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  • Writer's pictureJoel T. Sanders

Frameworks Rule Our Behavior

Updated: Jul 4, 2020

Most human behavior is automatic, even though we have the illusion that we are "deciding" what to do moment-to-moment.

Our environments, calendars, email, Slack, weekly plans, and other tools "frame" our thinking and behaviors in very specific ways. Yet many business owners pay scant attention to the overall organization and structure of the frames that drive their employees' automatic behaviors.

In a nutshell, frameworks are systems for structuring, organizing, and naming things, with the intention of impacting automatic human behavior towards some goal. The "frame" puts boundaries around and focuses attention upon the "work" to be done within a space.

In a very real way, the only "free will" we have throughout our day is when we make a decision to enter one framework or another. After that, all bets are off, until the frame has had its way with us.

How we frame any problem or process is perhaps the most-critical step towards a successful outcome. For example, a lean canvas offers just enough structure for a creative company or startup to quickly test business ideas, and change course as evidence proves or disproves a product hypothesis. By making prospects the ultimate arbiters of ideas, internal disputes are settled quickly, giving rise to new thinking with a higher chance for success.

At a macro level, your home and office are very large frames that induce certain sets of automated behavior. Within those macro frames reside a variety of smaller frames, and each of those induces more automated behavior.

In a very real way, the only "free will" we have throughout our day is when we make a decision to enter one framework or another. After that, all bets are off, until the frame has had its way with us.

Once the decision has been made, for example, to open your email inbox instead of sitting down to outline a complex project plan, you have no more free least for some period of time. The email subject lines you see from clients, your boss, or your spouse induce mostly automatic reactions.

Likewise, the decision to visit your gym or the local bar after work will induce very specific types of behavior, each with their own predictable outcomes.

Because up-front decisions are so critical to outcome, our mission as operations managers should be to organize systems, tools, and meetings into better and better combinations that induce superior automatic behaviors. In other words: make the automatic behaviors that flow from your frameworks pay off.

Quite often, the answer to improving performance is hiding options. For people who watch too much TV, taking the TV off of the wall and putting it into the closet can solve that problem instantly. If you have to take the TV out of the closet and hang it on the wall before binge-watching The Voice, you're more likely to read the book you've been meaning to get to.

Likewise, not opening your computer first thing in the morning, and learning (or re-learning) how to think with a spiral notebook and pen could do more for your creative problem solving than the fancy software installed on your computer. Spending more time in better structured meetings might be a far better use of your time than keeping Slack or your Email open all day long. And so on.

Across an organization, chunking work into the frame of a weekly plan and bringing teams together for synchronous decision-making can do wonders for creative collaboration and reducing bottlenecks. Identifying and publicly tracking leading measures that impact results can radically improve decisions and results measures.

If a candid evaluation of our behavior reveals underperforming results, don't blame or attempt to correct the behavior itself. Behavior is automatic, ruled by the framework. Instead, set up a new framework in which to operate.

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