The admonition is to think selfish but act compassionately, manage inherent fears, and simplify. It flows from work by Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan who explain, “Our survival brain still calls dibs on our decision making.” Instead of fighting human nature, design systems to make it easy for the selfish, scared and stupid to adopt them.
To Gregory and Flanagan the magic of the ALS ice bucket challenge was in how it changed people’s focus from the needs of those with ALS to an activity people wanted to be part of.
It’s not about acting selfishly. It’s about realizing that every human being is acting in his or her own self interest. ‘What’s in it for me?’ “The more we can frame our goals and iconography in a way that is relevant for them, the greater the engagement.
This has implications both ways.
A new leader joining an organization must understand that no one cares about him or her. All they care about is what that new leader is going to do for them (or to them. But more on that later.) One CEO told me that it’s not about his vision. It’s about how others envision themselves in the brighter future he paints for them.
Onboarding a new leader involves getting the new leader comfortable that his or her own needs are going to be met before that new leader can commit fully to the organization. Accommodate the new leader’s needs. Help him or her assimilate into the organization.
Gregory and Flanagan suggest, “Fear is the most powerful emotion a person can feel,” built into our survival brains to help avoid risks and prolong life. How many have a heart attack or some other major life trigger and then change their lifestyles after that in response to the fear of a repeat incident.
There are all sorts of fears: fear of taking action, fear of not taking action and getting left behind, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of change.
Almost by definition, a new leader represents change – inevitably triggering a fear of change. Gregory and Flanagan suggest moving from “high change to easier change. Demonstrate that people aren’t alone. Get the staff to adopt change as a group instead of one at a time.” Link to what’s already known. “Metaphors, similes reduce the perception of risk.”
The new leader is going to be scared too. Help him or her find the familiar and build new relationships early on to mitigate the perceived risks.
Gregory and Flanagan explained this to me by saying the “Survival brain has a bias towards ease and simplicity.” I suspect they used the word “stupid” to complete the alliteration in the title of their book, Selfish Scared & Stupid. But the point is valid about making it as easy as possible for people to do what they should do.
Apparently, the only time people save money over time is when there’s an automatic debit from their paychecks. Flanagan emphasized in working with people, we need to “work with who they are, not who we want them to be.”
Carmine Gallo emphasizes the need for keeping the message simple, along with the need to make emotional connections and own your story in his excellent article on David Cameron’s Brexit communication fails.
The implication of this for a new leader is not to try to change people. Instead, change the systems, the processes and the balance of consequences to make it as easy as possible for people to do what they should and as difficult as possible for them to do anything else. You can be transparent about this. Agree on the vision as a team. Agree on what’s required to get there. Agree on the systemic changes.
One of the classic disappointments organizations have with new joiners is that they “don’t get it.” They don’t understand how things work. What long-term employees fail to grasp is the complexity of their social system.
In summary, organizations should ensure people’s individual selfish needs are met, help them find the familiar and build new relationships, and make the pieces of the induction as simple and easy to understand as possible.