Managers Need to Think Like Designers

Published on 2013-06-24

Managers Need to Think Like Designers
A FEW MONTHS AGO I was delivering a Presentations Workshop. As I sat down at my desk whilst one of the trainees prepared to get up and practice, I noticed a list of rules written on the wall, two of which were:
• Pay attention in class
• Use the skills you learn on your job
How ridiculous, I thought! If someone isn’t paying attention in class, that’s because the class is not engaging enough. If someone isn’t using the skills they learnt on the job, that’s because the skills were not applicable to their job! Whose responsibility is it to ensure the trainee pays attention in class and uses their skills on the job? In my opinion, it’s everyone’s!
Responsibility is a bit like the Holy Grail for some managers. “Our employees are just not responsible enough” is something I hear a lot. Just the other day I was talking to one manager who was complaining that too many of their new recruits abandon them after several months despite the huge amount of investment they put into on-boarding, and the main reason he described to me was “they’re just not responsible enough”.
What exactly does responsible mean? Well if you look it up in the dictionary you’ll see two meanings:
1. having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role
2. being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it
According to a survey conducted in 2011, around 49% of Chinese workers were satisfied with their jobs, which is not such a bad number. However, that means that slightly over half of Chinese workers are unsatisfied. You’ve got to ask, how can you expect someone to be responsible (if we are talking about the 1st definition) if they are unsatisfied with their jobs?
In my opinion, the second definition has far more significance. When managers say to me that people jump ship because they’re irresponsible, I think exactly the opposite, I think people jumping ship is everyone’s responsibility.
Have a look at Linked In. At the moment Linked In has well over 225 million registered members. That’s hundreds of millions of people who have signed up, created a profile, recommended other people, posted on discussion boards, sought other people out and on and on and on. That’s a lot of people who have done a lot of work on Linked In. I am a member of Linked In, and I believe I’m quite similar to the vast majority of Linked In members when I say that I did not get paid to join Linked In. I did not get paid to create my profile, write recommendations, post on message boards, seek people out and on and on and on.
LinkedIn is just one of many services that have successfully managed to attract, and retain, hundreds of millions of users who generate content. An achievement on that scale is quite remarkable when you think about it because that’s a lot of work that people have done. Some of those people who jump ship early into their new jobs have done more work on social networking sites than they have ever done for the company they jumped ship from, yet were paid nothing by the social networking sites. This is all thanks to designers.
A long time ago Linked In introduced a feature called Profile Completeness, which allows you to see how complete your profile is and what else needs to be done. If your profile is 40% complete, Linked In will tell you, and then by adding another employer, or adding another small piece of information you could get your profile completion up to 60%. Then Linked In will prompt you again telling you what you could do to get your profile completion up even higher.
The Profile Completeness feature is based on a series of psychological concepts, one of which is called Sequencing. Sequencing means that we are more likely to take action when complex tasks are broken down into simpler tasks. Just by implementing this simple concept, Linked In has managed to encourage more people to input more information. Well done Linked In designers!
Another example of how designers have influenced behaviour is the famous Piano Staircase. In a Stockholm metro station, a group of designers asked “how can we get more people to take the stairs?”. When a staircase is right next to an escalator, more people are likely to take the escalator because it represents far less effort. So how did they solve this problem? Well, they turned the staircase into a Piano; each time a person stepped on it, the step would light up and make the sound of a specific key on a piano. They left a video camera by the staircase to measure how many people went up the stairs, and in just 1 day 66% more people took the stairs than before!
Designers are geniuses when it comes to human behaviour. There are many things they know about influencing human behaviour, and you can read the book Seductive Interactive Design by Stephen P. Anderson for more ideas! But if there is one very simple idea that can be applied to all behaviour, then it is Fogg’s behaviour model.
It’s very simple. Behaviour only happens at certain times, when a certain trigger event takes place. Once that trigger happens, the likelihood of behaviour taking place is dependant on the level of ability and motivation. If motivation is high and ability is high, then that specific behaviour is highly likely. However if the motivation is low and the ability is low then it’s not going to happen.
If you have an employee who is always late for work, then talk with them to find out if it’s an ability or motivation issue. Maybe it’s an ability issue, in which case you could team them up with another colleague who lives nearby for a carpool. If it’s a motivation issue, then find out why they’re lacking motivation. Maybe they’re bored and their job is not challenging enough, so give them something challenging to look forward to!
If your staff are not using the ERM software, then think about why that is? Maybe there are too many fields to fill in when entering data, so try to reduce the number of fields. Maybe they don’t see the point in entering so much data, so sit everyone down together and get them to discuss how they all use the data in different ways.
In between summers at University I did the odd admin job which involved very boring data entry. They were the most boring jobs I have ever done! Simple tasks like data entry though could so easily be turned into highly addictive video games! Can you beat yesterday’s high score? Can you fit all the chunks of text in before the line disappears?
Employee behaviour is not their responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility. If they are not doing something that you need them to be doing, then at the very least analyse their level of ability and motivation. Instead of telling them they’re not showing enough responsibility, take the responsibility yourself, and very soon so will they.