Time to change… 

Published by Richenda Sabine on


Time to change...

Change is hard.

Why do we behave the way we do? It can be hard to change our less desirable behaviours when they are highly ingrained and have become habits we perform automatically without thinking.

Businessman, author and quality guru Philip Crosby said: “Slowness to change usually means fear of the new” and I think most of us can identify with that. We need to remember that change is a process, not a one-off exercise and it can be difficult to stay motivated if there are no immediate rewards; for example, exercising more now to reduce the risk of heart disease in old age. Many elements are at play to determine how successful a behaviour change will be, and having the intention doesn’t necessarily translate into the behaviour [Gollwitzer, 1999]. Research shows that a medium-to-large change in intention leads to a small-to-medium change in behaviour, known as the intention-behaviour gap [Webb and Sheeran, 2006].

There are several change models available, and although motivation is important for achieving behaviour change, in many cases it’s not enough. But no need to despair, it’s worth remembering that people do and can change for many different reasons.

The factors that help with behaviour change include:

  1. Goals that are specific (not vague).
  2. The goal(s) should be in the immediate rather than the distant future.
  3. The reason for behaviour change should be for (positive) gain rather than (negative) loss.
  4. The reason for behaviour change should be for learning rather than for performance or achievement.

By using strategies such as these that have been shown to increase the chances of change, our approach at BAD has become more rigorous and we are getting better at evaluating where we are and where we want to be at each stage of the process. That’s why we have our own Behavioural Science (BeSci) framework that helps create transformative digital experiences – ones that are more likely to change how people do things in the real world. So, how do we do it?


Adapt or die…

“Adapt, evolve or die.” That mantra from the natural world also applies to business – disruption, mergers and acquisitions, digital culture and transformation. Are companies change-ready? When employees are engaged but exhibit behaviours that do not match the right organisational culture, it’s often impossible to make the necessary changes.

By analysing how our clients’ culture relates to their success or failure, we can use our BeSci tools to help their employees adopt those behaviours for the benefit of both the company and the individual.

Behavioural interventions, boosts and nudges.

We recently created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) module for a client wanting to help colleagues embrace inclusive behaviours and encourage them to tackle DEI challenges. The digital experience we produced targeted their issues using a range of interventions.

We started by identifying the key behaviours – identifying the benefits of DEI in the workplace; recognising biases and discriminatory behaviours in themselves and others; and speaking up to challenge biased behaviour. These three elements were also used as a boost to reinforce the learning – a great way to make key DEI behaviours memorable, e.g. Reframe, Reflect, React or Hands, Face, Space. Boosts are informed by evidence from behavioural science to work with ‘fast thinking’ tendencies, so make it easier to do the right thing.

Another intervention we used in this training was scenarios as a means of comparing future outcomes – to help learners identify discriminatory behaviour and the right action to take. This not only provided realistic examples but also a safe space to fail if they selected the wrong action. An insight from the client workshop revealed how we could weave in three things colleagues might do differently because of the training – so we included implementation intentions – a perfect boost example. Research shows that techniques like these help people get started, stay on track and prevent disengagement [Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006].

Another useful intervention is the nudge, which became popular with the release of Richard Thaler’s book ‘Nudge’. This is something put in place to steer a user’s behaviour by creating environmental conditions that trigger a specific action, e.g. getting an automatic reminder pop-up on your computer. Alternatively, a boost would be a message you send yourself to remind you to update your computer.

For another client, we explored the behaviours involved in putting their Code of Conduct into practice through a series of scenarios. They were given the choice of making voluntary commitments (boosts) or pre-set mandatory ones (nudges). Boosts and nudges can empower their staff to make better decisions by offering easy-to-apply strategies such as rules of thumb that reduce cognitive effort and help people make better decisions.


Change is good.

Most of us love seeing what other people are up to – hearing stories and anecdotes – especially if they’re people who are just like them. Colleague videos are great tools for presenting information in a ‘human’ way. For example, for a major bank we used videos of colleagues sharing tips and experiences they had when dealing with customer complaints – they didn’t want an expert, they needed an ally.

It’s important to remember that behaviour change does not happen after one piece of learning but needs repeated and targeted interventions tailored to the group that is being trained…..

As a behavioural design agency, we create digital experiences that are effective in helping clients’ customers change their behaviour. We understand that having the knowledge or even the right intentions to change behaviour is not enough: there are so many factors at play, including individuals’ beliefs about their capabilities and barriers, as well as environmental factors, such as social norms. We believe we add the most value when shifting the focus away from content and learning objectives and towards organisational behaviours…

How many behavioural or digital designers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Select all that apply.

  1. Just one, but it’s got to want to change.
  2. One, but you need to change all the other bulbs while you’re at it.
  3. None, that’s a hardware problem.
  4. First, we need to make sure that a lightbulb is the right solution.

Good behaviours accelerate business, and our BAD clients now realise that the starting point for success on any project is to begin by working with us to identify what behaviours they want to see.

Richenda Sabine