Posts Tagged ‘performance feedback’

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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Keep Doing That

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I was traveling with my family on Spring Break. We stopped for lunch at the Toro Loco in Jackson, Ohio. The food was delicious and inexpensive, and the staff was focused and attentive.

After our meal, I tried to catch our waiter’s eye, but he was elusive. I was starting to feel anxious and frustrated, wanting to pay my bill and get back on the road. Just as I was about to get up and track him down, a patron from a nearby table walked over and said, “Pardon me. We’re a pretty tight-knit community around here. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I overheard you stating that you were traveling. You have a beautiful family. My wife and I have 3 kids of our own– a girl and two boys. It’s so nice to see well-behaved kids. I hope you’re not offended, but I’ve taken care of your meal. Thanks, and have a great day.”

I looked at my wife. She looked at me. We were shocked. The idea flashed in my mind that he was being sarcastic about my children, so I quickly reviewed the past half-hour in my mind, remembering their behavior. We had been talking together as a family, and all 3 of the kids had indeed been well-behaved. We hadn’t even used any electronic devices (think Angry Birds) to pacify the middle one. My eyes got a little misty. All I could manage was, “Thank you; I really appreciate it.” My wife and I continued to look at each other, feeling both blessed and dumbfounded.

After I recovered my senses, I stopped at my benefactor’s table, and said, “You humble me with your generosity. And I think you caught us on a good day.” We both laughed, and he said, “Have a safe trip.” Then I gathered my family and we left.

Over the next several days, that incident kept popping into my mind. This man’s action was sacrificial, generous, and bold. I felt like somehow I had to live up to the standard he expected. What could I do that would contribute to building my kids’ character? How could I influence them to continue growing in self-awareness and self-control?

Which was strange, because I likely would never see this man again. And he would likely never see me or my kids again.

I was struck by a couple of ideas:

  • Influence requires relationship. If we don’t have a relationship with a person, we won’t allow that person to be influential in our lives. But I had just met this man; how could he become so influential with me so quickly? Since I trusted his intent, I listened. Selfless intent generates trust, accelerates relationships, and creates influence.
  • He effectively said, “Whatever you’re doing to get this result, keep doing it, because it makes a difference to those around you.” How often do we (or our kids) hear stop doing that instead of keep doing that? Keep doing that is much more powerful in effecting long-lasting change.

I’m grateful that a stranger had the courage to influence me. We need more of that in our workplaces, our friendships, and our homes.

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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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