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How involving people in decisions which impact them delivers huge commitment

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ reported on an experiment in which half the participants were randomly assigned a lottery number. The remaining half were given a blank piece of paper and a pen and asked to write down any number they would like as their lottery number. Just before drawing the winning number, the researchers offered to buy back the tickets.

Idea in brief: When we allow individuals to choose for themselves we are much more committed to the end result.

The question researchers wanted to answer is "How much more do you have to pay someone who 'wrote their own number' versus someone who was handed a number randomly?" The rational answer would be that there is no difference (given that a lottery is pure chance and therefore every ticket number, chosen or assigned, should have the same value). A more savvy answer would be that you would have to pay less for the tickets where the participant chose the number, given the possibility of duplicate numbers in the population who wrote their own number.

The real answer?

No matter what location or demographic the experiment has taken place in, researchers have found that they nearly always have to pay at least five times more to those who wrote their own number.

This result reveals an inconvenient truth about human nature: When we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome - by a factor of five to one.

Conventional approaches to change management underestimate this impact. The rational thinker sees it as a waste of time to let others self-discover what he or she already knows — why not just tell them and be done with it? Unfortunately this approach steals from others the energy needed to drive change that comes through a sense of ownership of "the answer."

Consider another practical example: One retail bank's personal financial services (PFS) CEO employed a fairly literal interpretation of the above finding when he wrote his change story in full prose, in a way that he found meaningful. He then shared it with his team, getting feedback on what resonated and what needed further clarification. Then he asked each of his team members to "write their own lottery ticket." What was the change story for them, in their business, that supported the bigger PFS-wide change story? His team members wrote their own change stories, again in full prose, and shared it with their teams. Their teams gave feedback and then wrote their own story for their area/department, and so the process continued all the way to the frontline. It took twice as long as the traditional roadshow approach, but for a five-fold return on commitment to the programme, it was the right investment to make.

Sam Palmisano, former CEO and Chairman of IBM, in spearheading a change effort to move IBM toward a values-based management system, enabled thousands of employees to "write their own lottery ticket" regarding IBM's values. During a three-day, online discussion forum (dubbed ValuesJam), more than 50,000 employees were empowered - literally - to rewrite IBM's century-old values.

What it comes down to, of course, is that when people make their own decisions, they are more dedicated to everything that follows. If your team wants what you want them to want, you are five times more likely to get it.

Idea worth implementing: Use technology such as Slack and Google docs to enable individuals to contribute their ideas.