Positive priming to get started

Priming is a phenomenon where being exposed to a certain stimuli makes a particular response to a second stimuli more likely to happen. Positive priming is a term which has come to mean using priming to our advantage. In my case, I use it to refer to ‘kick starts’.

In their excellent book, Profit from the Positive, Margaret Greenberg and Senia Maymin, refer to a study where two groups of car wash customers were given two different sets of loyalty cards. In one group the loyaly card had spaces for 8 stamps: purchase 8 washes and get the next one free. The second group got a loyalty card with speces for 10 stamps but the first 2 stamps already filled out.

In other words, both groups needed 8 paid visits to get their next visit free.

But what happened was quite staggering. After nine months, 19% of the first group completed all 8 stamps to get their free wash. But in the second group, 32 % completed the remaining 8 stamps and got their free wash. In this case the stamps already filled out acted as the stimuli.

People persisted more when the task had been started for them, even when it’s done somewhat artificially.

What task can you start tonight to make tomorrow more productive? Can you start completing some paperwork or begin some filing. Maybe put the filing into sensible piles ready for the next day.

How can you help your colleagues or staff start a challenge?



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Say thanks, it makes you feel better

65% of workers report that in the past 12 months they received no recognition for good work during the prior year (Gallup).

Appreciation can be used strategically by supervisors to boost employee morale. Appreciating the best qualities in those with whom we work can help give them a boost, motivating them to persevere even when times are tough.

Looking for the best in our colleagues also helps us feel more favourably disposed towards them, making working with them easier and a lot more enjoyable. Looking for the best in others also makes us feel better  – it’s a form of appreciation and appreciating those around us boosts our own well being.

So why is appreciation/recognition ONLY AT 65%? When was the last time someone said ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’ and how did that make you feel at the time and now, as you think back to that time?


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Small things matter alot

An interesting blog at IDEO highlighting an experiment in client empathy ended up emphasising how the little things in life really matter.

IDEO is a creative design company which is justifiably proud of their fantastic work culture. In their words ‘We provide the small things that enable the day to run smoothly so individuals can focus on great work.’

On April 25th they decided to institute a Client Empathy Day.

How did the Client Empathy Day work? They mixed up the employee practices of some of their clients and applied them to their work environment. On the day, changes ranged from: no free tea/coffee, no free breakfast, sweets or biscuits, no headphones or music playing in the studio, no access to Facebook or other social media sites, no personal calls. They asked everyone to dress smartly, keep regular work hours and placed the leadership team in a meeting room only accessible by appointment.

During the day employees felt unhappy, frustrated and spent time trying to bend the system. Colleagues 3000 miles picked up the vibe and wondered what was going on. Afterwards IDEO asked for feedback and five points emerged:

1. The effect of having little control over their environment left people feeling disempowered. They switched from ‘getting it done’ (the work) to ‘getting through it’ (the day).

2. Expectations of employees have changed over the years. Millennials in particular have expectations that the workplace shouldn’t be like a school system but instead employers trust individuals to do the right thing, for example managing their own time.

3. Some people’s objective became how to beat the system. Tons of energy was consequently diverted away from doing great work.

4. The leadership group lacked visibility and connection to the team. As a result they were unable to deal with the unhappiness brewing across the studio.

5. Small things that really support our values have a disproportionate effect on culture and on performance. Free coffee, tea and breakfast; the freedom to play music, and to come and go as long as the work gets done, access to leadership.

There are a number of messages from this experience including the importance of consistency between the employee’s experience and stated values. Small costs saved by stinting on biscuits and coffee are lost in poor performance or time wasted trying to ‘get around the system’.

Happiness is a result of positive day to day experiences. Happiness of your employees matters. Research from Warwick University has shown that happier people are approximately 12% more productive than their counterparts. And other research by workplace consultancy Happiness Works (based on a model of wellbeing developed for the UK Government) showed a direct correlation between happy employees and 10% less absenteeism as well as a 10% reduction in staff turnover.

The full story from IDEO is here.

