If we’ve been in a room together, I have subjected you to this photo. I use it to demonstrate the maturity levels model and to serve as an analogy for how workplace annoyances and performance shortfalls affect our mindset and behaviors.
In this article, there is talk of “descriptive norms,” the notion that our context clues drive our behavior. When we talk about maturity in terms of self-centered versus others-oriented behaviors, behaviors perpetuate each other on either side of the line.
In other words, when people leave out their carts, I’m less likely to observe ways I can be helpful. If most of my colleagues are late with email responses, I’m less inclined to take care of my dishes in the break room.
Conversely, when my colleagues deliver reports on-time—or early—I’m way more likely to cover someone else’s tasks when they need help. If the store employees are present and helpful, I’m more likely to be proactive about putting my cart away.
That’s the point about the descriptive norms and context that you read about in this article. It’s very much in line with the conversations we have around that picture and its analogies.
But the article points out some challenging subtleties.
Some individuals are built to observe and fall in line with their contexts. I call that group the “vast 80%” when making generalizations in a training. The other groups I talk about are the “bottom 10%” and the “top 10%.” In this article, the others centered goal-driven individuals are like that “top 10%,” and you could make a case that the negative goal-driven actors are that “bottom 10%.” They are the people who seem so inexplicably negative or self-serving that nothing seems to work.
But this article points out that those “Never Returners” can be just as goal driven as the “Returners,” but their goals are totally self-serving. That challenges me.
The main takeaway does remain, though—the context around many people is a motivator. When they fall short, it’s up to the environment, set by leaders and colleagues, to motivate the right moves. We do not exist in a vacuum.
By the way, please note the title of this post.
“Leaders MAKE SURE the carts get put away.” It isn’t “leaders put the carts away.” We need to set the tone, empower, hold accountable, and tend to culture all the time.
I’m thankful for the research-based nature of this article and encourage you to read it.
Then, after you’ve read the article, please read what’s written above again for the additional context.