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The Power of a Circle

How Can Social Accountability Circles Advance Behavior Change?

In last week’s insight, I shared a little about my 30-day quest to change a behavior. Specifically, to eat healthier. The good news is that I made it through the challenge, primarily because I was in close connection with a circle of family members who were tackling the same feat – the Whole 30 Diet. All of us achieved our healthy eating goals together and learned a lot – and we have also agreed that we will try to eat healthier for the rest of our lives. Our journey was not exactly deprivation, but it was pretty hard at times. I believe that we only succeeded because of mutual encouragement, shared resources and holding each other accountable. We formed what I like to call a Social Accountability Circle – and we intend to keep it going.

I have thought about the idea of Social Accountability Circles for years. Couldn’t we all, as members of the human family, benefit from circles of mutually accountable relationships when it comes to improving our physical, emotional and financial health and wellness?  How would these Circles be designed and supported using new technologies, communications and systems of rewards and disincentives? This got me thinking about understanding successful, existing models of social accountability groups or circles. What principles or strategies can we learn from successful organizations, solutions or businesses that already exist? That made me think of Weight Watchers® as a “tried and true” model to better understand this dynamic.

Weight Watchers is a well-known, popular weight loss program that has developed a scientifically-designed SmartPoints ® system. Each week, members are given their daily and weekly SmartPoints which assign different point values to foods based on nutritional factors. Basically, people are encouraged to eat more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and less sugar and unhealthy fats to create better, more sustainable eating patterns. We all know that this is the kind of diet that we should follow – but not all of us do. However, there is ample evidence that a good portion of people in the Weight Watchers “circle” actually do modify their eating behaviors and lose weight as a result. Let’s dig a little deeper on how it works for some insights.

Weight Watchers offers different plans that members can join and subscribe to monthly. These plans consist of a Digital subscription, where members have access to the app and website to help themselves stay on track with their goals. There is also a Digital + Studio subscription (formerly “Meetings”), which allow members to meet weekly at in-person Wellness Workshops. Here, members of this plan can talk to each other and a Wellness Coach about strategies to help them reach their lifestyle goals, or simply talk to other people who are going through the same process. Finally, there is a Coaching subscription that gives members as much support as they need through the Wellness Workshops, as well as personalized one-to-one meetings with a custom-made plan specifically for that member. In my opinion, Weight Watchers checks all of the boxes necessary for a highly effective Social Accountability Circle.

Here are four key takeaways that I think any organization or marketer can apply to accelerate positive behavior change – whether that change be for their organization, their partner supply chain, or their end-user customers.

  1. Gather and connect groups of people who are committed to change – not just short term, but for the long haul. Social Accountability Circles won’t be successful unless they first start with assembling a group of people committed to shared goals, with the courage to change their own behaviors to support the desired behavior change of their peers. All for one and one for all.
  2. Create systems of accountability to help the group to regularly measure change at both the individual and group level – This requires clear objectives, relational structures, timelines, and regular points of communication to advance the desired individual and group behaviors. Measurement tools that are easily accessible and transparent to all will advance sustained change.
  3. Foster genuine, committed and caring relationships with leaders and peers – Change, and social behavior change in particular, will not be achieved or sustained without genuine, committed and caring relationships that bond the group together and help it maintain its viability and progress under stress. Structure roles and peer relationships to keep folks on track. “Hey coach, can you help me figure out how to take this next step?”
  4. Celebrate individual and group success – Colleges have graduations, high schools have proms, non-profits have galas and businesses have the annual picnic or office party. We participate in these events to celebrate shared success and to remind us of the meaning and purpose behind our efforts. You may be aware that Princeton Partners launched and supports an online video-based curricula company called Activity Works that helps elementary students learn about nutrition and exciting topics while moving their bodies in the classroom. We celebrate the most active classrooms and schools with prizes, recognition and celebrations. Strong emotional connections are made because the joy of group accomplishment is front and center.

In future Insights, we will explore the power of Social Accountability Circles. In the meantime, let us know if you are aware of any new technologies or programs that are unique and interesting that are advancing positive behavior change. Shoot me an email with your thoughts and ideas at tsullivan@princetonpartners.com.


Marketing Agency Blog Post Author of The Power of a Circle

February 1, 2019
Written by Tom Sullivan

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