Behavior is a Function of the Person and Environment

In 1936, Kurt Lewin published the equation…

 B = f(P, E)

…which states that behavior (B) is a function (f) of the person (P) in their environment (E).

Called “Lewin’s Equation” it is now considered his most well-known formula in social psychology, even though it contradicted most popular theories of the time.

There’s something to be learned from Lewin’s Equation about how we engage with our student employees. Consider these possible questions about student employee behavior, people, and environment:

  1. What is the behavior we want from our student employees?
  2. How do we select and prepare student employees through hiring, on-boarding, training, recognition, promotions, and evaluations?
  3. What work environment exists for our student employees?

I hope these questions may prompt some interesting reflection. But there’s one more question that is also important…what do we have the most control over? I would argue that we have the greatest ability to affect our environments. Yes, we identify behavioral and performance expectations and outcomes. Yes, we hire students who we think are the right fit for the job. But resoundingly yes, we create the environments in which we all work. When we are looking for a specific behavior or outcome, we might find a better return on our efforts if we focus on adjusting the environment, rather than adjusting the person.

Simon Sinek writes about this general concept in his latest book “Leaders Eat Last.” Using the example of a “snowmobile in the desert” – where people are snowmobiles – he writes that just like snowmobiles…

“we were designed to operate in very specific conditions. Take that machine designed for one kind of condition – snow – and put it in another condition – the desert, for example – and it won’t operate as well. Sure, the snowmobile will go. It just won’t go as easily or as well as if it were in the right conditions. … What too many leaders of organizations fail to appreciate is that it’s not the people that are the problem. The people are fine. Rather, it’s the environment in which the people operate that is the problem. Get that right and things just go.”

For more insight on “Leaders Eat Last” check out this video about how great leaders create the right environment to make us feel safe. Sinek goes on to explain that when we feel safe, the natural reaction is trust and cooperation.

Within the framework of Phase One of our Student Employment Experience, we create our environment in very specific ways – through discussion and application of learning competencies, reflective OSU GROW conversations, the availability (and encouragement to take advantage) of training workshops.

Consider how you are leveraging these tools (and others!) to create the environment that will set up your student employees for success on the job, new learning that will connect to their coursework, and preparation for their future careers.

Use the comment section below to share ideas about how you create student employee environments that work, or ask for suggestions from fellow supervisors!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *