Change is the only permanent mantra in today’s VUCA world and organisations are constantly striving to use different methods to bring about behavioural change. The old ways of imposing rules and regulations leads to conformist behaviours that are generally not sustainable in the long term. Profound meaningful changes require the rewiring of human behaviour in ways that are more convenient. People stick to changes if they consciously choose to adopt the changes. Long-term focused organisational goals often require constant, clear communication that can help people to align their behaviours and change their attitude. However, there is often a conflict of behavioural changes desired for long term achievement with behavioural patterns adopted by humans to meet day to day operational goals. Changing an organisation means enabling people to change their ways of working and their ways of thinking. This is often tough to do - it is personal, and for a lot of people, the reasons for “Change” will not be immediately obvious, or the benefits might not seem worth the effort.
The science of nudges
What then does behavioural science tell us about creating Change? Enter Nudge theory and the science of “Nudges”! In their book, Sunstein and Thaler define nudging as “…any aspect of choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.” Nudging is a more specific form of choice architecture that simply means trying to provide people the freedom to choose when decisions need to be made.
A nudge influences individual choices without taking away the power to choose. It empowers people to want to engage by understanding how they will arrive at a decision. It is particularly useful when the benefits of acting are not obvious, immediate, or do not appear to be worth the effort. E.g. Opting for PF, gratuity, or other such welfare measures, doing tax declarations, and availing privilege leave.
The “Nudge” attributes
Nudge theory draws on many of the foundational tenets of human behaviour. It is easy, cheap, replicable, and delivers big results through small changes. In order to ensure sustainability of nudging initiatives, one needs to understand the following attributes:
1. Durability: In order to make the extent of effectiveness of nudging last, beyond the time of the intervention, it is vital to simplify choices and communicate the same during decision points. Employee campaigns such as PMS adherence, time sheets etc. often run such risks of going off rail after the expiry of the campaign time frame. Sending multiple reminders or follow up mails is unlikely to ensure sustained behavioural change in managers. If the behaviour is contingent solely upon external cues instead of the understanding and valuation of that behaviour, then additional tools are required to ensure that this behaviour exists over the long term without continuous intervention.
2. Spill over: The true success of a “Nudge” intervention can be measured by learning whether it affects more than one behaviour or causes someone to help others adopt the behaviour themselves. Small, incremental behavioural changes that are sustained can lead to bigger changes in the long term. Habit formation is a long-term process, and consistency is often the key to creating changes that last. Training people on time sheets and adherence is one way of pushing things, and consequence management is usually applied in such cases to make the behaviour “Stick.” However, this does not lead to an internalisation of the importance of filling the time sheets or adhering to a tracking mechanism. While nudging on its own may not create this effect, we can bolster it with other behavioural levers like emotional appeals and appreciation.
3. Meaningfulness: Finally, nudging is designed to help people make better decisions. In order to be effective, behaviour change needs to integrate with individual well-being. Choice architecture and nudging work primarily by shaping decision making environments by anticipating how people can react.
HR departments often get overtly caught up in trying to penalise or push changes down the throats of their employees. A lot of effort is spent on forcing people to adopt a behaviour, however, very little time is spent on anticipating how people would react to a situation. By showing people what they will be missing out on, and how easy it is to get involved, organisations can dramatically improve workforce engagement with change. They can enhance the uses of nudges by connecting with the needs and concerns of individuals, and abilities that help employees to grow and thrive. Incorporating positive emotions strengthens behaviour change through connecting people to their personal goals and well-being. If training programmes or PMS are seen as “necessary evils”, there is little change of long-term adoption of employees to such systems.
Nudge theory has demonstrated that personalised communications make far greater impact than generic communications. Using the employee name in communication generates a significant improvement in engagement and response rates. The power of this nudge comes from making the recipient feel like they are part of things. When there are multiple options thrown at employees, it works way better when the communication to the employee only has selective choices that are more appropriate to him. Employees are less likely to respond to mails which ask them to self-volunteer or opt in to tasks that are non-core to their role.
We compare ourselves to those we respect or interact with on a daily basis. When HR departments let employees see that managers comply with certain regulations, it encourages people to comply. When employees are asked to get involved with change, it is a good idea to appeal to ’social norms.’ For instance, letting employees see dashboards that show that other groups are already using a new system or taking part in new initiatives. Seeing that something has already become the norm for some colleagues will help make the change more real for others – and less likely to just go away on its own. Publishing both successes and failures, and appreciating effort is a way of pushing “social compliance.”
In Quotes “When HR departments let employees see that managers comply with certain regulations, it encourages people to comply. When employees are asked to get involved with change, it is a good idea to appeal to ’social norms.’ ”
HR needs to do a significant amount of groundwork to make these nudges work. One needs to think carefully about what makes your people tick – to build the connection between their work and the success of the organisation. Nudge theory has enabled large systemic changes in public policy, health, and governmental interventions such as tax compliance. It has techniques that can be used to help people understand and engage with change, lower resistance, and embed change throughout your organisation. So, what do the HR departments need to wait for? If Push comes to Shove, all it needs is a Nudge here and there!
In Quotes “HR needs to do a significant amount of groundwork to make these nudges work. One needs to think carefully about what makes your people tick – to build the connection between their work and the success of the organisation.”
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