In order to show your employees how to change, it’s important to understand the social tendencies that occur when people are in groups. One of these tendencies is conformity – and it can help improve results.

Conformity occurs in all groups to varying degrees, but to exploit it positively in your business you must first understand what it is and why it occurs.


What is conformity?

Man likes to think of himself as an individual, but it is a fact that we are pushed to fit in and to do what we believe others expect us to do. Individuals behave in accordance with current norms in specific groups, such as at the workplace. Our behaviour changes so we appear to be ‘normal’ for the others in the group.

Conformity can also give rise to group pressure. Man has a strong need to belong to a group, and matching a group signals that ‘I am like you and I follow common rules’.  Conformity can even occur when a person is alone – because we comply with norms even though no one else is present.

The purpose of conformity is often harmony, and to avoid the discomfort that people feel when one stands out from the rest. Acceptance is one of the most basic human needs and even the most independent person can give in to fit in. Conformity occurs instinctively in us – without this mechanism, mankind could not have survived, since from birth we were completely dependent on others to live.

‘Most are terrified to be rejected.’

Conformity means adapting behaviour or attitudes towards what appears to be socially acceptable in the group. Although many people imagine themselves to be unique individuals, most of their actions, most of the time, are based on social rules. Conformity can be simple things like stopping at a red light or going to work. Without such norms, the whole community would collapse.


How to use conformity to improve results in the desired focus area

By consciously controlling and utilising conformity, one can ensure that the entire employee group focuses on changing behaviour to improve results in a desired area. A consistent management that is clear about what the business’s focus areas and goals are, and what is expected of each individual, is a highly effective strategy for performance improvements and change processes. A conscious focus on best practice and the goals the individual has put in place affects the group.

For example, in a retail business, the focus area may be to make even better customer demand coverage.


Step 1: Arrange regular meetings where the focus area is talked about each time

‘The boss’s focus is my focus’

Through social control in the form of fixed meeting points with carefully considered content, we can use conformity to our advantage. These meetings can take place in many forms, with formal or informal frameworks. For some businesses, a weekly Monday meeting might be an effective forum to talk about areas of focus. For others it may better to have a chat on the floor when the day’s first shift is over. The most important aspect of these meetings is continuity and frequency – if spoken about and discussed regularly, conformity will establish itself as an area of ​​focus for the whole group.

Within a retail business, Step 1 would mean the leader setting up regular meetings, relatively close together, where results for the previous week would be presented. The meetings would also identify which behaviour changes would lead to better results in certain areas.


Step 2: Let role models talk about their working methods

‘My best colleagues’ skills teach me to improve’

Repeated discussions around the focus areas are the first step to using conformity as an effective tool. But it’s important that meetings don’t concentrate solely on managers.  Role models on the staff – i.e. those considered the strongest in the group in a particular area – can achieve powerful effects when they convey how they work on best practices to achieve their goals. It will then be natural for the rest, thanks to the natural pressure to conform, to try to do the same.

In retail, the manager would present results for the strongest in the group and ask them to describe how they have worked during the past week to bring about those results.


Step 3: Round the table

‘What everyone in the group talks about, including me, is invaluable’

To actively improve results and raise performance levels, it’s most effective to get the whole group to talk. When everyone has to give their results, and say how they’re working to improve them, people develop a better understanding of best practices relevant to the areas focussed on. Conformity will, in many cases, drive all employees to implement best practices actively in their daily operations in order to have something positive to report on the next meeting.

For a retail business, this would result in performance in the areas of focus during the previous week being presented. Then everyone present would relate how they had worked on best practice and behavioural changes to try to improve the outcome.


Be aware of conformity

In some situations – where a business is changing and uncertainty arises, for example – conformity is a factor to be controlled. It will always exist, but if we do not control it, there are other informal and uncontrolled influences that will. And at worst, these can be counter-productive to our efforts to incorporate best practices and performance improvements.

We have many years of experience in large-scale behavioural change. Read more about how the Maze method works here.

An expert survey shows which eight measures will dramatically increase your success rate in leadership development.


We can all agree that successful management and leadership development is not easy. In light of this, the American flagship business publication McKinsey Quarterly has asked what measures 510 executives across the world think are most effective in making the most of managerial development. The results show that in practice there are over 50 different measures that should be implemented to get the top effect of a management programme. But don’t worry, some measures are better than others – and their cumulative effect has even greater impact.

It seems that in order to increase the management development success rate to 80%, more than 40 measures have to be taken; to increase the success rate to 30%, you must carry out over 25 measures.

