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Monday, October 11, 2010

Goals Accountability and Social Support for Big Impact

This month’s big question is Examples of Big Impact from Technology and I’ve taken it as an opportunity to go back and look at the elements of different projects that I’ve worked on over the years that have had a big impact.  In this post, I’m going to focus on a common model that has been part of several of the highest impact projects. 

At it’s core, the model is pretty simple:

  • Guide through setting meaningful personal goals
  • Teach how you can hold yourself accountable to those goals
  • Help the user set up social support
  • Teach the social supporters how they can help hold the personal accountable
  • Send lots of reminders to the individual and the supporters

This approach has been used for loan officers, automotive sales, management development, retail store management, and in lots of other industries and jobs.  In fact, we’ve also used it as a means of some fairly generic goal setting processes. 

As a side note, I believe that there’s a REALLY great business to be created around this. 

Goal Setting and Making Plans

There’s a lot of content that already exists around the basics of goal setting, i.e., SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

However, it’s far easier to teach someone about these than it is to help them create the goals themselves.

And if you are asked to create eLearning around goal setting, PLEASE DON’T GIVE THEM A BLANK TEXT ENTRY FIELD.  I’ve seen that in courses and in design specs many times, and it’s a HORRIBLE IDEA.  Yes, I’m yelling – it’s really that bad. 

Remember what it’s like when you set your own SMART goals.  It’s one thing when you provide a blank space to write your goals when you are in a classroom and there’s a teacher who can help you.  It’s quite something else when you are on a computer and you are likely not very good at this.  Actually, it’s rare to find people who really are good at setting SMART goals.  Setting SMART goals sounds so easy and takes real work.

I would claim that this is a perfect situation for Performance Support.

  • Walk them through the process
  • Focus the question
  • Provide prompts or ideas that can spark specific goals
  • Show lots of examples both of goals and of plans to attach the goals
  • Give them criteria to evaluate the goal and plan – have them rework needed items

In my post Data Driven, we describe a use of this approach that helped retail store managers improve customer satisfaction.  Of course, improving customer satisfaction is a goal, but the system would drill down to specific issues such as knowledge of store layout.   We provide suggestions for particular interventions that have specific steps and particular associated goals.  In this case, the plan was as important as the goal.

Accountability, Follow-up and Social Support

Of course, what’s often much more important than setting goals and plans is having a game plan around accountability and follow-up.  Anyone who tries to lose weight, can tell you that it’s SO MUCH easier to talk about your goals and come up with specific plans than it is to follow-through on those plans. 

There is a ton of material on how you can be better at holding yourself accountable to goals.  I roughly boil this down to:

  • Establish importance
  • Take responsibility
  • Track progress
  • Overcome obstacles
  • Have reward / punishment system in place
  • Reminders

When you provide support for setting goals/plans, you need to be really careful to make sure that the person setting the goal actually believes in the importance of the goal and is taking responsibility for the goal/plan.  They can easily copy, paste and edit a goal/plan from one of the examples and have no real intent on implementing.  We always present why this is important and ask some questions around it.  One trick that we’ve used is to ask users to evaluate how likely they are to implement the plan.  If they don’t rate it really high, then go back to challenge the goal. 

Tracking progress can be implemented in a very complex way or in a very simple way.  I’ve worked on systems with both.  In some cases, have specific days on a schedule, checking off completed items, providing ratings to evaluate progress, etc. all make sense.  In other cases, having a very simple daily/weekly check in with a standard question or two can be effective.

When you do a check-in, there’s a great opportunity to provide support for overcoming obstacles.  I’ve see courses on goal setting that have lots of up-front content on overcoming obstacles (they also have blank boxes for inputting your goals).  The obvious place to put content around overcoming obstacles is when people run into obstacles.  For example, one model is that at each check-in, the user rates how well they’ve done on completing each goal.  If they rate themselves poorly, then the system can jump in and find out what the obstacles are that are preventing them from accomplishing the goal.  It can provide them some strategies.  It’s the learning opportunity that you look for.  And again, doing it as performance support makes a lot of sense.

I’ve not done this as much, but having in a way for people to setup rewards and punishments for accomplishing their plans and goals is a great idea.  I’ll treat myself to a massage if I do X is a great thing to have as part of the system.  Or an account that goes up and down.  For most of the systems that I’ve worked on, the assumption is that both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are tied to accomplishing the goals.  For example, the games that teach associates about product location in stores are fun and it’s rewarding to see the employee growth and certainly as it improves customer satisfaction, the store manager gets greater compensation and opportunities.  For automotive sales associates, the rewards were prizes, trips, etc. 