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Well-Being index from Gallup

Gallup and Healthways have developed a comprehensive, definitive source of well-being measurement, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5. This scientific survey instrument and reporting experience measures, tracks and reports on the well-being of individuals and organizations. The five essential elements of well-being are:

  • Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

It will be interesting to see how governments and companies start adopting this.  It is interesting as you cannot be prescriptive for these indicators.  As a leader you have to create the conditions to let each person make it happen for themselves.

Each element in the Global Well-Being Index contains two questions asked of all respondents:


  • You like what you do every day.
  • You learn or do something interesting every day.


  • Someone in your life always encourages you to be healthy.
  • Your friends and family give you positive energy every day.


  • You have enough money to do everything you want to do.
  • In the last seven days, you have worried about money.


  • The city or area where you live is a perfect place for you.
  • In the last 12 months, you have received recognition for helping to improve the city or area where you live.


  • In the last seven days, you have felt active and productive every day.
  • Your physical health is near-perfect.


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Commitment making

In a recent edition of the RSA journal entitled 21st Century Enlightenment, Lynda Gratton gave her view on the important issues of work in the 21st


In particular, Gratton mentioned the importance of creating an ‘adult to adult’ relationship with employees rather than the more typical ‘adult to child’. This adult to adult relationship is one based on openness, trust and commitment making. This type of relationship is particularly important as a new type of employee, one motivated to manage his or her own career and progression, enters the workforce.


Commitments are what individuals will do, how they will do it and how they will be held accountable. At Californian company Morning Star, all team members are self managing professionals. Every year each professional commits to a Colleague Letter of Understanding with their closest working colleagues. The employee takes responsibility for initiating communications and the coordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and industry participants.


As most performance management is ‘broken’, this seems like a wonderful initiative to enable professional employees to build commitment to the organisation without overmanaging.

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If work is not life, what the hell is it?

“Jobs that exist today were invented to fulfil particular industrial and commercial purposes. Employers want recruits who will fit into existing organisations and systems whereas the young are now being educated to develop and express their individual personalities and no longer just to obey and conform….


Work has not yet been reconceived as a social and cultural activity, as having as its primary objective, from the individual’s viewpoint, the aim of enhancing intellects, imaginations and sensitivities, bringing strangers together and stimulating them to learn from one another, rather than being a system to produce goods and services judged in monetary and quantitative terms….


Earning a living is no longer a sufficient ideal, because it implies that work and living are separate activities. You spend most of your life doing work. If work is not life, what the hell is it?”

Theodore Zeldin, Historian and Co-founder of The Oxford Muse Foundation


Exam question: Is today’s work fit for purpose? If not, what practical changes do we need to make it so?


In my quest to help individuals understand meaningful work, I would love to hear your responses at pam@chiswickconsulting.com.

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The Future of Work – is it Really Freelancing?

In a recent edition of the RSA journal entitled 21st Century Enlightenment, Lynda Gratton and a number of other industrial academics, gave their view on the important issues of work in the 21st Century.

Gratton talked about the ‘hollowing out of work’ which is a reshaping of the labour markets so that middle skill jobs disappear as they are outsourced or replaced by technology. What is left are low end skill jobs or high end skills with very little in between. To survive we need to become specialists but specialists in a number of different areas as our working lives span up to 60 years.

The implications of this are interesting from a number of perspectives. Specialising in something differentiates you from others. As such it creates the potential for isolation and loneliness. On top of this, the increase in self employment which we are currently seeing (whether it be voluntary or forced through poor employment opportunities), means that more individuals are working on their own. As friendships at work are one of the key drivers to engagement and well being at work (Gallup), this leaves a bit of a gap. However, when looking at the same engagement figures, self employed individuals are the happiest and most content of them all. This is probably because the self employed have higher levels of perceived autonomy and it is this autonomy that drives their sense of well being.

