Can this Native American practice inspire us for behavioural change in the office?

Native American warriors in North America and Canada receive a feather when they do something courageous for their tribe*.

In organisations we can learn something really valuable from this native American practice. The insight here is how you can authentically, respectfully and effectively stimulate people’s behaviour. Because, clearly and repeatedly communicating what behaviour you value as an organisation is not enough to get people moving.

Too often I walk into offices seeing the most beautiful and creative works of communications. Meaning: posters in elevators, hallways and toilets, video screens in hallways and canteens with awesome video reels. They usually all tick the boxes: containing a clear, short message that is being repeated. After your campaign people rationally know what the new values are. But just knowing something usually doesn’t change behaviour. And I mean real, visible behavioural change. This is where the extra stimulant comes in. Yes, that feather!

Honour and reward the behaviour you want to see. In an authentic, respectful and playful way.

The Golden Radiator Award

In this company it was valued you’d be ‘a radiator, not a drain‘. Meaning: radiating good energy, helping everyone in the company and motivating each other to work towards shared goals. And not being a drain of energy/negativity. Once a month, on Friday afternoons after 4pm new hires came around with a metal trolley on wheels, filled with drinks ‘n snacks (which was an awesome ritual for new hires to get to know everyone). They’d pour you a drink AND collect all the votes for the ‘Radiator Award’. Everyone could vote on someone in the company that they thought really deserved the ‘Radiator award’. You’d write down her/his name + why this person deserved the award. The Monday after, as a ritual, the MD would summarise all nice compliments about this person, and then… rumble… call out his/her name! Applause! And hand him/her the trophy, plus a $100,- pre-paid credit card. Yes, it was a bit of a show and it might not fit your org culture, but it sure did give a great energy boost to all and was highly valued, month after month.

The golden medal award

In this department it was valued to be a teamplayer. For them that meant honesty, transparency and having each others back. Once every two-weeks, on Friday afternoons at the end of their bi-weekly Retrospective everyone was asked to write a Kudo card for the person they’d think had been the best teamplayer in the past two weeks. And why. Everyone would read out their compliment face to face, whilst we started our Friday after work drinks. Doing just that gave a great positive vibe. And the person who received the most cards, received a gold medal, a shower of applause and a beer on the team! Again, this might not fit your org culture, but I’m sure you can come up with new creative ways to explore and experiment with!

Do you see this working in your organisation? Have you experimented with it already and want to share your experience?

*source: ‘Building Tribes’ by Danielle Braun and Jitske Kramer

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