Howto change employee behaviour

Table of contents

Modern organisations understand their people and they understand how to help their people achieve their goals. In any workplace, it is natural for difficulties and internal challenges to develop in the course of change. Understanding behaviour, why people do what they do, and being smart about how you influence it to address challenges and help your teams embrace change, is by no means simple.

The opportunities that changing behaviour brings to a business are vast. Successful, empowered people improve productivity in the workplace and create a platform for future growth. Colleagues can then seek out the opportunities afforded by change and embrace it. Being effective at change makes modern organisations better able to deal with the future, making more enjoyable workplaces and better cultures.

Being in control of what you do can lead to career progression, greater happiness and more positive relationships. The benefits of changing employee behaviour, however, stretch beyond the organisation alone. Organisations that support their employees to embrace change, help their colleagues not just in the office, but at home too.

Bear in mind that behaviour change doesn’t have to mean changing negative behaviour. In fact, more often changing behaviour relates to embracing new ways of working, adapting to market opportunities, increasing organisational sustainability initiatives, becoming more inclusive as an organisation or thriving through economic change. 

Developing a culture of positivity towards change can have dramatic effects within and without your organisation.

A word of caution, beware of change management consultancies that sell magic. The best approaches should rely on behavioural science but behavioural science isn’t magic. Those who sell it as magic are likely not experts at all.

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The challenge: change employee behaviour

Organisations engage in change employee behaviour programmes for varying reasons. For example, they might be looking to improve customer experience scores, or to change employee behaviour according to legislative updates. Many business leaders have implemented change programmes, with varying success. Of those that have failed, there are typically common reasons.

Often, change programmes fail because organisations fail to investigate and diagnose why their previous programmes failed. They also may not have based their analysis on what their employees need to successfully deliver change. They rely on instinctive, reactive and historical rationales for change. Ultimately, the diagnosis process should use evidence-based behavioural science research as a foundation.

Many businesses also struggle with a lack of staff involvement, or motivation to be involved. It can be challenging to convey the benefits of behavioural change, to sway a workforce. 

The combination of human nature and a poor understanding of behaviour theory is a common downfall. It is important to remember that your employees are humans, and naturally have habits and limitations. You need an engaging, captivating and well-crafted change management approach to overcome these challenges and common mistakes.

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How behavioural science helps us understand these challenges

Natural human tendencies and behaviour mustn’t be understated as a factor in employee behavioural changes. It goes without saying that people naturally resist change, and prefer to continue with the status quo. This is a considerable barrier to business-wide change. 

Emotions can also play a significant role in change. People are habituated to a status quo, especially one that provides them with a clear status. Therefore, change can destabilise this positional sense leading to resistance to change. As a result, your employees will want to stay in their comfort zone. They will repeat behaviours and habits that feel normal to them and avoid anything that makes them feel less comfortable.

The COM-B model details the primary influences on behaviour as; motivation, opportunity and capability. 

  • Capability: The individuals’ ability to participate in activities, whether physical or psychological. 
  • Opportunity: External or social factors affecting or changing the individuals’ behaviour.
  • Motivation: Internal motivation is self-motivation, or lack of self-motivation. External motivation includes rewards, or lack of rewards.

This framework notes that behaviour is influenced by many factors. However, changes come as a result of the modification of one of the three highlighted factors. The framework is useful to understand the human element behind behavioural changes and how to overcome it.

Ability

It is easy to get caught up in the future benefits of a behaviour change, and forget to facilitate that change. 

Employees need to have the practical ability to make behavioural changes. For instance, they need to have access to important information, and necessary learning materials. They may need training, coaching or the support of a mentor. Feedback is a critical component in developing ability, whether the physical ability to complete an action or the psychological ability to understand and do something new.

At the same time, another barrier to your employee’s ability is their attention span, and ability to retain information. Note that people learn at different paces, and with differing abilities. 

Information fatigue, also known as cognitive overload, describes the phenomenon of overloading the brain with information. Your employees cannot focus on hoards of new information, nor retain it. Information fatigue is a major challenge in highly regulated sectors in particular. If you are trying to get your employees to follow new regulations, they can easily become overwhelmed quickly. 

People don’t make behavioural changes, overnight. It is challenging to find the balance between providing necessary information, and overwhelming the employee. Remember that this process takes time.