And last, but certainly not least, definitely keep in mind the necessity of having lots of reminders.  Daily and weekly reminders are often really good and should have enough content to provide something of value.  Otherwise, it quickly becomes ignored.

Actually, all of this can become ignored unless we step it up one more notch …

Social Support

I don’t know quite what to call it when you enlist other people to help hold someone accountable for goals and plans.  In some context, you might call this a support network.  I’ve seen accountability partners.  I’m going to call it “Social Support” and the people doing it “Social Supporters.”  But if you know what I should call this please let me know.

The idea here is pretty simple and has been used in lots of tough behavior change situations: drugs, alcohol, weight loss, etc.  Enlist other people to help hold yourself accountable.

In corporate situations, the social supporters can be peers, colleagues or even your boss.  In the retail store manager example, district managers were a critical part of the system.  The retail store manager’s plan would be reviewed and approved by the district manager.  The district manager was responsible for checking in periodically and reviewing progress.  In other situations people have enlisted friends, family, etc. Most often they have some mutual interest in the outcome and willingness to accept responsibility to provide support.

Of course, just like most people are not very good at setting SMART goals and coming up with associated plans, most people (including district managers) are not very good at helping to hold people accountable to their goals / plans.

There’s a bit of training required to cover things like roles, alignment, how things work.  But the majority of the assistance for social supporters is best provided through performance support.  Send them periodic reminders that include specific performance suggestions based on the particular situation.  For example, “The person you are supporting just missed their check-in.  This might be a good time to jump remind them about the importance they’ve attached to the goal.  As an example – …”  In other words, here’s a template for a conversation (or email).

Big Impact

Certainly, it’s way easier to build some online training around all of this than to build a performance support solution that helps people set goals and plans, and setups up personal and social accountability.  So the question is whether it’s worth the effort.

Well in looking at the situations where I’ve been personally involved in big impact, really moving the needle on factors like sales, customer satisfaction, loyalty – this kind of approach was commonly used.  In several of these projects, we measured participants vs. non-participants and the impact was staggering.  Of course, there’s always lots of question of the specifics – did non-participants care less? – but my strong belief and I believe it’s backed up by my experience is that this kind of approach has a BIG IMPACT.

I would very much welcome thoughts around this.


More on this Topic


Vast Talent ELearning said...

Blank to be filled is disaster --- Agreed. I think if they have PM for long to do it on system is just a change of medium. However a lot of time it is they do not even have the practice ready.

Vast Talent ELearning said...

Oh, what I mean "they do not even have the practice ready" is saying that they don't have proper PM resources and procedure ready. That will be outside the scope of a PM system implementation.

escalante blogger said...

I don't like also with that horrible idea.

Nisha said...

Tony I'm taking a course now on training technologies and learning. We've discussed the whole idea around "learning organizations" and improving performance which often begins on an individual level. I would imagine online training would be beneficial although timely to develop (or expensive). How do you encourage employees to follow through on goals set or participate in online training initiatives? Rewards are often put in place but how can you get all employees collectively wanting to learn and put their best foot foward, to acheive not only personal goals but goals of the company which will enhance performance? May you enlighten us on the approaches you've taken that have had such BIG IMPACTS please?

Tony Karrer said...

Nisha - that's a really good question. First - most people (employees) want to do a good job at their job. So, you often are more trying to provide them reasonable support for doing their job better and that is enough to get them to use what you provide.

That said, often the hard part of getting people to change behavior is having appropriate follow-up. It's really easy to get someone inspired to change - it's much harder to keep them motivated about the change as it gets tough.

In the example that I talked about in my post that had big impact - you'll notice that the solution has built in follow-up mechanisms and on-going support. I think this is a big part of having a successful solution that's going to have big impact.

Of course, there's a lot to all of this and I hope that we'll see some more answers around your questions through other responses to the big question.

Nisha said...

Hi again Tony thanks for responding! I agree that some people usually are easily inspired by change (if they are receptive to it) but like you've stated, it's the "follow-up mechanisms" and "ongoing support" that sustains ideas that results in achieving desired outcomes. I'm hoping to see more discussions on the question you've posed. I personally feel that a combination of online training and performance support systems in place, may be more successful in creating Big Impacts.