GB: Did you know that mandatory racial-bias training can actually make people more biased?
Have you heard that people will actively oppose a change, even if it’s good for them?
These are just a couple of the counterintuitive insights that a scientific approach to DE&I illuminates.
And it’s not just interesting, it’s vital.
Science can help us make sense of an ever changing DE&I landscape,
and point us in the right direction as we design solutions.
If we neglect, or ignore the science,
we may end up concentrating our efforts in the wrong places,
at the wrong times,
in the wrong ways.
At best spinning our wheels, at worst, moving us backwards.
If we want to drive real change in DE&I, science is the only reliable guide.
I’m Gabriel Berezin, and you’re listening to Your Brain at Work, from the NeuroLeadership Institute.
We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday.
This week our panel consists of:
NLI’s co-founder and CEO Dr. David Rock,
and senior consultants Camille Inge and Dr. Paulette Gerkovich.
Together, they’ll explain why organizations should, and how they can, take a scientific approach to DE&I, from establishing hypotheses, to structuring experiments, to tracking results, and course-correcting as they go.
[00:01:28] DR: Sort of a mantra that emerged out of the ethers of our summit in November. If you don’t know, we have a big annual conference each year. We’re planning the next one by the way. It’s going to be November again and a big virtual conference and maybe an in-person in parallel. We’ll see. But this year, we were just kind of deep in the thoughts about how do you really leverage this moment, and this mantra came up. Follow the science. Experiment. Follow the data. I think we’re going to do t-shirts with that at some point. It’s such an obvious thing and yet such an important thing.
The science is kind of tricky. Well, it’s complicated. It’s noisy. Sometimes, it might take us two and a half years, a whole research team working out what the science is about a particular issue. I mean, it’s really not that easy to just follow the science as well. I mean, that’s what we do. That’s what we help you with is putting teams of researchers onto critical questions that are really important. Actually, this year, one of our commitments is to really ask organizations, ask talent executives what it is that you’re trying to unpack even more and kind of do even more research.
But follow the science. Develop a hypothesis. Experiment. You try things that actually follow the data. It’s such a critical thing, and we were thinking about Black History Month. We were thinking about what’s going on in the world. There’s such a push obviously to do big things and there’s a real push to kind of do things right now versus do things right to some degree. We’re sort of coming back to that tension. If you are going to follow the science around diversity, equity, and inclusion, what’s kind of the first thing that organizations tend to get wrong? Kind of right at the start, what’s the very first kind of bit of science you should follow? That’s what we wanted to address today. Kind of what’s the very first thing you want to really get right?
It’s nuanced. You’ll get sort of the nuance as we go in, so it kind of starts a bit black and white. Then it gets nuanced. Then hopefully by the end, you’ll have some clarity about what the science is really, really saying. Those of you new to us, that’s what we do. We find the issues that are really important. We study them. We put teams of researchers onto them. We write research papers. Then we advise organizations. Now, over 50 of the Fortune 100, about 13 and a half million leaders have been impacted directly by our work in the last three years as well. It gives you some context of what we’re doing.
In following the science, as I said the first question is kind of, well, what does the science say and kind of what do we need to focus on. We wanted to start right at the beginning, and there’s a very big decision organizations make as they’re even just kind of starting out on the DEI journey. It’s well-intentioned. It’s well-meaning. It comes from a good place. But the kind of commitment people come to us, “All right, we’ve got to build something, whether it’s a learning experience or a change journey or whatever it is, and we’re going to need to make it mandatory. We care about it that much that we’re going to make it mandatory.”
That’s actually the first thing that we want to address. We want to unpack this in a pretty robust way. We sort of talked about this lightly before. We actually want to really unpack this a lot more, this whole question of do you actually make this mandatory. There’s a sort of conventional wisdom. If you want to get the most people to participate in some kind of learning experience, make it mandatory. Make it mandatory. Our research suggests if you want people to get the most out of attendance, actually don’t make it mandatory. Make it compelling and work really hard on make it compelling. That’s the shift today from mandatory to compelling. It’s something to really kind of get your head around, but I think it’s probably one of the most important pieces of science to get right as our data will show you in a moment.
I’ll hand it to out Paulette. Paulette, do you want to take us away with kind of walking us through the paper we wrote on this, like a little bit more detail? Let’s start digging into this whole question of mandatory versus compelling over to you.
