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Using Rituals To Drive Organizational Behavior



paul hebert[Using Rituals To Drive Organizational Behavior – from Paul Hebert-Vice President Solution Design. Read more about him on our Leadership page.]

Rituals are core to being human.  We all have them.  We all do them.  We all rely on them.

Rituals can be helpful – think about brushing after every meal.  Or they can be worthless – think about rubbing the Laughing Buddha’s belly before a big test or an important sales meeting.  What you don’t do that?  I’m the only one?  Weird.  (BTW – Interesting article on the difference between Siddhartha Gautama Buddha and the Laughing Buddha here.)

Rituals can help maintain social control, help reduce potential rebellion by releasing pent up emotions (think Rio Carnival or the 24 hour lawlessness of the movie The Purge) and provide us with subtle signals of belonging and group membership.

Rituals Are Core to Being Human

You would think that rituals take time to develop and time to become cemented in our consciousness.  But the truth is rituals can be imprinted early and quickly.  However, a recent study showed that when it comes to rituals – one is the loneliest number.  You can’t do this alone.

The paper is due out soon from the University of Texas.  I found a post about it on the site reveries.com.  Taking directly from their site (all emphasis is mine):

In a new paper forthcoming in the Journal Cognition, Dr. LeGare and colleagues showed 3- to 6-year-old children a video of people performing a complicated sequence of actions with a mallet and a pegboard. The basic task was to use the mallet to help manipulate the pegs.

Sometimes one person did it in a particular way twice, while in other sequences to people did it the same way simultaneously. When the children “saw the single actor, they were much less likely to imitate what the individual did,” apparently seeing it as “a purposeful action.” But when “they saw two people do exactly the same thing at the same time,” they replicated their actions. The explanation is that “identical synchronous actions” indicated “that the two people were from the same social group.”

The implication is that we “learn as much from the irrational and arbitrary things that people do as from the intelligent and sensible ones.”

– See more at: http://www.reveries.com/2013/09/rituals/#sthash.gZmGTtRx.dpuf

Reinforcing Corporate Norms

What does this mean to you and your organization?

What this means is that you have a tool to guide organizational behavior.  But… contrary to many reward programs that single out special performances – you may want to consider adding group awards and group/team recognition.  The individual recognition, while important, may have less impact on overall corporate culture than when we see multiple people doing the same thing at the same time.

When I see one person hold a door for someone I assume they were just raised with great manners.  If I see multiple people hold the door for someone I see that as a norm for that social group.  When I see more than one person in the office cleaning the break room it communicates that picking up after oneself is a ritual behavior for that organization.

In other words – when I see one person doing a “ritual” I assume the activity is something that individual wants to do (internally driven.) BUT… when I see multiple people doing the same behavior either simultaneously or in very close temporal space – then I assume there is an external driver or a “social norm.”

Rituals in an organization are the manifestations of the values and norms of that organization. (Click here to tweet that.)

So…how can you create and demonstrate rituals within your organization?  How can you create opportunities to showcase multiple people doing similar behaviors that communicate your company norms and values?

Communication Is Key

One way to hack the “more than one” requirement for rituals is to use communication to highlight the number of people who are exhibit the behaviors through ongoing program communications – special reports – updates and leaderboards.  Share the fact that more than one person is doing what you think is important and doing those things that define your organization’s value system – your organizations social norms.

Don’t hide your rituals under a basket.  Shout them out loud!

Showing the group that these behaviors aren’t individually focused – but the result of being a member of the social group (tribe) will cement the ritual and drive future behaviors at a very human level.

Now go rub that Buddha, knock on wood, pat your tummy and rub your head, cross your fingers, stick out your tongue and touch your nose – ‘cuz you know you want to win the lottery and get out of having to worry about this stuff.  Am I right or am I right?


2 Responses to “Using Rituals To Drive Organizational Behavior”

  1. Mfaulkner43 says:

    Fantastic post, Paul! The research around social learning supports the idea that group rituals are a powerful way to change behavior. The challenge is ensuring the ritual is a good one, and not, say…dancing around in furry goat pants like Tom Hanks in Dragnet. Unless you’re into that. No judging.

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