One of my favourite hotels always has a large bowl of fruit sitting on the counter in their front desk area, available to any of their hotel clientele who want a quick snack. Recently, as I checked in one evening, I mentioned to the front desk agent that I felt the onset of a cold. She helpfully recommended that I boost my Vitamin C consumption. To which I laughingly responded that their fruit bowl never contained oranges, only apples and bananas. She paused, and then earnestly replied, “Oh, we tried adding oranges, but no one ever takes the oranges, just the apples and bananas. So now we just leave them out.”
The convenient fruit principle
At first thought, you might assume that this discrepancy exists because most people like apples and bananas more than oranges. But when you consider it further, the reason is much simpler. Apples and bananas are easy to eat, but oranges are not. As delicious as oranges are, you usually need a knife to eat them. And if they can be peeled, most times they are quite messy. So hotel guests looking for a quick and easy snack always pick the apples and bananas. I call this the “convenient fruit principle”, and it applies just as much in the workplace as it does at snack time.
Use the convenient fruit principle to motivate desired behaviour
You can use the convenient fruit principle to motivate desired employee behaviour. Simply by making things easier or more difficult – apples and bananas versus oranges – you can encourage or discourage people from behaving or acting in certain ways. For example, if you want your field technicians to submit their work logs daily so that you can invoice promptly, give them the technology to submit their reports from their vehicles, and build in at least 15 minutes at the end of their shifts for them to do so. When you make it simple – apples – they’ll be more likely to do want you want.
Or are you looking for ways to get more feedback from your customers about a new product or service? Give them as many avenues to contact you as possible – telephone, email, in person, and a variety of social media options. When you make it easier – bananas – they’ll be more likely to offer you their insights and experiences.
Or use it to discourage undesired behaviour
The convenient fruit principle can also work the opposite way. Libraries, generally, want to encourage their patrons to use their automated systems for routine activities as it frees up their desk staff for more complex requests. By having only one or two people manning the counter, but over a dozen computers available just adjacent, library users are discouraged from going to the counter for routine requests; they are much more likely to go to the computers because they are convenient. The desk staff are the oranges, and the computers nearby are the apples and bananas. Oranges are more inconvenient, so people most often pick the apples and bananas.
Another example of the convenient fruit principle in action is how one organization designed its vendor setup approval procedure to encourage more electronic funds transfer (EFT) payments rather than cheques. Since it is easier and cheaper to process EFTs, the company wanted to discourage the use of cheques. So they implemented a process in which any vendor wanting payment by cheque would need to submit additional documentation and obtain approval from a company supervisor, all of which took more time. Because of the additional paperwork and time involved (oranges), most vendors opted to go the EFT route.
Are you using the convenient fruit principle to your advantage?
So the next time you are thinking about how to change employee (or anyone else’s) behaviour, think about how you can put the convenient fruit principle to work for you. How can you either give apples or bananas to encourage certain actions, or offer oranges to discourage certain behaviour? Let me know what you are doing or you are seeing that illustrates the convenient fruit principle in action? Please add your comments below.
Employee motivation is one of my favourite subjects on the blog. If you’re interested in more ideas, please take a look at the Motivating Employees video tip series I created in 2018 –- 33 specific actionable zero- and low-cost ways to inspire your people to positivity, productivity and performance.