Motivation

Addressing an employee’s motivation for change is a more complex challenge. Different people are motivated in different ways.

Without motivation, your employees will stick to the status quo. As mentioned, people generally stick inside their comfort zone without proper inspiration.

In order to change employee behaviour, your employees need to understand the benefits. Consider what drives your workforce. Understanding what drives them is essential and their motivations might not be clear just by asking them. 

Their motivation might be career progression or some other reward. Consider what challenges they are facing, and how your proposed behavioural changes might influence their working lives.

According to the COM-B model, motivation is a key part of a person’s behaviour. In order to change employee behaviour, it must be addressed.

Opportunity

Aside from ability and motivation, your employees need to be provided with the right opportunities to make changes. In the workplace, these opportunities might be physical, environmental or social. The opportunities provided will vary depending on the desired behaviour. 

For example, you might be looking to change employee behaviour based on legislative updates. Consider what opportunities are provided to begin this behaviour change. You might need to offer training sessions on new regulations. Employees might also need support from team leads or legislative experts within the business. In this case, consider offering a point of contact within the business.

Your organisation needs to offer these opportunities fairly, across the workforce. This ensures that the opportunity is available to all staff, and encourages that behavioural change. 

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A behavioural science-inspired solution

It is important to understand and utilize behavioural frameworks when designing change. The human element should be front of mind when considering what needs to change, and how you intend to take action. Here are the key steps to building an effective workplace change programme. 

Know your problem

Firstly, identify the primary problems, and the behaviours that contribute to them. You can form a list, but ensure there is a direct correlation between the two factors. This step may require some observation of the workplace and educated guesswork. Define a problem that is measurable. This will mean that your solution and results are measurable, too. This step is key. A measurable problem provides you with a target for your change programme.

Once you have identified the problems that you wish to address and the challenging behaviours, you need to investigate further. Begin by conducting internal research. Get to know your employees and your workplace. 

The research method will be dependent on the problem and who is involved. You can carry out one-to-one interviews, focus groups within teams, or a company-wide survey. Consider which method is most effective to gather the necessary data.

It’s important to uncover why your employees behave the way they do. This will build a starting point for your programme. For example, team leaders may be the biggest influence on employee behaviour. In this case, your team leaders may need training, rather than the entire workforce. Employees may need to see those Team Leaders doing the correct action in order to have a template or model to copy in their own work. 

Ultimately, your research should result in a list of ideal behavioural changes. Narrow your list of behaviours down to those that are the easiest to change, with the highest potential impact. These should be your primary focus. 

Set a goal

Your goal will be based on your previously identified behaviours. Be specific, and supply a time frame for your goal. Consider when you would expect to see real changes across your organisation.

Share your goals with your workforce and get their buy-in. This is why it is important to be clear and concise. You need to communicate your expectations to your employees, without any room for misunderstanding. 

Not only do your employees need to understand your goals, but they need to understand the benefits. Your open communication should motivate them to improve performance, and progress within the organisation.

The change programme

Begin by identifying the tools that your employees need in order to make your proposed changes. For example, they may require access to learning materials or tech solutions. 

The “Action Mapping” technique is a great method to identify the necessary tools for your change programme. Here is a rough guide to action mapping:

  1. Identify your goal, and what actions need to be taken to reach that goal
  2. For each action, define activities that can help learners to improve these actions
  3. Specify the information needed to complete the activities that you defined

This process should help you to create a list of activities, information, and materials that are needed for your behavioural change. 

Create activities that resonate with your employees, and motivate them. This provides them with the best opportunity to learn, and make positive changes. 

For example, digital experiences are a tool for generating interactive scenarios to facilitate learning. These provide an incentivised opportunity to learn new processes or behaviours and fulfil the COM-B requirement for addressing motivational and capability factors of change.

It is important to tailor training experiences to your employees’ needs. Provide regular opportunities to instil positive behaviours, rather than expecting immediate change. Necessary information should be accessible, but be patient. Change is a gradual process. Trust in your research, and utilize data to measure your outcome. Monitor your progress and update as and when new information comes to light as you transition between states.

At BAD, we utilize key behavioural frameworks to facilitate real change for our customers. We follow a regimented process based on an in-depth understanding of behavioural science, to form tailored change programmes. Get in touch with us to discuss how BAD can build a change programme for your business progress.

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