Posts Tagged ‘engagement’

Hollaback

Monday, November 10th, 2014

hollabak

10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman has attracted a lot of attention. The 2-minute video shows a woman walking down the street (minding her own business) in Manhattan, and how strangers treat her.

A grassroots initiative called Hollaback! partnered with Rob Bliss Creative to capture 10 hours of video of Shoshana Roberts. The footage was edited down to the 2 minutes we see. The video does a good job creating emotional impact; we can empathize with Shoshana as she walks the gauntlet of less-than-courteous men. The video has been viewed 35 million times (as of Nov 10, 2014). Clearly it has struck a chord.

But is Hollaback’s approach going to result in sustainable transformation?

To drive durable change, persuasive communications require two key elements: a clear vision of the future and a meaningful call to action.


A clear vision of the future requires a sharp contrast between what is, and what could be.

Much of the online conversation about the video has centered on which catcalling behaviors are inappropriate. This isn’t a worthless conversation, but it muddles the point. By including both marginal (friendly greetings from strangers) and clearly inappropriate behaviors (invading her personal space for 5 minutes), the creators of the video lose control of the narrative. What is the audience being invited to believe?

Here’s a sticky headline we could use:

Catcalling is bullying. Real men treat women with dignity and respect.

This message increases the contrast between the current state and the desired future state.

We could create an even sharper distinction by cutting out the marginal behaviors, leaving in the most inappropriate behaviors, and adding in examples of gentlemen treating Shoshana like a lady (assuming that happened during the 10 hours of filming).


A meaningful call to action clarifies the most desirable behaviors—the ones that will make the biggest difference in driving change.

To be fair, there is a call to action in this video— a request that the viewer donate to Hollaback! That may help with street harassment indirectly, but it is less than ideal. How about an alternative approach, one designed to directly shift the attitudes and behaviors of some of our stakeholders?

There are three stakeholder groups involved in this issue: catcallers (those who harass), targets (those being harassed), and interveners (those who witness the harassment).

Here are some meaningful calls to action for the different groups:

  • Catcallers: Treat all women the way you would like other men to treat your mother, your wife, your sister, or your daughter.
  • Targets: Only you can let a catcaller make you feel less than infinitely valuable. Don’t give up that power. If you feel unsafe, get to a safe location or ask for help from others who are around.
  • Interveners: Tell a catcaller, “That’s not OK. This woman deserves to be treated better than that.” If the harassment persists, stay near the situation to ensure it resolves peacefully.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with investing in Hollaback! with a cash donation, but an investment of energy in deliberately changing these behaviors would drive more durable and meaningful change.


A clear vision of the future and a meaningful call to action give our persuasive communications a fighting chance to actually make a difference. It takes more effort than some are willing to invest, but a little effort here can pay big dividends.

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Why Accountability Backfired

Friday, October 10th, 2014

In the last post (When Accountability Backfires) I asked,

Why do I still turn off my office lights religiously, while I have not continued with DuoLingo?

Thank you for your insightful comments to that post. I love this tribe of savvy and sharp thinkers. You are an amazing community, and I’m grateful.

Here is my summary of the theories you all have offered:

  • A person was holding me accountable, not a computer. [Heather, Pawel, Jeff]
  • I value one outcome more than the other. [Josh, Kirk, Terry, Anya]
  • I value my relationship with Kim. [Heather, Josh, Brad, Terry, Anya, Dan, Keith, Brett, Kirk, Angie, Jeff]
  • Intrinsic rewards are more motivating. [Kevin]
  • Extrinsic rewards are more motivating. [Pawel]
  • A harsh or unfair penalty generates resentment.  [Julie, Brad]
  • A streak isn’t the same as progress. [Julie]
  • Misaligned values (or a shift in values over time) drive noncompliance. [Victoria]
  • Perceptions about others’ motivations/intentions drive behavior.  [Sarah]
  • Easier goals are more likely to get done. [Angie]

As promised, here are a couple more offerings from me, that weave together some of your theories:


Theory #1: When one is not fully bought in to the value of a new behavior, it is hard to continue in the face of failures or setbacks.

For example, if you’re not excited about exercising, it is harder to get back into a routine, once you’ve slipped. It takes extra energy and motivation to re-generate momentum.

With the post-it note, I think over time I had become more intrinsically motivated to do the right thing. Extrinsic accountability is a great way to kick-start a change. My answerability to someone else promoted a new and desirable behavior. Then there was a tipping point. Once I felt confident and competent in my new behaviors, external accountability was no longer required. In the case of the Great DuoLingo Rebellion of 2014, however, I never was fully bought-in to the idea that I needed to practice every day. DuoLingo is a hard master, insisting on daily obedience. When my streak was over, I was forced to evaluate if I wanted to keep slogging on, daily. I quickly (though not necessarily consciously) calculated it wasn’t worth the hassle.


