Last year, Brussels started a mandatory selective waste disposal program. Such programs are rather common in Europe, but quite unusual for non-European immigrants living in this cosmopolitan city. The program was launched in a very timid way, without any community educational program. People would separate their trash in coloured bags and without fail the collecting trucks would take them out. This is until 2 weeks ago when suddenly trash collectors started using a big “Stop” sticker to mark bags containing the wrong types of trash and leave them on the sidewalk. The sticker would mark the infractions and go on to state that abandoning the bag on the sidewalk would constitute a law infringement.
The reasons for the decision of changing to this model are unknown and most likely justified. It’s certainly financially and environmentally expensive to the city to have citizens separating the trash in a non-compliant manner. Although I was not directly affected by the decision (being a conscious trash separator), deep down I knew my neighbours would simply leave the bags where they were, ashamed or humiliated by the “random” punishment of having to pick up their trash in front of their peers. That was precisely what happened and there’s a powerful lesson to learn from this experience.
As discussed in my previous post, the educational model à la française is experiencing a significant loss of efficiency. Moreover, as different cultures cohabit, the illusion of a universal common sense becomes more evident than ever.
In a multi-parameter world, Y culture has established a new order: a striking disinterest in random rewards and punishments. This can particularly be seen in businesses as the old “carrot and stick” model fails miserably in engaging and retaining Yers.
The reason for that is that in our societies we’re overwhelmed on one side of the spectrum by great principles and on the other by over-detailed rules and control mechanisms. The latter is what Jason Fried in “Rework” calls “scarring on the first cut” and we see it everywhere.
According to him, scarring on the first cut are “codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual. This is how bureaucracies are born”.
Institutional scars are in the red stickers in your trash bag, in the endless dress-code lists in your kid’s school regulation or in the hundreds of possible parking infractions you can make. When rules and regulations become detailed to a point no one understands why they’re there, it becomes nearly impossible to encourage desired behaviour (the middle and more engaging point of the Principle-Rules spectrum).
Moreover, when desired behaviour is not understood the possibilities for purposefully (or the ways for inadvertently) infringing the rules multiply. The way out of this conundrum is in encouragement rather than punishment, in education rather than sanction and more precisely in gamification rather than authority.
But let’s leave the fascinating topic of gamification for our next post…
How do you encourage desired behaviour within your team?