Habits, Commitment, Motivation & Context

'Finding the Lever'

21 November 2022
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
Short stories with key learning points for personal development and professional development. Often to make you smile, and always to make you think.
Understanding someone's key motivation & drivers can convert repetitive failure to instant success...so focus on what they want, not just what you want.

you'll like this story if you're interested in...

Jeanette was a sales supervisor. She had a competent team, and outstanding among them was Julie. Julie was a superb sales person, and always headed the ‘targets achieved’ list, month after month.There was one major problem though: Julie’s timekeeping. Though there was a clear office policy on punctuality, Julie was more often than not late – sometimes by up to half an hour.Jeanette had spoken to Julie about this on several occasions. On each occasion Julie’s timekeeping improved In the short term, but deteriorated over the longer term.Jeanette was stuck. She did not want to support Julie’s lateness, and it set a bad example for the rest of the team, who were also frustrated at Julie’s timekeeping. Equally, though, Jeanette did not want to lose her most successful sales person.When Jeanette discussed this with me, I asked if Julie had other interests, motives or drivers. The company had a Management Development Scheme, and Jeanette mentioned that Julie was keen to progress within the company, and wanted to join the Scheme. But to do so, she needed her supervisor’s nomination.I suggested that this might be a lever, something for Jeanette to trade against the poor timekeeping. Jeanette saw immediately what I was getting at, and decided to try it out.I next saw Jeanette 3 months later, and asked if she had had a conversation with Julie, and what the result had been.“It was great”, said Jeanette. “I sat down privately with Julie, and raised her timekeeping again, but this time added something. I said I knew she wanted to be recommended for the MD Scheme, and that I was happy to do so, apart from the problem of timekeeping. I could not, in good faith, recommend to the company someone for a management role who was such a poor timekeeper, and would set a poor example to her staff. If of course, the timekeeping issue could be solved, I’d be happy to recommend her. Julie’s timekeeping has been spot on ever since.”

People get into habits – good and bad – and habits are difficult to change. 

To make a change, people often need a motivator, or incentive – a carrot. 

The key point here, though is that until our conversation, Jeanette had not seen the potential of using Julie’s driver (for career development) as something to trade to gain improvement in time keeping. Jeanette had seen both issues as important, but as separate.

Sometimes we are too close to situations, and cannot see the wood for the trees. Talking through the problem with someone who has a fresh, detached perspective, might provide an insight or idea that you’d missed..

To make a change, people often need a motivator, or incentive – a carrot.

There are a number of take-aways from this story:

  • Habits
  • Motivation
  • Consequence
  • Context


One thing that puzzled Jeanette was how often a pattern was repeated. She’d mention it to Julie; Julie would respond in the short term; then seem to disregard the agreement to improve, and return to old ways. The most likely cause of this is habit. It takes a lot of time and effort to change an ingrained habit; Julie’s drift may simply be a return to what she was most used to and comfortable with. Imagine folding your arms. You probably fold them that way every time; it’s now your norm, your default, your habit. And though there is no right or wrong way to fold your arms, your pattern is now embedded, and it would take a lot for you to change this habit, so that you not only folded them the other way, but did so automatically. That’s possibly Julie’s situation. So until Jeanette found a useful lever, she would probably have had to regularly remind Julie, or Julie would have to have created her own reminders. Habits are easy to maintain, and very difficult to break – especially if they work for you!


This was one of the key to the solution. Simply, Julie was not motivated by punctuality, but was by her sales role, and being not only successful, but ‘the best’. And of course, she was also motivated by career advancement, and the MDP. So rather than try and motivate Julie towards something she was not motivated by (punctuality) Jeanette focused on what Julie was motivated by – the MDP.


To Julie, there was no apparent negative consequence to lack of punctuality; she assessed (probably correctly) that Jeanette would not want to risk losing her star performer – which is why she probably calculated she could get away with poor timekeeping. So to Julie, there was no serious threatening consequence of her poor punctuality. She could probably take the occasional admonishment, believing nothing more serious would happen. However, when Jeanette tied punctuality to being recommended for the MDP, there was now a serious consequence to punctuality which hadn’t been there before. So a key part of finding a lever, is to be able to tie a required action to an important consequence – so it is the consequence, rather than the action, that makes the difference.


Another key factor in the successful result. Julie was operating in the context of leading sales person in the sales team. That was her current role and context. But…;she wanted to change that role and context. She had aspirations to be a manager, to develop a new role and career – which is a different context. So when Jeanette changed the context, the reference point, from sales performer to possible manager, it significantly changed Julie’s perspective. When Jamie Oliver took on his 15 young school leavers, he insisted they look, sound, and behave like chefs, right from the start – so they changed their perspective, from young school leavers to potential chefs. And a friend of mine teaching students law, insisted that, in her class, they acted and spoke as lawyers. Reframing the context was possibly the main lever in bringing about a successful conclusion: Jeanette simply explained, then emphasised, how a manager would have to behave…and that of course, included punctuality.

Sometimes we are too close to situations, and cannot see the wood for the trees.
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
would you like to write for us?... please get in touch :-)

Related courses & resources...

Top Ten Tips on...

Making and breaking habits - what do you need? Know your reasons, then how to replace the bad ones, and reinforce and repeat the good ones

Top Ten Tips on...

nudge theory... How an understanding of human behaviour – how we act, and why – can help you ‘nudge’ people towards or away from particular choices and outcomes…

Book Review:

by R H Thaler & C R Sunstein

This book started the Nudge Theory movement, and is a fantastic read, full of eye watering examples to show how non-rational most of us are…

Don't like to email?...
That's ok. We love to pick up the phone.

... Or you can message us on whatsapp.

We'd love to e-meet you... let’s go for a virtual coffee :)

For workshops and coaching sessions, you can check availability & book using the form below. Pay now online, or later by invoice - it's up to you.

Cumbria Museums Consortium (CMC) client logo
Bumblebee Conservation Trust client logo
LiveWire client logo
Merseytravel client logo
AQA client logo
Bentley Motors client logo
West Lancashire Borough Council client logo
Weaver Vale Housing Trust client logo
NHS England client logo
Arc Hospitality client logo
University of Derby client logo
Octagon Theatre client logo
Alex Monroe client logo