‘But what makes the choice of action simple is that there are a few measures that are much more important than all the others. These measures have a formidable multiplier effect.’

Top 8 measures with large multiplier effect:

  1. Focus on leadership behaviour that is most critical of performance
  2. Ensure that the management programme covers the whole organisation
  3. Ensure that the programme reaches all management levels
  4. Encourage individuals to practice new behaviours to become better leaders
  5. Review how to develop managerial skills
  6. Develop formal HR systems to enhance the leadership model
  7. Demonstrate best practices/role models for good management (e.g. coaching)
  8. Create projects that challenge participants; apply learning in new settings
Source: Feser, C., Nielsen, N. & Rennie, M. (2017) McKinsey Quarterly: What’s Missing In Leadership Development?


Eight steps in a list can make leadership development seem simple. But at Maze, we’ve seen that many businesses are struggling to get the full effect from their management programmes.

‘Good management should lead to something concrete and produce a measurable result in the form of an improved KPI.’

Given our experience, there were few surprises on McKinsey’s list. Focus on concrete behavior, including the entire organization, best practice and high levels of training are something which we know works – these measures are pivotal in the Maze method.

We base our business on what the best practice management is in relation to a chosen KPI- for example focussing on customers or employees or implementation of processes. It’s about specific management activities, which can be copied by all, and be measurable.

Using statistical methods we find which of many different activities actually give the greatest effect. We focus all the effort on those and follow-up over time with system support. The entire organisation is involved, and all levels of the organisation are part of the follow-up process; feedback on management is an important tool. As part of the follow-up, the manager will also practice, and rehearse, to become a better leader, through commitment and follow-up to his own leader.

System support ensures continuity, and is supported by our training options, training companions and gamification. And together with our customers we create a welcoming, workable social setting for good training.

‘We work hard to improve a chosen KPI, no matter which KPI and where in the value chain we are.’

Do you want to get more out of your leadership development? Contact us today for a no-obligtion chat about how we can help your business.

There are three prevelant myths about management tools that we meet again and again. They’re rife in every industry – and here’s where we lay them to rest once and for all.


1. ‘Nobody answers survey questions honestly’

Several of our customers originally thought that surveys were a waste of time, both for customers and employees. We beg to differ.

It’s not about honesty

Our experience is that that most people are quite honest. But if some of their answers aren’t, what does that really mean? The most important aspect of a survey is not necessarily the degree of honesty – it’s the conversations about the results and the specific goals the business is based on that matter most.

‘Conducting surveys is an excellent opportunity to start a dialogue with your employees about the desired focus area and their own aspirations about future performance.’

In addition, honesty is about a number of other factors. How the survey is formulated, frequency and the employee’s/customer’s reaction to follow-ups after conducting investigations help influence what responses you receive. We understand this very well, and work actively to ensure you make the most of your research.


2. ‘A lot of customer feedback is on things we can’t do anything about’

The feeling that customers provide feedback on areas that you can’t influence is one more reason that surveys seem like an unnecessary management tool.

Focus on the right place

There will probably be some feedback that does not directly affect you and your employees. But we also know that there are many more responses that will concern you and your working environment. These are the ones to emphasise.

‘Focus only on the feedback you can influence. We guarantee that it’s more than enough to work with.’

Customer feedback is important initially for finding focus areas, and then as a measuring instrument to see that all the hard work pays off. This also applies if parts of the information affect areas you have no influence on.

And discovering some things you can’t react to immediately can still be worthwhile. For example, knowing that some customers think prices are too high can be effective to keep in mind during customer interaction.

The points you actually can’t act on, you’re safe to ignore, or pass on up the chain. Perhaps top management can do something about it – but your focus should be on things you can change.


3. ‘Giving employees my feedback does more harm than good’

Some executives and middle managers may fear providing feedback to their employees. There is a feeling that it may undermine staff skills, or that honest feedback has more of a negative than a positive effect.

Feedback is essential – but must be given correctly

Feedback is a vital part of development and follow-up when you want behavioural change in your business. We have seen over and over again that frequent – and accurate – feedback leads to a number of positive consequences.

It is important to understand that independent work and feedback are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, we find that most people are highly motivated by constructive feedback from their leader. Motivation and guidance lead to more efficient and targeted employees, who work better both independently and in teams.

‘Saying “you have done well” is an ineffective way to provide feedback. Saying “you do well when you ask questions to uncover customers’ needs” is much more constructive’.

Feedback needs to be concrete, specific and focussed on behaviour that can be changed. With immediate delivery, feedback can be your most important management tool.


Read our 10 tips on how to provide effective feedback here