Consensus – Is There Safety in Numbers?

Why do you think McDonald’s started putting the number served on their Golden Arches? This principle relies on an individual’s sense of safety in numbers, uncertainty, and when others seem to be similar to us. Safety in numbers may simply mean one other person from the office. If faced with indecision, an individual will more likely, “go with the crowd”. If the crowd is a lot like me(values, community, culture, demographic, etc) it will increase the odds further that I will be influenced in that direction. You’ve probably been influenced by this yourself looking for a place to eat. If the parking lot is full, well it must be good. I voted for . . . because my union, church, organization, backed them.

You can apply this principle by creating excitement around your idea or product, or getting others to buy in early. At work or in your circle of influence, approach other influential people and seek their support (this may or may not be the formal leaders of the group). I found this particularly helpful while I was a new Captain in the Air Force and tasked with planning our organization’s annual Christmas party. Not a very enticing project for this warrior leader. The previous year only 35 attended out of a squadron of over 300 people. My success looked grim. My first approach was to seek out six key individuals, a young Airman, a mid-level NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) a Lieutenant and 2 wives (NCO and Officer). These folks were my influencers within their demographics. From our first meeting we started to create buzz around the event. Every morning we sang a Christmas Carol over the squadron PA system. We spread potpourri all over the building – air vents, desk draws, the restrooms – it smelled like Christmas before it looked like Halloween. Each of the team members invited several friends and once we met our minimum, we started every week announcing how many tickets were sold. We sold every ticket before Thanksgiving. The night of the Christmas party we had nearly 200 hundred attendees. A similar process can be used when implementing change in the organization.

This tool can also help you when others are trying to influence you. In these situations, keep in mind, the “herd” mentality can be used against you as well. It is often referred to as Groupthink. This is when, when in spite of all the evidence to suggest otherwise, people still make the wrong choice simply because others are as well. We see this in peer pressure to do the wrong thing among children and adults. If you read the accident report for the Shuttle Challenger, it was clear there were individuals who knew it was not safe to launch but who went along with the group decision makers anyhow. But as a rules follower, you understand this principle; you understand how to use it ethically to influence others, and how not to be sucked into making a poor decision.

One last thing before I go…because my vision statement – my life’s purpose – is to have a positive influence on all the people I meet, I’d like to invite you to do just one of the following; on each of them I bring just a little more to the table that you will find helpful in your quest for success.

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Have a great weekend. Be Extraordinary!

Anthony Tormey

President & CEO

Leader Development Institute

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Anthony Tormey

Earl, I think you will agree the negative application of safety in numbers and groupthink mentality can be attributed to the challenges in the VA, the actions of it’s leadership and subsequent failures. Instead, when individuals apply this, and other principles of influence, with character and integrity, success prevails.

Earl Rice

I guess that’s where the rub is. Is there accountability, not just in the VA, but in the Federal Civil Service for those that use the negative “Group Think”. On the military side, they police their own, and those without character, integrity, and honor don’t last long. What should be done with those that lack the character, integrity, and honor in the Civil Service? A better question may be how they get into key positions? But that is a whole new topic, that may be worth some examination as a what not to do.

Anthony Tormey

The truth is, in my opinion, the answer is already in place. At it’s simplest form it’s called, “I CARE”, the VA’s core values, Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. Of course they are no better than the paper they are written on if they are not the values in which the people of the organization live by and make a part of daily operations. Idealistic, perhaps, but doesn’t have to be. My bet is if you were to ask 10 VA employees what I CARE means, more than half won’t be able to identify all five of them. And none of them will remember the last time, if ever, a supervisor or higher talked about them with out it being associated with something negative or a lecture. Instead I propose they be incorporated in daily operations to include but not limited to, recognition, discipline, counseling and reviews.