[00:05:09] PG: Yeah. That would be great. Thanks so much, David. To David’s point, I think this article from strategy and business is really a nice primary encapsulation. Some of the broader research in the area around mandatory anything, particularly mandatory diversity training but how in some cases it flies in the face of conventional wisdom that we’re really reaching more people and in a more effective way with mandatory. Some of this research began around the discovery that folks were responding to mandatory trainings with anger, resistance, anxiety. Some of it’s got its antecedents in decades of research around putting folks through any type of mandatory program.
What NLI found is that it’s not so much the actual message or the quality of a mandatory diversity training or inclusion intervention, for example, that’s at issue. But really what’s causing that resistance or what causes that anger to bubble up is folks feeling that their need for autonomy and choice and needing to feel part of a group is really being jeopardized in some cases by the mandatory approach. Now, as David mentioned, there’s some nuance to that, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But for now, we’re going to keep it a little black and white mandatory versus optional or compelling.
Some of the studies that we talk about in the article show, for example, the case of individuals who were put into two different groups. One that went through a training that was premised on statements that gave them feelings of control, feelings of choice. Statements that said things like, “You are free to choose to be non-prejudiced,” were included in the training. In another group, the training included more compulsory statements like, “Prejudice is prohibited. Prejudice will not be tolerated here.” Those two groups then took a test on bias. What were their feelings around biased, whether they were projecting biased behaviors or attitudes?
What the researchers found is that those who went through the study that allowed them to feel as if they had control over how they were thinking around inclusion really came out with less bias. But those who had gone through the study that was much more kind of dictatorial had compulsory types of statements, and it came away with even more bias than may had gone into the study. Since then, there have been a lot of studies that replicate that kind of reaction to mandatory or compulsory diversity training.
Similarly, there is a psychologist at Princeton who found that people with particularly authoritarian personalities really tended to react strongly to the messages around prohibition, for example, and walked away, again, from those trainings with feelings of increased bias or even increased racism. Then finally, there’s a whole literature around the idea that differences and sameness or felt differences and sameness across individuals is so endemic to who we are. Camille and David will discuss this through a science lens a little bit more in a moment, but there’s this deeply tribal aspect to human nature. We tend automatically unconsciously to divide the world into people who are like us and people who are not like us.
When training around inclusion or diversity is mandatory, it almost implicitly, even explicitly, creates that us versus them dichotomy and create some kind of controversial or adversarial relationship, at least in the unconscious. Again, because that tendency to treat others who we perceive like ourselves better and to sort of push away or have more negative feelings or biases and reaction toward those who we perceive as other is so endemic, that just becomes deeply exacerbated by a training that’s both mandatory, telling us what we need to do and how we need to think and then, again, creating that false dichotomy of us versus them.
Now, there’s been some other research that goes a little bit further and delves into the idea of whether beliefs or behaviors are being changed or triggered by this kind of training. Then finally, what are the outcomes? If our DNI interventions, for example, are geared toward increasing diverse representation, which they often are among other things, what is the result? What is the real impact of putting in place something that’s mandatory? One thing we found is that beliefs might actually be changed by this mandatory intervention but behaviors are not, and that is what really creates the change that we want to make and see within organizations. We want to change behaviors.
What the researchers in this case found is that mandatory diversity training actually has an adverse impact on increasing some types of diversity among managerial and leadership levels. The impact on black women is the most intense of all. We lose almost 10% of black women managers, just as the result of mandatory diversity training. You can see we lose quite a bit of Asian men and women as well. Conversely, when that training is voluntary, when it’s compelling, the impact on black men, Hispanic men, Asian men, Asian women is phenomenal. Just by flipping that conversation and making folks feel like they have some agency in the conversation around inclusion, the impact on actual representation is tremendous.
I want to turn it over to my colleague, Camille, at this point, and she’ll take you through some of the science that NLI has produced around the feelings of autonomy and control and groupishness that have an impact on some of these findings.
[00:11:57] CI: Thanks, Paulette. Yeah. The first question is why does this happen. It doesn’t really seem to make sense at face value. As always at NLI, we turn to the human brain. What this comes down to are the intrinsic needs of the human brain in terms of motivation, and many of you will be familiar with this model. Some of you won’t. We do have core intrinsic needs that we need to be met as compared to extrinsic needs like food, air, water, sleep. Intrinsically, we need to have these needs met in order to be open to experience to pursue certain goals. When those needs aren’t met or when they’re actively challenged, we enter a threat state, so what you might consider as fight or flight. When those needs are taken away from us, we cling even harder to the things that make us feel safe and secure and in control.
