Get It Done: Two Techniques to Accelerate Your Goals


Nano-tools for Leaders® — a collaboration between Wharton Executive Education and the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management – are fast, effective leadership tools you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes, with the potential to make a significant impact on your success as a leader and on the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.

Donor: Katy Milkman, professor of operations, information and decisions at Wharton, is co-director of Penn’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative and author of How to change: the science of getting from where you are to where you want to be (Portfolio, 2021).

The goal

Achieve individual and team goals by relying on short-term gratification rather than willpower.

Nano tool

Need to kick a bad habit? Want to start a new positive routine, like having a productive morning routine, exercising, or eating healthier? Forget the will. The research is clear: it doesn’t work. We tend to be overconfident about how easily we can be disciplined, but a big long-term gain – or even knowing that a change is easy or cheap – just isn’t enough to keep us motivated. Economists call this tendency to favor immediately gratifying temptations over greater long-term rewards “current bias.” Unfortunately, this is universal and is one of the biggest barriers to change.

Instead of simply succumbing to what’s most desirable in the moment (whether it’s the latest spy novel, a bag of chips, or Twitter), “reverse the script” by having short-term gratification works for you. In a study of how people approach change, more than two-thirds of respondents told researchers that they generally focused on the benefits they hoped to achieve in the long term, disregarding their pain in the short term. term. Only 26% of respondents said they would try to make pursuing a goal enjoyable in itself. This group was onto something. Turning your obstacles into enticements is one of the best motivators for change. Two proven ways to do this are outlined in the action steps below.

Action steps

The following approaches take the pleasure that might usually distract us from our goals and use it to turn a hindrance into an incentive – suddenly we want to hit the gym, focus on work, eat healthier food, and study harder. This kind of desire is a powerful engine for change.

  1. Gather your temptations. Based on the work of behavioral scientists Katy Milkman, Julia Minson and Kevin Volpp, this technique recognizes that we have trouble doing what is unpleasant in the moment and looks for ways to make those activities more enjoyable. To use it, you must associate something you need to do with something you want to do. Need to focus on reading and answering emails first thing in the morning? Enjoy your favorite coffee while you do it — and only when you do it. Temptation grouping works best if you can actually limit an indulgence each time you perform a task that requires extra motivation, and it can be used to solve all sorts of problems ranging from cooking more home-cooked meals ( no wine unless you’re cooking) exercise (listen to audiobooks only at the gym, not in your car or on the bus).
  2. Have fun. Providing time, space and tools to “have fun” or have fun at work can improve productivity, teamwork and engagement – ​​and trying it is relatively low risk and low cost. Allow employees to bring a pet to work; add a ping-pong table to the cafeteria; and taking the occasional trip to a restaurant, theater or museum can add an element of fun. Gamification is another way to make something you don’t want to do more fun, by motivating with rewards and gratifications instead of punishments. Apps like LoseIt! and FitBit use game-like features like rewards (symbolic or real), a sense of competition, and leaderboards to help you lose weight or exercise more. Or gather a group of like-minded colleagues and decide that attendance at your 10:30 a.m. coffee break depends on your inbox. Managers and senior executives can motivate employees to perform less than desirable tasks by adding playful elements as long as people don’t feel manipulated but actually have fun. Training programs, sales targets, and travel expense reports are just a few applications, and most companies rely on existing software to help them (SAP and Mindspace are popular examples).

Turning your obstacles into enticements is one of the best motivators for change.

How Organizations Use It

Every day, nearly 100,000 passengers rush through Stockholm’s Odenplan metro station. Each of them has a choice: To get to and from their train, they can take the stairs or the escalator. To encourage the former, to make a difference to people’s health (9% of premature deaths worldwide are attributed to improper exercise), a team of technicians funded by Volkswagen’s “Fun Theory” initiative transformed the staircase into a set of giant, functional piano keys. The result? Because taking the stairs was now fun, 66% more people than usual chose the stairs over the escalator. See it for yourself here.

Aetna, Cigna and Humana use gamification to encourage employees to exercise (which in turn reduces absenteeism, increases productivity and improves employee engagement). Humana’s Go365 program rewards participants who reach their health goals with Go365 Bucks that can be redeemed for items such as gift cards.

Tech company Asana, named one of the Best Workplaces for Parents of 2020, is giving its employees a $10,000 budget to decorate their workspaces. The Farmer’s Dog, a dog food company, “employs” dogs to make human employees feel loved and entertained (they even have official titles: Chief Inspirational Officer and Head of Playtime). When the coronavirus pandemic forced most American employees to start working remotely, companies even found ways to make working from home more fun. Virtual happy hours have become all the rage at companies like Zappos; some even got cute with dating names like “Quaran-tinis”.

Deloitte gamified its leadership training program after struggling to convince executives to start and finish it. They added fun features with the help of Badgeville to encourage participation and measure how many people participated. Badges, leaderboards, and status symbols reduced average run time by 50% and increased the number of daily program users by almost 50%.

(Adapted from How to change: the science of getting from where you are to where you want to be, by Katy Milkman; foreword by Angela Duckworth, courtesy of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Katherine L. Laitier, 2021.)

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