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Social Proof: The Worst Enemy That Lives in Your Head

Social Proof: The Worst Enemy That Lives in Your Head

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    The concept of “social proof” (or informational social influence, if you’re a sadist for typing) tells us that, often subconsciously, individuals will look to the other people around them in ambiguous social situations to determine the appropriate way to behave. It’s a result of the subconscious mind assuming that those around us are better informed on what is acceptable and appropriate.

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    Unfortunately social proof became a bit of a buzzword for marketers a few years ago. Pesky buzzword or not, I think it’s a concept worth looking at from a personal development point of view. The bottom line is that the concept of social proof as described is something that is built in to the human mind and something we should be trying to build out through intellectual exercise as quickly as we can.

    When your decisions are informed by the assumption that those around you are better informed than you on what the appropriate action to take is, you are destined towards several places, and none of them are good. When you make your decisions according to what other people think or do you end up quite unspectacular and rarely achieving anything of note, nor any of your dreams and goals in life.

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    The right attitude to assume is that you know what you want and you need to do whatever you can to get there. Obviously, acting too far outside of social norms will just have you ostracized and prevented from reaching your goals by others, so those who would argue that trying to evolve out of our in-built “social proof” mechanism causes anti-social and even criminal behavior will be pleased to know that working towards one’s goals (usually) has checks and balances like these in place. You can’t get far alone — as much as you don’t want to follow others, you do need them.

    When my wife and I made the decision to move across the country to a better location, one of our considerations was the people we were living behind. Our families — our children’s grandparents, aunts and uncles — and friends live here and we felt bad about the prospect of leaving them (well, most of them!). But in the end your life is your life, and you need to take control of it and bring about the results you want to see.

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    That isn’t precisely social proof by the book because we weren’t taking cues from anybody but ourselves, but in the context of decision-making processes it’s the same principle at work.

    If you know the results you want to create in your life and you do nothing to go about obtaining them, you are weak. There is no way of pussyfooting around that truth. To have strength of character you must always be moving towards your optimal way of life.

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    Maybe you’re in a situation where you can’t bring about those desired results just now, but you can at least start to plan for a time when that situation changes, or preferably, has been changed by you.

    Staying because others want you to? Not going to help you achieve results. Not giving your dreams a shot because nobody else is giving theirs a shot? Definitely not going to get you anywhere. Social proof is bad. This process is probably a remnant of a time when social proof helped you decide which food was good to eat and which was poisonous; I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. All I know is that it doesn’t serve much of a purpose now. It gets in the way.

    And while I know that, in a neutral state I’m as prone to it as anyone. The difference is that I do my best to catch myself and take measures — drastic if they have to be — to get out of that rut and leave the cattle behind.

    To improve yourself you need to define your goals and optimal situation and work towards that regardless of whether others are doing the same. That doesn’t mean disregard and disrespect others — it means don’t make your decisions based on what others are doing, thinking, or desiring. You should still formulate decisions that mitigate the negative effects on others, and preferably have positive effects for them — but if the negative effect is an acceptable one and the rewards for your goals are worthwhile, you know what you need to do.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on December 10, 2019

    7 Strategies to Keep Employee Motivation High

    7 Strategies to Keep Employee Motivation High

    Highly motivated employees are essential to the success of any business. Most people spend a third of their lives at work.[1] That’s a significant amount of time away from home, apart from the people who make us happy and the things we love to do. So keeping employee motivation high is essential for creating an office environment that gets the best out of our people.

    But do you know what motivates your people?

    It’s simple:

    • Is their work stimulating?
    • Does it challenge them?
    • Is there room to grow, a promotion perhaps?
    • Do you encourage creativity?
    • Can they speak openly and honestly with you?
    • Do you praise them?
    • Do you trust your staff to take ownership of their work?
    • Do they feel safe in their work environment?
    • And more importantly, do you pay them properly?

    Every one of these factors contributes to the general happiness of your employees. It’s what motivates them to come into the office each day and work hard, hit goals, and get results.

    In contrast, an unmotivated employee is typically unhappy. They take more sick days, they’re not invested in seeing your business succeed, and they’re always on the lookout for something better.

    Stats show that 81 percent of employees would consider leaving their jobs today if the right opportunity presented itself.[2] So it’s up to you to set aside time and energy to create a work environment that benefits every one of your employees.

    These seven strategies will help you motivate your people to consistently deliver quality work and, more importantly, to stick around for the long term.

    1. Be Someone They Can Rely On

    You rely on your people to turn up to work each day, to come to you when they have a problem they can’t solve, to be honest, and to always engage professionally with customers.

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    But this is not a one-way street. You, too, need to be someone your team can rely on. They trust you to have their backs when a client is unreasonable, to know that the decisions they make are in your best interest, and to make good on your promises.

    If you say you’ll attend an important meeting, be there. If your company makes a profit and you’ve said you’ll pay a bonus, pay it. The goodwill of your people is something you never want to test, let alone lose.

    Be reliable; it’s astounding how much this motivates your people.

    2. Create an Awesome Company Culture

    There’s no denying that company culture trickles down from the top. Your leadership and attitude massively influences the attitudes, work ethic, and happiness of your staff. If you’re always stressed-out, overly demanding, and unreasonable, it’ll create tension in your office which will adversely affect your employees’ motivation levels.

    In fact, the HAYS “US What People Want Survey” found that 47 percent of staff who are actively looking for a new job, pinpoint company culture as the driving force behind their reason to leave.