Those five things are status, whether we feel respected and valued in a group, that our opinion matters. Certainty that we can have clear expectations of what’s to come. Autonomy which is the focus of conversation today. Our need to feel a sense of control over our lives which is even greater. It’s heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic when we have even less control over things. We need even more control over things, especially at work. Relatedness, our need to belong, to feel an accepted member of the group, which is often at risk with certain groups in the context of things like diversity training. Then fairness, equal or equitable access to opportunities, fair decisions being made.
You can start to make these connections as well yourself. When something is mandatory, likely all five of these things are threatened, even when the thing that is mandatory is something you want to do. When someone tells you you have to do it, you don’t want to do it anymore, even though you may have chosen to do it if you were given that choice. Here specifically with autonomy, when you try to strong hand people and tell them what they have to do, they essentially rebel. You’re going to take away my control here. Well, I’m going to assert my control even more elsewhere. People wind up exhibiting more bias unfortunately. By simply giving people the option, giving them the choice, you’re respecting their status. You’re respecting their sense of autonomy that they do have a choice, definitely relatedness and fairness.
It does remind me of a personal example growing up, if I may. I have two siblings. My dad every Saturday night would have a movie night because he would want us to expand our perspectives and learn new things. He would handpick these movies. He knew these were things that would deepen our understanding of various topics. But some of them, we were kids, we didn’t really want to, especially if the movie was in black and white. We said, “No, I don’t want to do it.” What he did here was he said, “I want you to watch this movie, but here’s what we’re going to do. Give it 10 minutes. Watch it for 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes you don’t like it, you can opt out.” That only happened once. That was with the movie Mars Attacks because it was too scary, and I was eight. Every other time we stayed. One, because we knew we had the option if we wanted to to leave. Two, because the content was compelling. It was interesting. We just needed to get over that hurdle and identify for ourselves that we wanted to be there, and then we stayed and enjoyed it.
As a note, autonomy in general, not just for attending a training, is very beneficial in the workplace, as I said, especially now. Research shows that it can increase stronger motivation to exert discretionary efforts, so people work harder to achieve tasks and persevere despite obstacles. It can increase engagement because you feel you have a say in it. You feel like you’re a part of it. Therefore, productivity, commitment to the organization, you feel like you matter, and work-life balance, being able to have the choice of how you spend your time and make sure that your well-being is at the top of the priority list.
This is what the science says here, but why don’t we do it? Why do we still make things mandatory? That comes down to another quirk of the human brain. We do things that feel right and we don’t always investigate if they are right. This is all about unconscious bias, and I’m sure David would have more to chime in here. But mandatory, if we think about getting the most people to attend, yes, mandatory feels right. You will get the most people to attend because they have to. But we shouldn’t be thinking about just getting people there. We should be thinking about what they do after they leave, and there’s a lot of different biases going on there. If you’re not familiar, we do have the SEEDS Model of bias that actually identifies different kinds of biases, what they look like, how they show up, and how to mitigate them.
It feels right has to do with expedience bias. It feels like we’re getting the most out of it because the most people are attending. That quantity equals quality is very tempting to believe that. It’s also been a norm, the things that we do over time, the established norms, and so we continue to do them. That’s what’s called experience bias, and it’s important to break those by actively seeking diverse perspectives and challenging a status quo. Importantly, what might be on your minds is fear of what will happen if people don’t go, especially the people who we think need it the most. That’s a safety bias, the fear that the people who need it most will choose not to attend, and that seems counterproductive.
But, Paulette, the research that you shared combined with the science shows that it can actually make it worse. When we think about the bell curve, if you will, in an organization, you might see that the largest portion of your population is generally bought in. You have a few passionate advocates and then you have those people who are actively pushing back. So following the science of what happens, when people who don’t want to do something are made to do it, it’s even more so a case for making something voluntary and optional.
There’s other ways of including the people who don’t think that they want to be a part of it to make them feel like they actually are a part of it, that they do have a say in what the content is, when they’re able to choose to take it. So giving them autonomy, giving them a sense of status and relatedness in other ways is actually more effective than just telling them to do it. But I will turn to David, if there’s anything you want to chime in on that. Then we’ll talk about what compelling actually looks like.
[00:18:45] DR: Yeah. Thanks, Camille and Paulette. I appreciate the way you’re telling the story. It’s always great to have your personal stories in there. The most salient data you have is how do I get people to turn up? How do I get people to turn up? But you’ve got to go deeper and actually look at the science of what happens after people turn up because you can get everyone to turn up and then be worse. You can get a third of the audience to turn up and actually be passionate advocates. Maybe that’s actually much better than getting everyone to turn up when they have to. We’re trying to work on that number. We’ve got some research going on, some thought experiments. We’re trying to analyze this, like what’s the percentage that you have to get along in a compelling program that might equal or be better than the percentage you get along in a mandatory program. I don’t think it has to be that high because you get so much pushback in a mandatory program and so little actual habits.
