What are we aiming for?

When I was about 10 years old, a neighbor of mine had a picture of an overweight woman on her fridge, cut out from a magazine. She told me it served as a reminder not to overeat.

Some 20 years later, I read about a study that found that people who put pictures of lean and strong bodies on their fridge are healthier than those who look at overweight bodies. The first group can see that there is still work to be done and the fridge stays closed. The second group feels like they are not “as bad” as what they see on the picture, so surely they can have another helping.

Similar studies have shown the negative effects of companies repeatedly sharing with employees the wrongdoing of other employees. When the company newsletter features other employees cheating, lying and stealing, month after month, it has the effect of normalizing the behavior. And if the monthly examples are of a serious nature, employees considering lessor offenses almost feel good that they are not “as bad” as these other employees.

Meanwhile, when companies share stories of employees doing the right thing, they are showing everyone else what the expected behavior is, which often leads to a healthier company.

There is probably room for both types of stories. But just like happily married people extend 5 kind gestures to their spouse for every unkind one, I would recommend a healthy dose of good stories for every bad one.

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