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Enforcement versus enrollment

On his podcast, Seth Godin, makes a brilliant distinction between the use of enforcement and enrollment to bring about desired behavior.

Enforcement: the act of compelling observance of or compliance with a law, rule, or obligation

Enrollment: the act of enrolling or signing up

Godin posits that if those in positions of authority take the approach of enforcement (mandated compliance), they will have limited success. A more effective approach is to promote enrollment (voluntary enlistment).

He said, “Most bureaucracies, most top-down organizations, most bosses are really focused on enforcement:

  • How do I get the butts in the seats?
  • How do I measure the throughput on the assembly line?
  • How do I deduct points from people who don’t comply?”

This is because enforcement is easier. Enforcement is up to the people in charge. It’s our instinct. It’s under our control.

Enrollment is voluntary—a choice made by others that’s beyond management’s control. People get involved, participate, learn, and comply when they want to get involved, participate, learn, and comply. Our responsibility as supervisors, managers, and leaders is to create an environment that is conducive to adopting enrollment behaviors.

Godin asks, “Are we spending our time, effort, and resources looking for new ways to create enforcement regimes, new ways to clarify the rules and punishments? Or are we brainstorming and looking for new ways to earn enrollment?”

In the workplace, enrollment can be earned by:

  • Determining employees’ unique capabilities, temperaments, motivations, personalities, and learning styles to align job roles with distinct strengths and preferences.
  • Offering multiple paths to get from point A to point B, whether work design, training and development, or career advancement.
  • Using participative management techniques that invite employees to shape their job descriptions and contribute ideas to improve the business, work environment, and employment experience.

Successful bosses will figure out how to earn enrollment because they realize that people who are doing something because they want to, do way more than people who do something because they have to. In addition to being more productive, they’re likely to be more collaborative, conscientious, and engaged.

In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath share a story about Bart Millar, an American history teacher at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon, who was frustrated by the behavior of two of his students, Robby and Kent, who frequently arrived late to class and then sat in the back of the room, talking to each other, laughing, and disrupting the class. Millar had tried enforcement by sending them to the principal’s office, but their disruptive behavior continued.

To his credit, Millar changed his strategy. Instead of focusing on enforcement of tardy and behavior policies, he opted for an enrollment approach that would prompt Robby and Kent to choose the desired behaviors.

He bought a used couch and placed it at the front of the classroom. It was immediately obvious that this couch was the cool place to sit—in comfortable cushions rather than rigid desks. Suddenly Robby and Kent started getting to class early every day so they could “get a good seat.” And they were volunteering to sit at the front of the classroom.

It’s true that enforcement is easier because authority is recognized and policies and disciplinary procedures are in place. It’s simply a matter of citing the policy infraction and advancing through the stages of progressive discipline. Enrollment strategies require more thought and, like the classroom couch, may require a novel approach to produce the behavior you’re looking for.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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