Hubbard & Bell in the Hoxton Hotel, London

Employees must wash hands… (and why this approach rarely works to change behaviors and organizations)

We have all seen the signs: “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work.” Clear and concise message. Well placed in an area where one cannot miss it. Makes sense, until we notice the one person (or people?) that goes in and out of the restroom without even looking at the sink. Bad hombres!

Why am I bringing this up? because this is the typical approach that many leaders and their teams take to driving change in their organizations. These approaches are based on the belief that education together with compelling communications work fine. They are based on the belief that informing people of a new direction/strategy/purpose/policy/[fill in the blank] will result in different behaviors or outcomes. They do not.

Education and communication are necessary, but not sufficient to drive behavioral change. Just think for a minute how difficult it is to change one’s own behavior (e.g., lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, etc.) And now think about your success in changing someone else’s (e.g., spouse taking out the trash, kids picking up after themselves, etc.). Changing behaviors is hard!

Changing behavior is hard, but not impossible.

As leaders, we need a better way to drive change — one that responds to the times that we live in and that leverages the tools and intelligence at our disposal.

One of my favorite examples of companies that are doing interesting and different things to change behavior is Omada. Why? Because it is one of the companies that leverages human empathy AND tech-enabled intelligence to “build healthy habits that stick.” (Disclaimer: I have no relationship or investment with Omada).

What is Omada’s approach? there are four components:

  1. Outcomes-based: Their business model creates shared commitment with customers: if the Omada program doesn’t work, they don’t make money
  2. Data-driven: Their program uses data on behavioral science to proactively identify triggers and red flags that could affect customer success
  3. Experience-oriented: Omada helps customers throughout their entire experience and uses technology to integrate into everyday life
  4. Human-empowered: Every customer is supported by a health coach and a social network that provide feedback, inspiration, and accountability

While Omada continues to optimize its service and business model, I find their purpose and value proposition inspiring. And most importantly, its approach can be used to change behavior beyond healthcare itself.

How does this apply to me, my team, and my organization?

If you are a leader and want to drive change or better outcomes, consider the following:

How would the leadership team at Omada approach driving the change I want to see in my team or organization? What would they do different? What would they do the same?

Their approach leads to different questions and approach.

Are we putting enough skin in the game? Show you we are willing to not only invest in the effort, but also share the credit and gains with all involved. “We are in this together” matters.

Are we using data to our advantage? Ensure you are not only using all available data to inform desired outcomes, but also create an intelligence engine that incorporates learnings to accelerate rate of change.

Are we creating the right experience? Look at the desired outcome in the context of your team’s everyday life, not just the tasks at hand. Identify the most critical moments that are affecting performance and disproportionately invest in those. Considering the second and third degree impact of change.

Are we building the right community and support systems? It is not all about technology. An “app” will not drive the change you want to see. Build the right human support systems at the individual and group level.

Do we have the right set of pilots to create momentum? Establish a learning agenda that helps guide your journey and activate a portfolio of targeted pilots to create momentum around them. Remember: No one has all the answers and everyone needs to move fast.


Change is hard but not impossible. We, as leaders, have an opportunity to leverage human empathy and tech-enabled intelligence to drive better outcomes in our teams and organizations.

I look forward to hearing how you are creating different outcomes where you work, live, and play.