    So if you have high staff turnover, you need to determine whether your company culture might be the motivating factor behind your churn rate.

    Here are four ways to build a culture that keeps your employees highly motivated.

    • Be conscious of the image you present. Your body language and attitude can positively or negatively impact your employees. So come to work energized. Be optimistic, friendly, and engaging—this enthusiasm will spill over to your people and motivate them to be more productive and efficient.
    • Appreciate your people and be reasonable. Celebrate your team’s achievements. If they’re doing a good job, tell them. Encourage them to challenge themselves and try new things. And reward when deserved. If they’re struggling, help them. Work together to find solutions and be a sounding board for their ideas.
    • Be flexible. Give your people opportunities to work remotely—this is highly motivating to staff, particularly millennials. They don’t want to be battling traffic each day on their way to work. They don’t want to miss their kids’ baseball games or ballet rehearsals. Stats show that companies that offer flextime and the ability to work from home or a coffee shop have happier and more productive employees.
    • Create employee-friendly work environments. These are spaces that inspire and ignite the imagination. Have you ever been to Google’s offices? No headquarter is the same. From indoor slides and food trucks, to hammocks, and funky work pods on the wall, gaming rooms, and tranquil interior gardens, there’s something for everyone. It’s a space where people want to be, catering to their need for creativity, quiet, or team building; you name it.

    So take a look at your company culture and ask yourself, Is my business an attractive workplace for talented professionals? Does it inspire commitment and motivate my people? What could I do to improve my company culture?

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    3. Touch Base with Your Team Weekly

    Make time for your people, whether you run a remote business or work in an office, set aside time each week to talk to your people one-on-one. It’s non-negotiable.

    When there’s an open line of communication between staff members, work gets done. Don’t believe me? A study by Gallup found that 26 percent of employees said feedback from their leaders helps them to do a better job.[3]

    Your people want to feel trusted. They want to take ownership of their work, but they also need to know that when they have a question, they can reach out and get answers. If you’re unwilling to make yourself available, your team will quickly become unmotivated, work will stagnate, and your business will stop growing.

    So block off time on your calendar each week to touch base with your people, even if only to let them know that what they’re working on matters.

    4. Give Them the Tools They Need to Do Their Jobs Well

    Imagine trying to run your business without electricity. How would you contact your clients? What would happen when your phone or computer battery died?

    Technology is super critical to the success of your businesses. It allows you to work more efficiently, to be more productive, and to handle matters on-the-go. That’s why you need to give your people tools that will make their jobs easier.

    Make sure their equipment is in good working condition. There’s nothing more frustrating than a laptop that takes ages to boot up. It’s got to go. Replace outdated software with new software. Don’t make your designer work in Coreldraw; give them access to the most up-to-date version of Adobe Creative Suite. Take it a step further and buy them a subscription to Shutterstock or Getty Images.

    Make working for you a pleasure, not a pain; and watch your employees’ motivation levels rise.

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    5. Provide Opportunities to Learn and Upskill

    Would you believe me if I told you that 33 percent of people cite boredom and a need for new challenges as the top reason for leaving their job?[4] If you want to retain your talent, you need to upskill.

    Thanks to technology, we live in a rapidly evolving world that demands we change with it. A copywriter is no longer just a writer; they now need to be experts in SEO, Google Adwords, CRMs, and so much more.

    A pastry chef needs to be a food stylist, photographer, and social media manager. An entrepreneur needs to be a marketer—or at least take ownership of the marketing message for their business—if they hope to scale.

    Technology makes all of this possible. No matter your location, your people can continuously expand their knowledge and gain new skill sets—something that’s highly motivating to employees. They want to know that there are opportunities to grow and develop themselves.

    If you won’t invest in your people, then your business becomes just another job to tide them over until they find where they truly belong. So be the company that sees value in developing its people.

    6. Monitor Their Workload

    Overworked employees tend to be unproductive and unhappy. Your people cannot be at full capacity every day, month to month. Something’s got to give. They’ll become deflated and their work will eventually suffer, which will negatively impact your business.

    What I like to do is implement a traffic light system. It helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of my business. So there’s red, yellow, and green:

    • Red means they’re fully loaded.
    • Yellow means they’re busy, but they can potentially take on more.
    • Green means they haven’t got enough to do.

    I use this traffic light system because I don’t want my team members to be stressed out of their brains all the time. If they are, they won’t make good decisions and they won’t do good work.

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    If my people are regularly overloaded, I have things to think about. Perhaps I need to hire a new person to help ease the load or take a closer look at what projects are good to go, and which can take a back seat.

    And this is why #3 is essential. If I’m regularly engaging with my people, I’ll know that while they’re coping with their workload, it is impacting their performance and health, and I’ll take action.

    7. Don’t Mess Around with Your Employees’ Pay

    Never mess around with your people’s salary. As a business owner or high-level manager, it’s easy to forget that most people live from paycheck to paycheck. Delayed compensation can mean a missed bill payment, which could result in costly penalties they can’t afford or hits to their credit score.

    So it’s your job to ensure that you pay your people on time.

    The Bottom Line

    A motivated team is an asset to any business. These people never give up. They get excited about coming to work each day and can’t wait to test a new theory or tackle a particularly tricky challenge. They’re proud of the work they do. And more importantly, they have no reason to leave.

    Wouldn’t you rather be part of their success story than the business that drove them away?

    More to Motivate Your Team

    Featured photo credit: Emma Dau via unsplash.com

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