The Four-Way Test

Every now and again I’ll get a phone call from a company executive asking me to speak to their employees as part of their company wellness program. Generally, I’m the last person they call. By the time they reach me, they’ve already spent a summer doing a “Biggest Loser” contest, a Fitbit challenge or have given the entire staff personal pedometers. During this call I often learn that the executive is looking for new ideas to make healthy habits “stick.” The main issue is this: many employees do indeed participate in the company sponsored wellness event – but once the event is over, they quickly go back to their old habits. So now, the executive is reaching out to me.

A common theme during these initial calls is shame. I am always surprised at how often I hear company executives ask for fun ideas to create peer pressure and shame their employees into participating in their wellness events. They want me to create a “fun” way to shame their employees. But when does shame ever work?? I politely bite my tongue and offer that I have great success motivating my clients (both personal coaching and Pilates clients) by focusing on the positive – by acting as their cheerleader, as someone who helps them feel good. However, this response rarely seems to satisfy the person on the other end of the phone. They are looking for a specific structure – for ways to “hold people accountable.” And, in the back of my mind I wonder if this “shame and accountability” culture is part of the entire company itself…

I belong to a service organization – Rotary – the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club – and we often have projects or programs where we’d like to see 100% participation from our members. At a recent meeting, our chairperson for the Rotarian Malaria Partners fundraiser said something really interesting. He said that he was originally going to make everyone in the room who had not yet make a financial contribution stand up – but then he realized that this would not pass “The Four-Way Test” – so instead, he would like everyone in the room who had indeed already made their financial contributions stand up and be recognized for their donations.

This is not only a perfect example of motivation through positive reinforcement rather than shame – it is a perfect example of “accountability.” Our committee chairperson was “held accountable” by Rotary’s Four-Way Test. And because of that accountability, he used a positive approach – rather than a negative and shameful approach – to make his point, to raise awareness, and to encourage and inspire participation from our club members. (Side note: Our chairperson did indeed facilitate 100% club participation and met his fundraising goal.)

For anyone unfamiliar with The Four-Way Test, it is the basic code of conduct for Rotarians. In order to “pass,” our words and deeds must meet all four criteria.

Rotary’s Four-Way Test:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

I had never really thought about it in this way before – the great thing about Rotary’s Four-Way Test is that it can be used in any environment and in any context. It can be used in business relationships. It can be used in personal relationships. It can be used as a tool for cultivating a relationship with your body. It can be used to heal dysfunctional relationships with food and exercise, thereby creating sustainable health and well-being. And it can be used to encourage employee participation in wellness programs. In fact, using Rotary’s Four-Way Test may just be the thing these executives are looking for to make their company’s employee wellness goals “stick.”