“One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
If you grew up in America like me, you’ll know that line by heart. It’s the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance and every day Monday through Friday at 7:25 a.m. from the time I was six I repeated those words along with the morning announcements. I will never forget those words, and despite political tension and contrast in America, I know what the country is supposed to stand for because of the repetition.
Was this cultish? Maybe.
Was this effective? Definitely.
In modern culture, education is structured in a way where many ideas are only presented once. If you want to remember something long-term, once is not enough. Think about it. If you don’t lift weights for a few years when you go back you’ll be a beginner. The mind is no different. People forget what they don’t use unless there’s a really good reason to remember it. People will even forget their native languages after three to five years of no practice (1).
In this series of blog posts talking about how to engage hybrid working communities, one of the key ideas you should take away is that engaged communities unite over a common purpose and share common values. There are a number of techniques mentioned in this series which use memory design and behavioural psychology to create positive associations with your organisation’s values and purpose, but it’s not enough to introduce these things once. When it comes to company values, you need to repeat them.
How repetition works
Microsoft did research in 2018, explaining that anywhere from 6 to 20 times is the ideal amount of repetition to capture attention and drive initial decisions (2). When it comes to making sure employees remember values and purpose, however, longevity is key. The goal for your purpose and values should be to get them into your employees long-term memories, but the brain takes a journey to get memory to this stage and understanding this process is crucial for knowing what strategies to implement and when.
Sensory memory is the earliest stage of memory (3). This is why triggering the senses when designing processes is so important. It’s the first step of exposure that goes past the point of noticeable difference in the brain to capture attention. However, short-term memory works like a sieve, and information is quickly forgotten if there’s not either a strong reason to remember it, or a repetition to recall it. This is why once attention is captured, using memory design techniques to release dopamine works so well. Dopamine release creates positive associations with actions which creates an incentive for people to repeat behaviours.
Repetition works because ideas and memories change connections within your brain’s nerve cells. These connections are protected by myelin, which is an insulating layer around the nerves. The more something is repeated, the stronger myelin becomes which embeds the memory into long-term memory(4). In summary, to make people notice something, you need to capture their attention through the senses, and to make sure they remember it you need them to repeat it over and over again.
How often you need to repeat things - and why
This answer to the question “how” often changes over time. When first learning, frequency of repetition is helpful, but over time reminders can be spread out. A helpful tip to improve memory is to cluster information (3). In this case, clustering your values when talking about them, instead of presenting the information individually, will help people remember all of your values, not just one or two.
An example of this is the pledge of allegiance line mentioned at the beginning. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” encompasses the values of unity, freedom and justice all at once. When forming opinions and making decisions under time scarcity, having balanced guiding values that are reflexive to employees can make all the difference in a crisis.
The other reason repeating your purpose and values is essential is because memories are highly subject to influence. For example, in memory expert Elizabeth Loftus’s most famous experiments, she demonstrated how easily memory can be manipulated by getting 25% of her participants to believe in a false memory that they had once been lost in a shopping mall as a child. (5) By using repetition in a consistent way, you can protect fragile memories or false memories from interfering with your workplace hybrid community, which is especially important in a world of false news, echo chambers and political discourse.
How you can use repetition in your hybrid community (without being creepy)
Getting people to repeat things like the Pledge of Allegiance or the Ten Commandments doesn’t really fly in our modern working world. People don’t like to feel brainwashed, and the internet has brought about generations of informationally empowered workers. Below are three tips for integrating your purpose and values regularly into hybrid communities in a way that doesn’t feel forced.
Have self reflections/ feedback meetings surrounding company values. Use discussion guides with managers to make sure they’re bringing up these values during these crucial one-to-ones with an authority figure (i.e. the employee sees management as an authority figure).
When giving recognition (awards, etc), make the awards values based. This creates sensible justification for winners, improves your employees memory of values and incentivises them to live them - all in one go.
Produce multiple videos that tell a story. Have these sent out consistently in your internal communication over social media and email, and make sure they mention multiple values when addressing challenges. This could take the form of a video of an employee completing a high profile project under duress, and explaining how this was overcome to fulfil the company’s purpose using key values to reach success. The positive reinforcement, recognition and repetition will encourage people to remember how they can use your values to reach success within the company (top tip for smaller businesses: this can be done with a lower budget using user generated content.)
Hope you learned something this week. I know I did. Follow me on Linkedin to be notified next week of my final blog post on hybrid community. Three diverse members of Gen Z will be spilling the secrets of their hybrid workplace community, and providing their opinion on what their ideal hybrid community should look like.