As Paulette showed, maybe you actually make things worse. The obvious thing, you can get everyone along with mandatory, but actually it might literally be making things worse. We really have to follow the science here. But what about the people who are sort of the real haters? How do you address those? I think firstly, and Camille addressed that a bit, people who are really negative about this, if you force them to do something, they’re going to react just as strongly but in another way. They’re going to vote with their feet. Maybe that’s what you want them to do. I don’t know, but there’s a reaction. People who have control taken away find other ways to gain control. It’s just a reflex action. They won’t be able to help themselves.
But I think there’s another insight, and we shared this in the last few months that you just need to remember that any kind of change, even one that involves really positive outcomes like objectively positive outcomes for everyone, any positive change actually gets a good percentage of people pushing back aggressively. Up to 25% in some research of people will actually fight against even a positive change, just on principle because they don’t like change. Who Moved My Cheese has sold tens of millions of copies, not because mice are wonderful to read about. But it’s such a deep fable about the fact that any kind of change just upsets us.
You also have to remember, if you put all your attention and energy onto let’s make it mandatory so those real resistors come along, they’re going to resist anyway, even a good thing. So maybe that’s not the best place to put your energy. You’ve got to watch that safety bias. You’ve got to watch that expedience bias of just kind of assuming and then also that experience bias as well.
Hi there. David Rock here, CEO and Co-Founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute. On behalf of our team at NLI, I’d like to thank you for listening and for staying up to date with all the latest neuroscience and industry research that helps us make organizations more human. We know you have a lot going on, and we appreciate you following the science and following us. I wanted to make one simple request. If you’re enjoying Your Brain At Work, please pass on this podcast to a colleague or friend. Help us share these insights and spread the word in our mission to build a better normal for everyone.
[00:21:36] CI: One of the main things is understanding, I want to use your term, why the haters are hating. To actually listen to people because if someone is hating on something, especially when the tide is moving away from them it feels like, they’re in a threat state. There’s something wrong there, and I can imagine that they probably don’t feel heard, that their voice isn’t typically listened to, that they’re often just told what to do. Part of this is just listening, creating space to understand. Then actually, this is a little bit separate. But in specifically diversity and people who don’t see the value of it or who actively treat people differently based on aspects of diversity, people are a product of what they’ve learned and what they’ve experienced and what they’ve been exposed to.
Research shows that simply by increasing proximity between someone who doesn’t think that they like something and that thing increasing exposure, increasing contact can actually work to help change beliefs. I mean, that’s how stereotypes stay in place because we have nothing to replace them because we don’t have the proximity, the intimacy to correct them. I think I saw a comment about this in the chat. There’s something that needs to happen beforehand too. Forcing someone to go to a training is not the right place to start. There is something before that we have to do to deepen our understanding of what’s getting in the way.
[00:23:06] DR: Thanks, Camille. Some good comments. Paulette, you want to weigh in there?
[00:23:08] PG: Yeah. I’m thinking about my own experience in chief diversity officer role and then just anecdotally. I mean, the first one exactly to Camille’s point is engaging folks in conversation and asking them to actually be part of a dialogue before imposing something more formal. So getting buy-in or just getting their opinions and their experiences, having a dialogue where their feelings and perceptions are on the table, often in groups that might feel targeted or anxious or angry about something like diversity training or any kind of inclusion intervention.
That I found to be tremendously impactful, just giving them a voice. Whether the content changes or not, giving them that voice I found makes a tremendous difference. Then just anecdotally, my husband works with all men who think this whole diversity conversation is absolute nonsense, as did my husband when we first met, nonsense. There was no fact no research or study that I could show him to convince him otherwise, so I kind of stopped that. Look at the research. Look at the facts. You need to read this approach. Just invited him into dialogue, asked him his opinion, let him see what I was experiencing and doing every day at work, and then actually did an interview with all of the men that he worked with, one-on-one interviews, and found that after engaging in the dialogue and letting them come to the research themselves, they were completely on board. It was amazing. Again, no changes in the content, no changes in the research they were looking at. They were simply coming to it themselves.
