Enrollment — by Seth Godin

It’s more productive to offer directions to someone who has already decided to go on the journey.

“How do I get there?” is a much easier transaction than, “you must go.”

When there’s mutual enrollment, we call it alignment. If people in the organization are all committed to a similar destination, management becomes more like coaching. In fact, we end up calling them a team instead of a company or a division. Instead of using authority, discipline and extrinsic rewards, teams that are enrolled in the journey are more likely to look for signposts of progress. Instead of focusing on shortcuts, competition and scarcity, teams that are enrolled are more resilient, cooperative and committed.

Public school has confused us about how important enrollment can be. That’s because organized schooling is mandatory, and ‘enrollment’ is simply something that happens on paper, not emotionally.

It’s far easier to coach a spirited cricket team than it is to teach those very same kids improper fractions. That’s obvious–in the first case, they’re enrolled in the game, and in the second, they’re simply complying with as little effort as possible.

As Anthony Iannarino says, “too many leaders use their organizational authority instead of inviting people to an adventure, one with meaning, and one that will require growth. Leaders mistakenly believe everyone is motivated by money.”

There’s a hierarchy to enrollment.

At the most primitive level, it’s a desire to evade punishment, to avoid banishment, to stay alive and preserve the status quo. There are no dreams here, simply fear.

Sometimes, this evolves into a mutually beneficial entanglement between the boss and the bossed. The enrollment turns into a desire to please, a figurehead-focused loyalty and dedication that often ends poorly because there’s nothing beyond the dyad. Without external signposts, solipsism and dittoheads result.

More common and more resilient is the enrollment in the tribe. “People like us do things like this.” This is the culture we each choose to live in, the narrative of what it means to choose to be an insider. Status roles and affiliation in a perpetual dance. Enrollment in the group seems to be the dominant form of the human condition, and it’s a place where many leaders and marketers do their best work.

But peer-to-peer enrollment can co-exist with the individual’s desire for meaning and contribution. This is where dreams live and leaders come from. When people enroll in a journey to make things better through effort and contribution, they’re finding a source of inspiration and sustenance from within.

Money, cash money, is a blunt instrument used by organizations and individuals to short circuit much of the hierarchy of enrollment. The idea is that it’s a multi-purpose signifier, an easy way to say, “whatever you seek, whether it’s money for food or money to build a hospital wing, do this and you’ll get some.” And then, to make it even more brutally effective, money as an inducement is combined with the threat of banishment, with keeping someone on the knife’s edge of survival, either financial or emotional.

But money is a story, and it’s a story that is interpreted differently by different people in different moments. When we default to a simple number, we dehumanize the transaction and fail to see what people really need and want.

Where does enrollment come from? It’s certainly easier to start by hiring or leading people who are already enrolled. This is what happens with Major League Baseball calls someone up from the minors. They’re not trying to persuade this person to like baseball, and the promotion from sub-minimum wage to hundreds of thousands of dollars isn’t the lever, either. Dreams realized is enough.

But where do the dreams come from in the first place? I think it might be a combination of two things:

The situation/indoctrination/culture we live in.

The experiences we have.

Enrollment is a combination of what we do and what we’ve been surrounded by. Appropriate difficulty followed by learning. Peer support and peer pressure. Expectations understood and perhaps met. Small steps that lead to an appetite for effort and outcomes.

It’s almost impossible to manage someone to enrollment, but we can lead them there.