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The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

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Process improvement consulting requires taking a serious look at how everything works: including how people make decisions. That’s why a famous study dealing with of marshmallows (really, marshmallows) is crucial in understanding employee behavior.

consultants talk marshmellows

© Flickr user Garry Knight

Our own Robby Slaughter covered this process improvement question in a guest blog for a local retail graphics provider. He explains:

Here’s how the experiment works. You place a tasty marshmallow in front of a small child, and explain to them that they can either eat the treat right away, or they can wait until you get back and receive an additional marshmallow.

That’s it. Delayed gratification. Also, it’s YouTube gold.

Slaughter’s post covers personality types and the role of self-control in an organization.  But these issues also impact business process improvement consulting efforts, especially with regard to process design. As he notes:

What does this mean for you and your workplace? If you want to get better at making the right decisions, build in some patterns of delayed gratification. Unwrap a candy bar and place it on your desk while you finish that report. Offer your team the choice of a small party now—or a major blowout if everyone can make the deadline. Keep the supply cabinet unlocked and set up a ping pong table that anyone can use. Study the psychology of your workplace culture by fostering a live test of everyone’s willpower.

Likewise, if there is an established policy in your office but the workaround is more attractive, there are some people who will take the shortcut every time. While this seems like less of a process improvement issue and more of a management problem (i.e., reprimand people who don’t follow the rules), it’s really an opportunity to design better procedures. We actually want a diverse range of perspectives in our businesses. If we only hire people who do exactly what their supposed to, we’ll never have the innovation and creativity that we need to succeed.

Read the complete article on the TKO Graphix website.

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