[00:25:02] DR: That’s great. Thanks, Paulette. I was thinking about the sessions we did in the last few weeks, and we did one last year about kind of how do you actually mobilize leaders. We’re tempted to mobilize leaders just sort of outside the mandatory compelling concept, just with like how do we sort of make it compelling. The sort of obvious way to make it compelling is sort of the emotional way and try to retap their emotions. That often has unintended consequences of people feeling manipulated and other things. The other way is sort of the business case of let me show you all the rational data of why diverse and inclusive organizations are better performing.
There’s certainly so much evidence now, but I don’t think that moves people. What we’ve been proposing is you’ve got to actually explain what people feel in a rational way. It turns out what people feel is that more diversity actually makes things worse. I mean, what their felt sense is that teams that are more diverse makes them feel more uncomfortable and makes them feel like they’re being less effective. We wrote a whole piece on this called diverse teams feel less comfortable that’s why they perform better. It turns out you literally need to feel a little discomfort to get the benefits of diversity at a team level, and it requires inclusion. There’s that as well.
But you’ve sort of got to explain the mechanism. If you want your team to make the best possible decisions, it’s actually important that you put together a team that challenges you or challenges each other but is inclusive and is safe. Explaining some of that felt sense is really important to people. Then explaining the mechanisms of how it is that that diverse team actually does make smarter decisions and kind of walking through that. I think particularly for maybe stem-focused people or more rational people, kind of really explaining what their felt sense is and then explaining kind of why greater DENI is better in sort of moment-to-moment scenarios, you start to get a lot more people mobilized in there. That’s the way that we’ve been approaching it as well.
But I think the big issue here, and let’s move to that I guess, is how do we make something compelling. What do we even mean by compelling? Let me unpack that. First of all, we have an immediate response to everything. It’s something that happens unconsciously automatically about every 0.2 of a second. Essentially, we like something or we don’t like something. We like something is a toward response. We don’t like something is an away response. We have this response to every sound we hear. We like it. We don’t like it to every taste that we taste, to every chair we sit in, to every idea that comes our way, to every person we meet a toward or away response.
The toward response literally brings us in, pulls us in. It’s an approach state from psychology. It’s a kind of opening up, and literally your brain starts putting pieces together. The away response is pulling away. It’s a threat response. It’s anxiety. It’s breaking things apart. It’s showing why it’s a bad idea. It’s problem-focused, all of that. What you want, it’s really, really important that kind of at every step of the way as you’re introducing a DEI strategy, whether it’s a strategy or a learning solution, whatever, is you want this immediate toward response. Then you want the next thing to be a toward response and the next thing to be toward response, is you’ve got to design it from kind of a user experience perspective as if you were designing an app where you’re taking all the friction out, where people go, “Oh, no. You lost me.”
There’s a field of research called fluency which is really interesting. We had a great researcher on this, Adam Alter, present at our summit a few years ago. Fluency is one of the critical four domains of being able to process things. We won’t go into that whole framework, but fluency essentially is like you get it at a glance and you’re not stumbling. That’s a big part of a toward response, so you’re immediately getting it. Obviously, another part of a toward response is you’re connecting to a goal people already have. So you’re connecting to a positive goal.
For example, when we do bias work, we connect to making better decisions, not being less biased. We talk about how do you make better decisions overall and fewer decisions that you regret later and could undo your career. We try to really tag to that toward response. Partially, it’s fluency. Partially, it’s tagging to people’s existing goals. Then partially, it’s kind of how coherent your strategy or solution is. How does it fit with everything else that the organization has done? Does it feel like just something that kind of sits on the side? Does it actually make sense within the ecosystem and network you have? Those are some of the ways to think about it, and it’s really important that it’s also some kind of simple meme or something memorable that people can reuse and something sticky as well as part of it as well. That’s fluency I guess.
The second thing I think is really important, and this is underutilized, although I think the smart change agents, this is their stock in trade, is people seem to do things most because they think everyone else is doing it. There’s lots of different research on this, but the one that I love that sort of tells the story is just easy to grasp, this is a study of people putting towels in the bath or not in hotels. Basically, when there’s a sign on the bathroom door that says something about, “Please protect the environment. It’s important,” 37% of people do it. When the sign says 75% of people in this hotel use their towels more than once, 44% of people do it. When the sign says 75% of the people who stayed in this room used their towels more than once, now it’s 49% effective.
There’s something about what other people are doing and that being very relevant to the individual, very local gets a really big bump. There’s lots of different studies. I think this is just a fun one because we can all sort of picture it and see it. But essentially, feeling that other people are watching you which is the panopticon effect or feeling that other people are doing this, which is the normative effect, these are two effects that are really, really important to leverage. People will find something compelling because they feel like it’s something that everyone is doing and something that’s really important.
