What leaders are looking for is behaviour change

Published by Alex Kristal on

Behavioural Science: What leaders are looking for is behaviour change

Table of contents

What gets missed when we think about training?

At university, I worked in a health and safety role within a residential building. While training for this job, one thing they really made clear was that we should not let anyone tailgate into the building. Doors were locked and residents had key cards. Guests were to be escorted by their hosts. This was a large university that took health and safety seriously.

But time and time again, staff would let others tailgate in. Why? It’s hard to close the door on a delivery person carrying boxes, or a person holding groceries from wrist to elbow.

The aversion to being rude often overpowered the desire for security. Despite what the training told us, it wasn’t enough. Social norms win again. 

So, what's the lesson here?

Training isn’t merely a hand-off of information. What leaders are really looking for is behaviour change.

Whether it’s health & safety or a new sales technique, training that merely teaches often won’t be enough. A specific process is needed to uncover how peoples’ environment, attitudes, and motivations can be leveraged to successfully achieve behaviour change.

Today we have systems and frameworks for identifying what blocks and facilitates behaviour change. And we can use these to make training more attractive and effective. Let me introduce you to behavioural science.

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The best are taking up behavioural science

After the release of his book Nudge in 2008, Richard Thaler’s work in behavioural science inspired the creation of the Behavioural Insights Team in 2010, and his work went on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2017.

Since then there are now over 500 behavioural science teams working in companies like Morningstar, Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, and government entities like the British Columbia Behavioural Insights Group, the Behavioural Insights Unit in New South Wales, and the Center for Disease Control. And don’t forget the big tech companies too like Apple, Google, and Amazon. You can see the full list yourself.

How can you learn more about behavioural science?

As behavioural science research flows out from academia and into industry, it’s becoming more and more accessible. You could start with CIPD’s podcast episode about how behavioural science can benefit organisations, teams, and individual employees. Or listen to Charles Schwab’s podcast Choiceology hosted by Wharton School professor Katy Milkman.

Aside from podcasts and similar content like TedTalks, there are more books than anyone probably has time for. You can read how to bring change to your organisation, or build habit forming products. Bring clicks to your website by learning why things go viral.  Or strive to succeed by learning about grit.

There are some books and podcasts that I cannot recommend highly enough. Personally, I am a huge fan of Habit Weekly.

But if I’m being honest, it’s a lot. It’s clear behavioural science is a powerful tool, but in some ways it’s unwieldy. With all that content, where do you begin? Are the books you read going to be enough? How will you translate the material to your specific situation? How will you tell when things start working?

Sometimes it’s better to bring in a Behavioural Scientist.

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BAD knows behavioural science

Led by Dr. Charlotte Hills and Dr. Elaine Gallagher, our behavioural science team have conducted extensive research to create our behavioural insights mantra. Using our process, we can combine behaviour change principles with user-centred design to create measurable, high-impact digital experiences.

In the past, we’ve improved click-through rates by understanding users personally and creating a digital experience that’s in line with one of their positive self-identities. In another project we discovered the relevant heuristics users rely on when judging cyber-security risks and leveraged this to create a more effective training.

By applying a mix of primary research like focus groups and surveys, and secondary research by seeing what’s been done before in similar circumstances, we can determine what approach is likely to work best to solve the problem at hand.

Get in touch if you want to hear more about how we create an effective digital experience using behavioural science.

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