doing something but don’t start it. Well, this week’s insight suggests that the very act of taking a first step on a particular project – it could be writing a book, learning a language or getting fitter, – it hugely important as it will likely nudge us to keep going and complete the job in question.
In a workplace scenario you might be trying to get staff to start a new task and find that they want clarity, micro-details and fail-safe guarantees which are simply not practical. In this instance psychology suggests that the very process of encouraging them, to take that first step, will induce self-motivation and encourage them to complete it.
And that brings me back to those coffee cards – they are actually based on psychology as the business owners know that if you are carrying around one with 3 stamps on that needs just 6 more for a free one you are likely to want to complete it.
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Have a good week,
McGraw, K. O. and Fiala, J. (1982), Undermining the Zeigarnik effect: Another hidden cost of reward. Journal of Personality, Volume 50, Issue 1, March 1982, Pages 58–66