Paulette, do you want to add anything in there?
[00:30:48] PG: Yeah. I was just going to say before your third one, I think there’s a connection between what you’re saying about that personal connection and something that feels very relevant in the moment, as well as you have some autonomy over it, and what I’m seeing in some of the comments. I see Aina talking about having very well-placed diversity champions, for example. I think one of the things that can be particularly effective, especially with a group that’s very, very resistant. Again, I’m thinking to an organization in which I worked where there are a lot of folks on the plant floor. Many white men who had been in the organization for 20, 25 years and felt so threatened and so anxious by these new DEI efforts.
That choosing a diversity champion in this case who looked like them, who spoke their language, and who really truly passionately believed in what we were doing as the right thing but knew how to get to his folks on their level or speaking their language made all of the difference in the world. I just wanted to throw that out there in response to some of the comments we were seeing. Sorry, David.
[00:32:03] DR: No. Please jump in any time. We’re doing a lot of work, especially the last couple of years at a strategic level with organizations, essentially helping them build their overall strategy, as well as the branding, the business case, how they tell the story, what they’re going to actually teach people in what order over what time, thinking much more about the whole overarching strategy. It’s really exciting work to be part of because we do find as organizations approach DEI that they actually ironically have a lot of unconscious biases that get in the way of really getting this right.
I think as we’re talking about today, the very first thing is just how do you position an initiative so that people get on board, so the most possible people get on board. You can never target 100%. You’ve got to say, “How do we get 60, 70, 80, 90 percent of people really behind this in some way?” There’s always going to be some who won’t. Then that’s how you create the movement. How do we get most people on board with this?
Anyway, let’s continue. We’re talking about some of the ways to make this really compelling, and I think the really important one first is create that towards state. The second one is the normative social influence. The third one is sort of a little bit of an obvious. We’ve said minimal friction to participate. I would actually reframe that a little bit, but it doesn’t fit in the sentence here, which is make it harder to not participate than it is to participate. The challenges do that without making it mandatory as well, but there’s creative ways to do that. We’ll start to talk about that, but that’s a behavioral science perspective, the way kind of the government gets us to do things. You would opt out rather than opt in but do that in a way that still feels like you’re choosing to participate as well. Those are the three issues.
Camille and Paulette, anything else you want to add there before we start to talk about kind of the experiment point of view and the kinds of experiments?
[00:33:43] CI: Always got more to say, but it’ll probably come up in the next section.
[00:33:47] DR: Great. Okay. Well, let’s dig in. We’ve got to create these whole strategies to be compelling, as well as these individual solutions. If you start with kind of following the science, the next thing you’ve got to do is actually experiment. Someone asked in the chat earlier, “What can you do to get a government on board with compelling versus mandatory?” If there’s one place they appreciate the importance of kind of stewardship and being responsible and testing things or they certainly should, it’s when you’re talking about whole society.
Follow the science. Do experiments. It’s really, really important to actually do experiments. There’s a number of experiments you can do, and we’re just going to kind of share a bunch of ideas we’ve been playing with, some of the experiments we’ve been doing. But I really, really want to hear your thoughts as well on the kinds of experiments you want to see as practitioners, the kinds of experiments you want to see and also the kinds of experiments you wish you could do. This is an opportunity for all of us to riff a little on experiments overall.
But I think it’s such an important thing to experiment. I mean, the very first one, the kind of obvious one is when you roll out a mandatory solution, what percentage of people maybe three months later have actually activated a habit now are doing the thing you want them to do and how often? If you’re wanting them to be a certain level of inclusivity, how many people are doing that and how often? Now, we’ve got a way of actually measuring that because we anchor on specific habits and we measure those habits evidenced by direct reports, but that’s a critical question. Without that data, you’re just throwing things up against the wall and seeing what’s sticking. But if you’re going to run a mandatory program, actually test what impact it has.
I remember a program. A couple years ago, we measured the success of a program for a thousand people. The actual feedback and the net promoter score was really high. Most of a thousand people said everyone should do this. They got tons of value. They really enjoyed it. The net promoter score was high. We went back a few months later and actually measured a couple of things. Firstly, what do you remember, and ask people to literally put in what they remember, which is we could give them a multiple choice but that’s not remembering. That’s different. What do they remember from the program? Secondly, what are they using weekly? What’s now part of their management style?
We got north of 50 respondents who filled out a full survey in this, and there was about two people who remembered anything, and no one was doing anything different. This was a thousand people who had very high net promoter score. It’s really important what you measure. When you’re doing experiments, actually experiment with how many times a week are you being actively more inclusive or less biased or reaching out to someone different and supporting them as an ally or whatever it is. Really important.
