This article explains the Rubicon Model of Action Phases in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful motivation theory.
What is the Rubicon Model of Action Phases?
The Rubicon model of action phases provides insight into the choices we make, human action and reflection on these actions. The different action phases are characteristic for the the Rubicon Model of Action Phases, in which the selection of choices and the realisation of goals becomes more comprehensible. The name comes from the North-Italian river the Rubicon.
About 50 years before the birth of Christ, the Roman emperor Julius Caesar crossed this river with his army. After crossing, there was no longer any room for doubt about his decision. By crossing the Rubicon, Caesar initiated a civil war and there was no way back. In crossing the river, Caesar made a decision to win or die in battle. The metaphor ‘crossing the Rubicon’ has become another way for saying you have passed a point of no return. The consequences of a decision are so diverse and manifold that the possibility of reversing it is completely obliterated.
In psychological theories on motivation, the Rubicon Model of Action Phases differentiates between motivational and volitional processes. It clearly defines boundaries between motivators and the various associated action phases. According to the model, every action includes a point of no return.
As soon as goals are set with a consequent planning, actions will follow to reach the goals. In implementing the plan, the metaphorical Rubicon is crossed. Self-regulating activities will follow each other in order to reach the goals. It’s impossible to reconsider, adapt or change every action. When the machine has been set in motion, it’s difficult to stop. The model describes that successfully pursuing goals can be compared to solving 4 consecutive questions:
- How do people select their goals? What are the potential goals?
- How do they plan the execution of their goal within a fitting time schedule?
- How do they decide the planning and execution of the goals?
- How do they evaluate the efforts to reach a specific goal? What have they achieved and what else needs to be done?
At the core, the Rubicon Model of Action Phases is mainly used on decisions that are black-or-white and have little or no alternatives. In addition to the basic questions, the model also creates 4 action phases of goal orientation:
Before a decision is made, a pre-decision phase occurs; many different choices are considered. All pros and cons of the different wishes and desires pass the review. This phase examines the expected results and the achievability of the different choices.
Example: someone is considering to buy a car for commuting. He is considering buying a second-hand car, new car or leasing a car. All pros and cons of all 3 options are summed up and even commuting by public transport is considered.
The decision has been made in this phase, in which the implementation of the chosen goal is planned. It’s decided when, where and how people are going to act in order to reach the goal. After a decision has been made, there is no longer a way back.
Example: the person chooses to buy a 5-year-old second-hand Toyota Corolla. As soon as he signs the purchase agreement, he has passed the point of no return. He has to arrange with the bank that the money is transferred to the dealer. He knows when the car is made ready for driving at the dealership. He can no longer reverse these decisions.
This is the moment the goal has almost successfully been reached. If the goal is not successfully reached, this means one must be satisfied with the result realised so far.
Example: as soon as the person buys the second-hand Toyota, he knows when he can pick up the car, has to make sure he is registered for road taxes and has taken out a good car insurance. Only then is he ready to commute with the car.
This is the phase in which the results of the goal-oriented behaviour is evaluated. By looking back based on feedback, and looking ahead based on feedforward.
Example: when the person has commuted for 2 months, he evaluates this period. How long were his travel times, how much time did he save compared to public transport, what were the petrol costs, how often was he stuck in traffic, did the second-hand car have defects, etc? Subsequently, with a feedforward, he can ask himself whether he would like to get additional results. Does he have to buy winter tyres, will the second-hand car have expensive maintenance costs, is it wise to keep driving this car, will the Tuesday always be such a ‘traffic-jam sensitive day’, etc?
There are transition points between the different phases in the Rubicon model. The first boundary divides the motivation process from the pre-decision phase, from the full processes to those of the post-decision phase. Another border is the one between initiating and ending an action towards reaching the goal. All four phases are divided by 3 clear transition points:
This transition point at the end of the first phase is called the crossing of the Rubicon, named after the Julius Caesar metaphor. The principle is to realise certain wishes and desires. They are changed into goals at the end of the pre-decision phase.
At the end of the post-decision phase, the actions that are suitable for reaching the goal are initiated.
At the end of the action phase, the evaluation needs to be taken seriously; so the results of the goal-oriented actions can be assessed.
It seems almost impossible to break obligations in the Rubicon model. External factors can make this happen, but this is often too high-risk. Suppose a company takes out a subscription with an IT supplier that provides them with an amazing Customer Relations Management (CRM) software system. The commercial company depends on this software, which stores all their customer data. Of course, the company can decide to cancel the subscription any time, but this would create a lot of stress and work pressure. All employees are currently familiar with the ins & outs of the current CRM system. Despite the fact that another IT supplier might offer a cheaper subscription, the commercial company would not want to run the risk of disrupting the continuous workflow. The current CRM system is relied upon and transferring to another IT supplier is too high-risk.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Could you use the Rubicon Model of Action Phases to achieve your own goals or those of your employees? How would you apply it? Do you already use the Rubicon Model and do you have tips and tricks or additions?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Gollwitzer, P. M. (1990). Action phases and mind-sets. Handbook of motivation and cognition: Foundations of social behavior, 2, 53-92.
- Gollwitzer, P. M. (2012). Mindset theory of action phases (pp. 526-545).
- Spiess, E., & Wittmann, A. (1999). Motivational phases associated with the foreign placement of managerial candidates: an application of the Rubicon model of action phases. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 10(5), 891-905.
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