Social Discipline: Using psychology to manage teams better
Human beings are motivated by being held accountable for their actions
August 29, 2018

Human beings are motivated by being held accountable for their actions. The theory of social discipline starts in childhood and can easily be carried into adulthood.

For example, if a school-age child is given a homework assignment without a clear due date, how likely is the student to turn it in? But if the child is given an assignment with an exact due date and clear instructions, they are much more likely to get it done and turn it in on time.

Adding a layer of Social Discipline increases the probability that people will follow through on responsibilities. Read on to learn how incorporating the practice of Social Discipline into your work environment can make managing staff easier while producing better business results.

What Is Social Discipline?

Social Discipline is a powerful psychological concept supported by research. It fuses social control, adherence to expectations, and accountability to specific individual responsibilities to encourage reliable completion of tasks and goal accomplishment.

The basic approach that makes Social Discipline so effective is that it requires making public, loyal promises to deliver on one's commitments in a transparent work environment.

Success in any business venture is largely connected to engagement and motivation levels of the entire team. If employees aren’t provided with meaningful reasons to work hard or the leadership model offers low support levels, many team members won't work very hard and may become free-riders.

Social Discipline Reduces Free-Riding Team Members

In remote and in-person organisations (and every type in between), accountability towards goals is an issue. Social Discipline creates a fair process for evaluating who is free-riding, and who is doing most of the work.

So, what is a free-rider? Free riding happens when team members realise they can get away with doing less work because the leadership model allows for low control over direct reports. The problem for their fellow co-workers is that they feel the need to pick up the slack and do their work for them. Most people don't want to be a 'tattletale' and cause conflict, so they often won't say anything about it.

However, even if all the work is still getting done, overall team performance, motivation and productivity decline a great deal when the Free-Rider effect is in motion. High-performing employees become disgruntled and often lower the quality and quantity of their own work in order to not become a ‘sucker’. They lose motivation when they don't feel supported by their team members. They are less engaged and are more likely to eventually leave the organisation.

Social Discipline helps mitigate the problematic behavior of free-riding by putting accountability to goals front and center. It creates a transparent work atmosphere and a performance management process focused on individual accountability. When people know their goals are being publicly tracked and everyone can see their progress, they can't hide from their expectations and responsibilities.

Social Discipline Naturally Identifies High Performing Employees

Additionally, social loafing is another motivation-killer that happens when high performers don't have an easy way to be noticed or recognised. Why work harder than your co-workers if no one knows it?

For example, let's imagine two employees on a marketing team, John and Sarah, have similar responsibilities towards departmental objectives. Sarah is a good team player but resents that John only does the bare minimum. She wants the department to reach their goals, so she works overtime and rallies the other team members together to reach their goals.

Everyone in the department knows Sarah is a superstar and that John is a free-rider, but the leadership team doesn't know the difference because they have a permissive approach. As long as goals are being met, it doesn't matter who is putting in the most work. Sarah's motivation begins to slip and over time she's becoming more like John and doing less than her share.

When it comes time for a promotion, obviously Sarah would be the best choice. However, John's chances are just as high as Sarah's for being picked for the promotion. He's never disciplined and Sarah was never rewarded.

This is where the power of Social Discipline can foster positive changes in the work environment. When goal tracking is easily measured for all to see, it creates a fair process for evaluating performance. Furthermore, creating and publicly tracking goals creates opportunities for public praise, rewards and promotions.

It is much easier for managers to identify which high performing team members are ready for higher levels of responsibility and promotion when it's clearly evident they constantly meet and exceed their goals and targets. Furthermore, permissive supervisors can identify which employees need high control levels or high support in order to reach goals effectively.

Social Discipline Improves Teamwork, Collaboration and Engagement

Teamwork and collaboration are necessary for every organisation. They help produce new ideas, reach goals faster and stay ahead of competitors. Effective collaboration creates increased engagement, causing improved employee relations and increased trust among team members. When they trust one another, they work together more effectively and are better at conflict resolution.

The psychology behind Social Discipline uses positive behavioral control to foster a culture of collaboration and team accountability. Since the central element of Social Discipline creates a social norm of making promises to one another in a public place, employees naturally collaborate with one another and have to rely on their team members to reach desired outcomes.

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