That’s one kind of experiment that we think is really important is what change are you getting from a mandatory solution. In other words, if you’re stuck with one, study it just to build a business case for why you should change it. If you’re stuck with a mandatory solution, if your organization’s done that, really important from every bit of science that we see that you can dig into, that you now make sure you’re not making things worse because that is not going to play well in two years’ time. When you look back and say, “Hey, all this evidence said you shouldn’t do it. You did it. Why didn’t you test it?” Give you a little safety bias moment.
Camille and Paulette, other studies you want to talk about in the experiment domains? What else do you want to kind of suggest?
[00:36:59] CI: Well, I would want to – It’s not a study but to circle back to the core message of this which does go back to bias and especially in experimenting with how we even approach, for example, designing what the training will look like. The point here is to interrupt the perpetuation of doing things as we’ve always done them or on someone proposing an out-of-the-box idea and immediately shutting it down, saying that will never work or we don’t have the time. We don’t have the resources. There are so many occasions where we just limit ourselves to what feels right, what feels easy. Experimentation is very closely tied to the concept of growth mindset.
The idea that we ought to actively challenge the way that we’ve currently done things, actively challenge our assumptions on what will work and what won’t work have a lab-like environment where you can really test these ideas and, of course, collect the data on what’s resonating and what’s not and then learn and adapt based on that. There really are a lot of possibilities in terms of how are you creating novelty for people to get them excited to join something. Can you bring in people external to the organization? Maybe if you don’t know any celebrities, at least somebody who has a really intriguing background. Experiment with that way of making something compelling. Experiment with the approach that you’re using. Are you sitting people down in a chair and talking at them for an hour or are you actually involving people, having experiential exercises, having a debate, like really creative ways of trying to switch up the game to get people to feel like they are gaining something from what’s happening there?
[00:38:42] DR: These are great ways of actually experimenting with compelling to create a towards state, so having it as a listening circle or having it as a debate and some of these things. But what do you think we should be experimenting with? What do you think I should be experimenting with or your organization should be experimenting with around mandatory versus compelling? What are some of the ideas coming up for you, definitely before and after? It’s interesting all the learning literature says learning is a journey, not an event. It’s interesting the bias we have when thinking about learning is still learning event, and we should do something before and after.
It’s sort of the mental model we have at NLI. The shortest learning event is a month basically, so it’s 30 days of actually learning something. The event is a month long, and there’s not really much before because it’s really hard to get people to do much at all before. But after, there’s a lot because now you’ve got people engaged and after we want to measure. We want to give them tools to share this as well. We have a buyers around learning just kind of unpack that it’s this event and then before and after. Real learning has to be one habit at a time. Go and apply it. Next habit, go and apply it. Next habit, go and apply it. You’ve got to stretch it out and space it out, and you get tremendous impact from that.
[00:39:48] PG: Just going down to the foundations of recognizing that we’re human and we have some of the same needs. We’ve got the same inclinations. I think one of the most compelling trainings out there is one that brings together folks who are advocating for LGBTQ rights and another set of folks who think that homosexuality is a sin. The bible tells us this is a sin, and bringing them together and getting them to learn about each other and walk away with some kind of mutual understanding and agreement on a few foundational things.
What the training does is it not only allows everyone to contribute in the dialogue but peels back the layers till it gets to something that both sides fundamentally agree on. That is our humanness. I think we can’t dismiss how incredibly compelling it is to just recognize the very humanness and connection across us.
[00:40:55] DR: Yeah. We have to find that shared goal. Speaking of humanness, let’s think about experimenting from a SCARF perspective for a moment. Let’s dig in. Paulette thoughtfully introduced autonomy as a real issue with mandatory. One of the big drivers is autonomy. The other is it creates a powerful us and them, and we’ve seen in the last four years the dangers of a powerful us and them and how easy it could be to fall into that and has some really potential dark implications. We want to avoid the us and them, but I think the autonomy issue is a really important one.
There are ways to increase the perception of autonomy without necessarily creating absolute autonomy, like do this whatever. I’ll give you a couple of examples. For example, there’s a very big difference between saying, “Hey. You’ve got to do this program, employee,” and saying to managers, “Hey, managers. Your people need to do this program, but we want you to choose from these two options, and you can roll this out anytime in the next 60 days and check with your team how they want to do it.” There’s a really big difference between you’ve got to do this way.