It could also do with age and lifestyle. The numbers of over 65s in self employment has expanded by 140% since 2000 with more and more healthy retirees willing to work past the age of 65 whether it be to keep their minds active or to top up their pensions. This potentially has huge implications for our economy. Just how motivated are these self employed individuals to develop a growing business which will then employ others? The RSA identified only one in six self employed ‘tribes’ who exhibited significant high growth intentions. The income earned by self employed, which is significantly less than counterparts in employment, suggests self employed are only just holding their own and thoughts of growth, adding value and product innovation are far from reality. One wonders whether high levels of self employed people, particularly those isolated and perhaps not suited to this style of working, are really what creates a healthy, vibrant and growing economy.

So there is something of a contradiction. If we are self employed we have (perceived) autonomy, we experience higher levels of engagement and well being but may be lonelier and poorer. It therefore seems critical that in order to experience freelance work as engaging and meaningful, individuals need to understand the implications of leaving the world of work behind. No corporate pensions, health care contributions or ready access to colleagues.

Some form of career counselling or coaching such as our Evidence Based Coaching, may well help clarify how wonderfully suitable (or not) freelancing life could be.


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An organisational manifesto to deliver meaning

Alain de Botton, philosopher, writes books that have been described as ‘a philosophy of everyday life’. Recently he was interviewed by an HR based job site about work and meaning (see the full interview here). In particular de Botton was scathing about education which didn’t equip youngsters for working life (nothing new here).

But what was interesting was his emphasis on finding meaning amidst a ‘false sense of ambition’. This false sense of ambition was created by misrepresentation of what working life is really like, fuelled by organisations who portray themselves as ‘Disney World’ as well as the media who glamourise a narrow range of careers over others.

He outlined a number of things educators, the media and organisations should do to make much better use of the skills and talents of young workers today. His list is supplemented here by a few of my own suggestions:

  • Being more honest with employees and prospective employees about what day to day working life consists of. For instance, providing them with an opportunity to try out a different job before committing to it. I also wonder whether mentoring of younger workers by more experienced staff members may provide more honest conversations about the daily graft of working whilst, at the same time, create cross generational relationships and friendships at work.
  • Provide stable jobs with real opportunities for development and growth for graduates and non graduates so non graduates in particular are not channelled into low level, dead end jobs.
  • When individuals become disillusioned with their jobs, help them go through a period of introspection to understand themselves and learn about their strengths and weaknesses before rushing into the next job. Offer career counselling as part of a broader suite of training.
  • Help individuals find meaning in purpose in the work they do. If they are engaged in a small part of a larger process, help them see the bigger end goal.
  • Being bold and publishing pay grades. A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics recommends that large organisations should be required to publish pay ratios. This is because they believe that pay inequality is corrosive for wellbeing, not just among the poorest but right across society. Whilst this is not necessarily directly related to purpose and meaning it is difficult to see how employees can respect organisations without such openness and honesty.
  • Encourage a culture of well being. Places of work are not, as de Botton says, Disney World. However, they can be made a lot more pleasant by training individuals in life skills to help them cope with the usual ups and days of working life. Providing training in mindfulness, encouraging exercise and providing access to the open air, all enable individuals to develop necessary skills in coping. If today’s education is not providing it, then organisations need to fill the void.

The key to meaning is a feeling that you are contributing to something worthwhile greater than yourself, so that at the end of the working day you have left the world ever so slightly better than it was at the beginning. The successful organisation of the future will be the organisation which is helping individuals find meaning in their work and fulfilling those higher order needs.

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What you choose to focus on

Went to an Action for Happiness talk by Tal Ben Shahar and he left us with a really useful set of messages:

1. Focus on what’s good

2. Ask questions that help us find solutions rather than focus on the negative

3. When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates – in other words, focusing on happiness means we get more happiness in our lives

We do this by using techniques such as a solutions focused approach to problem solving, appreciative inquiry or working with strengths. However, so many of us focus on what’s wrong and what needs fixing. Perhaps we could focus on what is working and how we might get more of that.

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Words that sell

Interesting info-graphic

John Caples book Tested Advertising Methods talks in detail about how words work as well.

Words that (almost) always convert - Infographic

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