Probably thanks to ominous warnings in high school, most of us think of peer pressure as a bad thing. But according to Leigh Stringer, author of upcoming book The Healthy Workplace, these negative associations often blind us to a simple reality -- peer pressure is really powerful and can be used to encourage good behavior as well as bad.

"I noticed that some of the really healthy, outcome-focused organizations I visited during my research were using these peer-based partnerships to help their employees meet not only personal health goals but also business goals. It turns out this peer pressure thing, when you turn up the 'accountability' knob, is a motivator for a lot more than losing a few pounds," she wrote recently on The Quiet Revolution blog.

Leveraging peer pressure for self-improvement

In the piece she cites research by psychologist Robert Cialdini and Tim Church, MD, a professor of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, that shows finding a buddy who can work towards your goals with you is one of the best ways to motivate change. This sort of healthy peer pressure, in fact, seems to more effective than mentorship.

"Compared to mentorship--a more hierarchical relationship--a peer to peer relationship seems to be easier to organize, and it is a more effective tool for making progress towards a goal. Accountability partnerships work when they are a collaboration between two colleagues who like and respect one another--your partner is someone you trust, who will keep you honest and moving on a path you set for yourself," writes Stringer.

How to set up an accountability partnership

While finding the right mentor and getting the most out of the relationship can be tricky, Stringer contends that setting up an accountability partnership is super simple. Just follow this dead easy six-step process:

  1. Find someone you trust to be your accountability partner (a different personality from you is good, maybe better).
  2. Talk to them about your goals.
  3. Get specific with them about actions you will want to take to meet your goals as well as consequences/rewards for taking or not taking them.
  4. Set up regular check-in times (this can be a text message, no need to meet every time).
  5. Revisit goals and strategies every once in a while to make sure you are on track.

In the complete post, Stringer offers a few real-life examples of accountability partnerships in action from her research, which might be of interest to anyone thinking of putting the concept to use. The bottom line, however, is that "we are much more likely to take action if someone is taking note and tracking our goals, but also coaching us and cheering us on along the way. Smart companies understand this and have integrated it into their culture and the way they do business," she concludes.

As an entrepreneur you might want to put this insight to use setting up accountability partners among your team, but you could also use it personally just by finding a fitness buddy who will miss you if you don't turn up at the gym. Point being, unlike mentors, accountability partners are easy to find, even easier to maintain, and useful in multiple contexts. Maybe it's time to start thinking more highly of peer pressure.

Published on: Apr 5, 2016