Tom Petty once sang that waiting is the hardest part. Looking ahead to the entertainment slated for 2016, I think he’s right. How can you not eagerly anticipate the release of such movies as Batman v Superman, Zoolander 2, Captain America: Civil War, and Ghostbusters plus the return of the shows Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, and Daredevil? Throw in new albums by Pearl Jam, Rachel Platten, and Guns N’ Roses, and I am almost excited for 2017 just so I can talk about experiencing these epic events.
Work is no different. I have big plans for 2016. There’s a new management training program to unveil in my company, speaking opportunities to discuss the ideas from my recent book (still available on Amazon, hint hint), a new book in the works with a business colleague, and multiple initiatives that I’ve outlined and am anxious to start developing. Seeing as how we’re in the first week of the year, that’s a lot to wait for. Fortunately, research shows that having to wait may make these encounters even better.
According to an extensive study by consumer behavior researcher Minjung Koo, waiting can increase enjoyment. When waiting in a line, we surmise that products and events are more valuable when others are waiting behind us. Between this and seeing progress as you get closer to the goal, we not only expect to like but actually enjoy the product or event more.
I believe in cases [where] people wait in line by choice, value increase is more likely to occur. People may be more likely to justify their choice or efforts by perceiving its value higher.— Minjung Koo
In the workplace, we are constantly battling the desire for instant gratification. Those on your team don’t want to wait for the next bonus, assignment, or promotion. Yet, as the leader, it is your responsibility to instill a degree of patience without inhibiting their excitement or engagement. This is the crux of Horizon Engagement Anticipation Theory (H.E.A.T.), which states that people are most engaged when they have something to look forward to.
Here are three ways to use H.E.A.T. and Koo’s research to reap the benefits of waiting.
- Set the precedent. To make inferences about a goal’s value, people rely on previous experiences. Since you need your team to value the goals you set and since trust is built through past experiences, each project is a chance to make or break your reputation as the leader, engage or disengage others, and build or diminish your level of influence. Don’t rely on past wins; re-earn it with every opportunity you have.
- Provide clear milestones. When working towards a goal, a common question is whether sufficient progress is being made to reduce the discrepancy between the current state and goal attainment. To exhibit this advancement, divvy up the project and identify the targets along the path. Then, coordinate celebrations for each fulfilled mini-goal.
- Foster a feeling of excitement. One of the keys behind Koo’s study is that people perceive more value as the number of people behind them increases. Therefore, when rolling out new initiatives, emphasize the presence of others who are behind (but not ahead of) those on your team. Highlight instances when your team is on the forefront and emphasize the growing number of supports.
If you aren’t geared up for the new year, get your to-do list together. Include the obligatory items that need to get done, but also fill it with the accomplishments you want to achieve. The better your list, the more motivated you’ll be to get started. This is your chance to create the goals that you will anxiously be waiting for…and in case you aren’t clear, this is not like waiting for the new Superman movie; your “waiting” is simply the delayed gratification resulting from hard work.