The nuance is, managers, we don’t think you’re broken. We don’t think there’s anything wrong with you but we want you to help us get this to everyone in the organization. Then leveraging the managers to get this to everyone in the organization actually influences those managers probably better than training them directly. If you say to the managers, “Look, there’s nothing wrong with you,” we’re not creating a status threat. We’re not creating an autonomy threat with the managers but, hey, we need your help to get this out to the organization. Now, you’ve got relatedness. You’ve got a shared goal. In fact, status is up when autonomy is up. We need your help to get this out. Can you help us do this? Everyone else has a bias problem, probably not you. It’s sort of the implicit thing.
That’s going to be really different from autonomy perspective. Now, you need some certainty. We want to get 90% of every employee through within 30 days or 60 days or three months, whatever. With some certainty, we want to do this, and there are two ways or three different ways you can do it, but here’s where you have control. The more you focus people on what they can control, the more they feel in control. It’s a very powerful thing. There’s a couple of things that you can do, but what we don’t want to do is sort of tell people that they’re broken which creates a status threat. Then tell them exactly what they’ve got to do to fix themselves which creates an autonomy threat. What we’ve got to do instead is create a shared goal with relatedness, and then help people feel like they’ll grow and learn out of participating in this and that they’ve got some control over the journey. Those are some of the ways that we think about it. We try to design that in to the bigger rollouts that we do and the impact that it’s having out there.
I mean, leveraging managers is what we do. We do manager-led learning and we do it in a way where they kind of don’t even know they’re learning it in a way. They sort of you get this upward pressure that they have to really embody and learn whatever the skills are. Then you impact everyone in the organization much, much faster as well. You also get the social effect of something being in that intact team.
Paulette, Camille, anything you want to add there?
[00:43:47] PG: Camille, I know you wanted to talk about BCP a little bit.
[00:43:51] CI: Yeah. We can touch on it. When we think about following the data, it’s important to think about following the right data, data that actually shows whether something is working or not. The conventional wisdom here, at least for a long time, was to collect net promoter scores, NPS. How much did you like the program? But research shows that how much you like something doesn’t equate at all to how much you’ve applied what you’ve learned. You can simply enjoy it and then carry on and go resort back to your original habits.
What we’ve developed is when you heard Paulette say BCP. That stands for Behavior Change Percentage, so operationalizing how to actually measure behavior change through things like, first, measuring their recall of what they learned. How much of this can you remember? Importantly, I could nerd out on this, but there’s a difference between recognition and recall, so don’t test people on which 5 of these 10 things are in the SCARF model, and then you have multiple choice. That doesn’t recall people to actually retrieve information from their long-term memory. It just requires that they recognize it. It’s a much shallower form of learning. So recall of the behaviors.
Of course, it is self-report. We don’t have biometric data on this but on the frequency of applying the habits. They are really specific and simple and actionable habits. It’s not a general lofty thing. How often were you inclusive this past week? No one would be able to identify that? By really clicking down into something tangible like we actually have habits that create inclusion find common ground, lift people up, and help create clarity. Once you can start to visualize it more, you can actually have more clarity into how often you have been doing this. How often have you applied a bias mitigation strategy, things like that?
[00:45:37] DR: It’s a tangible thing that’s important. Thanks, Camille. It’s tangible actions that you took this week and measuring those across large numbers like thousands, tens of thousands. We’ve got data from nearly 10,000 people that about 78% are mitigating bias every week when they go through our desired solution, that they’re actually doing something about bias every week. You can get that data and drill down and see what’s going on. This is the first in a series. We’re going to do a lot of sessions like this where we’re kind of digging down into particular topics. Follow the science, experiment. Follow the data.
Today, we wanted to really follow the science of just how do we even design something mandatory versus compelling. We’re going to do a lot more of these. Watch out for these coming up. I really appreciate the partnership with Paulette and Camille. If you are interested in our learning solutions, we have whole pathways now that can transform people’s habits over time. This might be two years of really building these. So reach out to us if you’re interested in some of the learning solutions or strategy work to really partner on following the science, something that we do.
Otherwise, hold the date. November 17 to 19 this year, we’re going to be doing an amazing virtual summit again, and we’ll hopefully have something in person, whether it’s 50 people, 500, 5,000. Hard to know. Hopefully something in person but definitely going to do the virtual event in a big way even better than last year, so hold the dates if you can. Thanks very much. Please take care of yourselves, look after each other, and keep doing what matters.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:46:55] GB: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producers are Cliff David, Matt Holodak, and Danielle Kirshenblat. Our executive producer is me, Gabriel Berezin. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky, and logo design is by Katch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.