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  • Writer's pictureMike Sedam

The Phalanx - Social Motivators at Work

The Phalanx is a close formation of warriors made famous, at least in my mind, by the movie 300. The Spartans would form up densely in close ranks and interlock their shields, which made their ranks difficult to penetrate. There is also an example in the movie Gladiator when the gladiators are being attacked by a superior force using chariots and long range weapons. Maximus has them form into a phalanx and they end up being victorious. Without their close ranks, they would have been massacred.

Social belonging works in much the same way. The closer the group is, the better they can deal with external attacks. The looser the group or, even worse, having no trust and internal strife allows people to be defeated easily.

My focus on identity-based behavior hinges on my belief in people as social animals with the ability to create reality in other people. This is why I believe in the power of social motivation over money. I believe that pay-for-performance is much weaker than praise-for-performance.

There are two “markets” of motivation. We can think of it like this:

  • Money market and social market

  • Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation

  • Esteem vs. money

People need to feel esteem and need to believe that what they are doing serves a bigger purpose. In fact, in a study by James Heyman of UC Berkeley and Dan Ariely of MIT, they found that social rewards can drive people to perform at a higher level than monetary rewards. In addition, they found that when both are used the resulting performance resemble monetary rewards. This tells us that social rewards are more powerful drivers of behavior because they motivate people at higher levels.

In order to improve performance, we can focus on those intrinsic social rewards like creating a sense of belonging, helping cultivate feelings that what people are doing is important, and being clear when people meet the expectations of their team (aka their in-group). These intrinsic motivators are much more powerful than payment or some other extrinsic reward.

For those of use that want to reward others in a way that spurs longer lasting performance, we can focus on using social identity. To do that, we can focus on the social norms that establish relationships. One way to do this is to use stories that focus on intrinsic rewards. Focus on giving people feelings, not things. Help them feel competent, support their commitment, and show them loyalty.

By doing this, we can motivate most people through the primal needs of acceptance and safety in their group. This is an important concept to grasp. Imagine a time you were dealt a major blow at work or at home, but you had support of those closest to you. Now imagine a time you were dealt a minor blow, but you were in a toxic environment with no support. You can make it through just about anything when you have the support of your in-group. When you are outside of a group, or feel that you just don’t belong, even the most minor issues seem horrible. In fact, tight-knit groups can become stronger and more effective when they deal with horrible situations together. This increases group belonging, enhances esteem, and increases the loyalty group members feel toward each other. In contrast, when people feel like loaners, the smallest hit can cause them to crack.

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