Theory #2 (and this may be closest to the heart of the matter): The strength of the relational connection correlates to the sustainability of the new behavior.  

Kim was the individual holding me accountable for the office lights. I value Kim, our relationship, and her opinion of me. I don’t know Luis von Ahn or anyone else at Duolingo, and I don’t care what they think of me. Even after I rebelled against Kim’s accountability mechanism (the post-it note), I remain committed to being a better man, for her.

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When Accountability Backfires

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

I used to forget to turn off the lights in my office. When my wife Kim noticed, she turned them off for me.

One day she got tired of this routine and stuck a post-it note on the light switch to remind me to flip it off when leaving. It started off as a joke, including a tally of how many times she had to deliver her “lights off service.” It was very effective, until I ripped it off the wall in frustration.

One day, after two months of success, I got two tic marks from Kim back-to-back. I had a surprisingly strong emotional reaction to this. I angrily pulled the post-it off the wall, crumpled it, and pitched it in the trash.

I’m not completely incorrigible, though. I still turn the lights off, even without the post-it reminder.

I’ll come back to this point.


A second story, related to the first…

I used to rave about the smartphone app DuoLingo, which helped me hone my French and Spanish skills. The app is gamified, so users get points for regular use and language proficiency. I had worked my way up to a 46-day streak of achievements. Then, on day 48, at 12:01am, I received a sad-trombone message notifying me that my streak had come to an end. I had accidentally slipped up and missed a day.

My attitude towards DuoLingo soured.  That was 3 months ago, and I haven’t opened the app since.


The common theme in these two stories is that after some initial sustained compliance, I actively rebelled against the accountability.

Why? I have a theory:

Self-deception, when exposed, triggers defensiveness.

I thought I would perform well against both these assignments. Turn off the lights? Easy. Do some language homework on my phone each night? Piece of cake. It turns out I was fooling myself. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my thinking went something like this: “I can submit to this. Success will affirm my ego. I’ll play along.” In both cases, if I’m going to be honest with myself, I thought I didn’t really need the accountability, until I did. I was play-acting submission to the accountability.

Failing at these tasks revealed the truth—I needed some outside help to keep me on track. I got resentful when my self-deception was exposed.

This is useful for me to understand, both as an individual who needs to be held accountable (to be alert to my own play-acting) and also as a leader who holds others accountable (to help others identify and deal with their own self-deception).

[Josh Davis, thanks for your insight into this dynamic.]


The difference between the two stories is that I continued with the desired behavior in one, but stopped cold turkey in the other.   Why?  On this one, I confess I’m a little stuck.

I have a handful of theories, none of which seem to fully explain my behavior. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. But before I reveal my ideas, I’d like to hear some more opinions. Perhaps you have an insight into this question that has been nagging at me:

Why do I still turn off my office lights religiously, while I have not continued with DuoLingo?

I’d love to hear your theories.  Fire away, and I’ll post some more of my thinking later.

 

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XYZ Sandwich

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Thanks to my good friend Kris Taylor from K. Taylor & Associates for hosting me as a guest on her site.  You can read my post on The XYZ Sandwich there.

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A Sugar-Coated Satan Sandwich

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

This past Tuesday, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the “debt deal”), but he wasn’t happy about it.  He described it as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”

He’s not the only one eating a big helping of nastiness; frontline workers in many organizations are gagging on their own Satan sandwiches.

Oftentimes people ask me what I do for a living.  I respond with a question, “Do you like having change shoved down your throat?”  The answer: “No!  Does anyone?”  Then I respond that I help leaders in organizations not do that.

A leader’s first instinct when faced with dissent may be to crack down on the rebellion: “In these desperate times, you’re with me, or you’re against me.  I need everyone toeing the line so we can get through this quickly.”  But when the threat of coercion diminishes, frontline engagement and commitment wane.

Some leaders hire a change management consultant because they want their stubborn employees to get in line.  “Can you get those intransigent holdouts to see reason?  Maybe if you make it look better, they’ll get on board.”

But no matter how much sugar we put on that Satan sandwich, it won’t go down easy for Rep. Cleaver, because it isn’t his sandwich.

Owned solutions are better than optimal solutions.

Leaders must engage their teams early and often, to drive higher levels of commitment.  When people get their grubby fingerprints all over a solution, they own it.  When it only has the leader’s grubby fingerprints on it, no one wants to eat it.

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