Motivational considerations for tracking behaviour

Ever since I was a child I have had activity or action trackers that I created mainly with pen and paper. There was great satisfaction in filling another square in my money saving tracker or scratching off days to holiday when in school. These days technology allows us to track more efficiently and often more profoundly with the influence of wearable devices. In gamification design we often rely on tracking mechanisms to give an insight into behaviours.

The motivation to track, when it comes from an individual themselves is always stronger than if imposed for external reasons. In fact studies about tracking behaviour in the workplace even with proper introduction from management and the training required for everyone to be able to pick up the tracking mechanisms, are showing that the initial compliance and positive behaviour change happens. In the long run when tracking is dropped, then behaviour reverts back to even lower than before tracking ever started. At least this is what a study following hand hygiene in US based hospitals (Wharton Business School- Dai & Milkman, Kenan Flagler Business School – Hofmann & Staats) found to be the case. The researchers also found that the external tracking initiative drowned out the internal motivators to do what is right.

So then the question arises how can you stimulate internal motivation and self-opted in tracking as opposed to imposed tracking for company reasons?

The key in this is to allow for personal choice based on relevant information. The information then becomes the linchpin in changing behaviour. Often in the corporate sector a memo by email, a company handbook, rules for compliance, come in legalese or official language making no sense to anybody. If that is your starting point, don’t be surprised nobody follows any policy at all. Making the information hit an emotional nerve is much more difficult and allowing for a moment of reflection on how you could have been guilty of wrongdoings without intent is a good benchmark to go for.

I remember delivering a case study based program for leaders around fraud and ethics for a the broadcasting company I worked for at the time. Both rather boring concepts. But instead of going for the theoretical view, I pulled out case studies of companies and managers who had found themselves in the middle of a scandal and they had to work their way out ethically and without fraudulent actions. Although a lot of the cases were not directly related to our industry, they did show how easily someone could be impacted rightly or wrongly without intention. This led to great discussions and action plans to prevent potential situations and minimise risks.

Most of the time training in an area will tell you what you should do, however reflection on your own behaviour and seeing how you may potentially be at the cause also is way more powerful. If then an optional tracking mechanism is introduced, I would be very surprised if all of a sudden compliance rates jumped higher than when enforced.

Intrinsic motivation will beat extrinsic any given day. In our gamification designs for the corporate sector we often receive the request to shortcut to just add a few mechanics and all will be ok, in which case we turn around and say it isn’t effective unless we have an idea of motivations. In the training and behaviour change field, starting with reviewing the content and whether this stimulates a sense of reflection on ones own behaviour will already give you some ground work to do. If you then add gamification on top, you are potentially raising the bar a lot higher.

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