At Moeller & Company, we have experienced the huge potential in combining some of the widely used change management models with the nudge-led approach. This allows for greater focus on making it easy for people to change and less focus on explaining the need for change.
Every company or institution is continuously working on developing its organization and enhancing its performance. A lot of effort is put into describing the desired behavior of employees when it comes to rules and mandates, roles and responsibilities, safety procedures, organizational values, management and leadership values, sustainability, etc.
Descriptions are often presented in handbooks, on posters at seminars, or digitally on company websites and in introduction programs. These descriptions will explain the requested behavior and the need for change, ambitions and objectives for the behavior and change, why the specific behavior and change are important, and so on.
However, in the course of their daily work, it is often a challenge for employees to deliver on the desired change and requested behavior despite good intentions. This is because most of that information demands in-depth, reflective thinking (System 2 thinking), and only limited focus is given to the cues employees can act on intuitively and effortlessly — the right way and in the right moments (System 1 thinking).
Addressing both System 1 and System 2 thinking is the premise for effective change
In changing behavior, we must understand how to influence subconscious decisions and use human instincts to effectively guide individuals toward the desired behavior.
According to the dual-system theory developed by Nobel-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, System 1 thinking is a near-instantaneous process; it happens automatically, intuitively, and with little effort. It’s driven by instinct as well as by our experiences. Meanwhile, System 2 thinking is slower and requires more effort. It is conscious, reflective, and logical. There has been much research conducted on how human decision making is distributed between System 1 and System 2 thinking. The research has shown that:
- More than 80% of human decision making is automatically controlled by instincts and surroundings in the moment of choice (System 1)
- Less than 20% of human decision making is reflectively controlled by knowledge and education (System 2)
However, many organizations expend a lot of effort on getting employees to understand the need for behavior changes, etc., through System 2 and less effort on simply making it easy and intuitive for people to change their behavior through System 1 thinking.
We believe there is huge potential in combining the widely used change management models primarily addressing System 2 thinking with the nudge-led approach, which primarily involves System 1 thinking.
The nudge-led approach utilizes System 1 thinking to make change easy and intuitive
The nudge-led approach considers a fact about the human brain, which is that we have a limited capacity for attention. The number of details we can devote attention to is lower than the number of details we should devote attention to.
Nudging is an approach used to change human decision making and behavior in a predictable way — and does so without limiting choices. Nudging essentially strives to make the right decisions the easy ones by focusing on System 1 thinking.
“Nudging is about gently guiding people to the right choices. Often it is a combination of nudges that guide us to the right behavior” Tom Møller Kristensen
Nudging strategies and behavioral principles are key
When we develop nudging strategies, we map out the current behavior and habits, analyze the barriers to change, and consider which behavioral principles to apply in order to achieve the target behavior. The goal is to make it easy for employees or anyone to make the right choices and deliver on targeted behavior.
These are some of the behavior principles commonly applied when working with behavior change:
- Feedback. By giving people feedback on their behavior, you keep them engaged and help them stay aware of their actions. An example of this technique is a pedestrian traffic light that visually shows when the light will turn green again, thus making it more likely that people will wait before crossing the street. Other well-known examples are sad/happy emoticons that give drivers feedback about their speed.
- The right information at the right time. The human ability to translate information into action is limited. This means that in order for us to navigate various environments, we need the right information at the right time. An example of this is airports, where visual information about gates, security, etc., is provided just at the right time, so travelers are quickly and efficiently guided to their flights.
- Social norms. The behavior of others shapes and amplifies what we do. It is an effective tool that can be widely used to communicate what others are doing, such as paying taxes on time. An area where the social norm principle has been highly successful is e-commerce. The next time you are shopping online, pay attention to the recommendations the e-shopping site shows based on what others have viewed or purchased. This is an example of social influence.
“Guiding passengers with colors, symbols, and text, ensuring a simple and coherent information hierarchy, is important” — Tom Møller Kristensen
These are just a few examples of behavior principles. There are many principles that can be applied and combined to support the right choices and the defined target behavior when it comes to changing behavior among employees, customers, and citizens.
How to leverage the nudge-led approach and System 1 thinking when working with change
As mentioned, most companies address System 2 thinking in their efforts to implement new strategies, transform cultures, encourage compliance, and promote the necessary changes in behavior. However, information overload and too many options make it challenging to achieve the necessary change or behavior.
At Moeller & Company, we believe that nudging strategies can add value and accelerate change. Here are some examples of how the nudge toolbox can be applied in organizational development:
- Improving teamwork and sharing knowledge across functions. A lot of companies are working on improving cross-functional knowledge sharing and teamwork. However, it can be very challenging in practice. Through a combination of applying social norm techniques and priming employees at the right time, we can make it easier for employees to be team focused during their daily work.
- Accelerating leadership development. Developing leadership competencies is often a long-term process, wherein leaders should implement new habits in their leadership functions. In this context, nudges in the form of reminders at the right time (e.g., to give employees feedback, to conduct appraisals, etc.) can be a great help.
- Following through with strategy implementation. Strategy implementation and progress measurement are often carried out at seminars and during monthly reporting. However, the objectives and focus areas are not always visible for employees in their daily work, and therefore they often have a hard time keeping up engagement throughout the strategy implementation. Adding visuals at the right time, making progress transparent, allowing employees to visualize progress, and providing feedback on progress are just a few of the behavior strategies that can be applied to make strategy implementation easier.
“Supplying visuals, reminders, and information at the right time will make it easier for employees to stay tuned on teamwork and knowledge sharing during a busy workday. Adding social norm techniques will emphasize that this is how we work at this company. After some time, the icon for teamwork alone will tell the story.” — Tom Møller Kristensen
In our experience, even small nudges, when applied thoughtfully, can be more effective than mandates, handbooks, seminars, or awareness campaigns alone. In practice, there are many behavioral strategies and tactics to be considered and implemented, depending on the specific need for change in behavior.
We encourage companies to learn more about how they can leverage the nudge-led approach, and we will be happy to enlighten you on the most effective ways to do this.