Mass influence through behavioural nudges: a nudge in the right direction for organisational change management?
Behavioural scientists are making an impact in the boardroom of many organisations. Their work influences both consumer and employee behaviours. For organisational change leaders, what can we draw from their toolkit? What frameworks and skills can help us influence effective organisational change?
As a change professional, I grapple with where to start. My learning takes me from books and articles on behavioural science. I’ve dipped into topics like behavioural economics and cognitive biases. My head spins as a result. Next, I check out human factors psychology and behavioural design. There’s a lot to absorb. Now I see the value of nudges. Right now I’m devising quick and memorable ways to introduce nudges to my clients.
What I have found is definitely arguable. The models, frameworks and research findings will always have a counterpoint. So far, what can I share with you about where to begin learning? How is behavioural science and nudges relevant for organisational change initiatives?
93 behaviour change techniques; 16 categories
You can influence employee behaviour in sixteen broad ways ¹. The below taxonomy helps you understand the sixteen broad approaches available. Each category breaks down specific techniques, giving you a total of ninety-three behaviour modification techniques. When planning organisational change, which ones would you draw from? Can you enhance the impact of various change interventions by considering some of these options?
Go EAST for BASIC behavioural interventions
Organisations like Ideas42 and the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) have contributed useful frameworks for applying behavioural science to government policy. BIT devised two useful frameworks we’ll talk about here:
- Make interventions like nudges Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely (EAST) ². EAST is a simplified framework compared with their second one — MINDSPACE ³ ⁴.
- MINDSPACE provides a checklist of human biases and foibles. Policymakers (and change leaders) can use MINDSPACE when devising behavioural interventions. MINDSPACE stands for Messenger, Incentives, Norms, Defaults, Salience, Priming, Affect, Commitments and Ego.
Yet how would you integrate behavioural insights and interventions into your organisational change?
- Keep things BASIC ⁴. Created by the OECD, BASIC reminds me of the PROSCI ADKAR model ⁶. Both easy-to-remember models allow you to break down an organisational change problem. BASIC stands for “Behaviours, Analysis, Strategies, Interventions and Change”. You can use BASIC to break down your change into various behavioural components. BASIC helps you identify employee behavioural barriers and levers. Take advantage of the BASIC framework for helping employees adjust to organisational change.
- If you prefer a different model, the “5 A’s” model was developed by the Australian New South Wales Government’s Behavioural Insights team. The “5 A’s” are: Attract, Accept, Adopt, Amplify, Advance ⁷.
Nudges — the idea that small positive reinforcements or changes to the decision environment encourage people to shift their behaviour in ways that are broadly in their self interest. ⁸
- Report: A synthesis of nudge units around the world
In the 1990s an Amsterdam airport needed to reduce cleaning costs. A root cause analysis identified large toilet cleaning costs in the gent’s bathrooms. What was one way to reduce this cost? Reduce the amount of clean up around the urinals. How would you reduce this cost? One clever person by the name of Aad Kieboom devised the idea of painting a fly at a strategic part of each urinal.
The fly served the purpose of a target that men unconsciously try to reach with their pee, hence reducing the usual cleaning costs. The beauty of this intervention: EAST. Easy, Timely, Attractive and Social — this intervention ticked all boxes. This nudge example is one of the most prominent examples. Our urinal target works as a small, ethically-oriented positive reinforcement.
A nudge is an intervention that maintains freedom of choice but steers people in a particular direction. A tax isn’t a nudge. A subsidy isn’t a nudge. A mandate isn’t a nudge. And a ban isn’t a nudge. A warning is a nudge: “If you swim at this beach, the current is high, and it might be dangerous.” You’re being nudged not to swim, but you can. When you’re given information about the number of fat calories in a cheeseburger, that is a nudge. … You can say no, but it’s probably not in your best interest to do so. Nudges help people deal with a fact about the human brain — which is that we have limited attention.
Nudges are not a silver bullet. Be clear on the target behaviour(s) you are nudging employees towards. Your employees habituate to the same nudges over time. People may see what you’re up to and may resist any engagement with your nudge campaign.
What may be the implications for organisational change managers? This article serves as an introduction to the broad field of behavioural science, and an entrée into nudges.
This brief article introduced 93 ways to change behaviours, divided into 16 techniques. Useful behavioural science frameworks like EAST and MINDSPACE provide starting points for nudges. EAST serves as a reminder to keep nudges ethical and as a small positive reinforcement. MINDSPACE serves as a checklist of human biases which may serve as inspiration for creating your own nudges.
This is a start. We’ve looked at the bigger picture of behavioural science applied to organisational change management. What next?
1. Michie S, Richardson M, Johnston M, et al. The behavior change technique taxonomy (v1) of 93 hierarchically clustered techniques: Building an international consensus for the reporting of behavior change interventions. Ann Behav Med. 2013;46(1):81–95. doi:10.1007/s12160–013–9486–6
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6. ADKAR Change Management Model Overview | Prosci. https://www.prosci.com/adkar/adkar-model. Accessed January 11, 2021.
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