Change management: a nudge in the right direction

Changing an organisation means people changing their ways of working and their ways of thinking. It stands to reason that this can be hard: it’s personal, and for a lot of people the reasons for changing won’t be immediately obvious or the benefits might not seem worth the effort.

Don’t forget that nudge theory offers techniques you can use to help people understand and engage with change, drive down resistance and embed change throughout your organisation.

How it works

A nudge influences choice without taking away the power to choose. It empowers people to want to engage by understanding how they’ll make a decision. It’s particularly useful when the benefits of acting aren’t obvious, aren’t immediate or don’t appear to be worth the effort. For years the UK government has been using these techniques through their Behavioural Insights Team, otherwise known as the Nudge Unit. And you may use them yourselves when it comes to communicating with customers – but they’re just as useful for people who work for or with your organisation.

We want to be spoken to as individuals

Nudge theory has shown, pretty emphatically, that personalised communications make a far greater impact than generic communications. Just adding a name generates a significant improvement in engagement and response rates. Adding information specific to the recipient makes an even greater impact. The power of this nudge comes from making the recipient feel like they are part of things.

We’ve used this extensively. For example we demonstrated the power of eliciting change as a ‘personal mission’ when helping clients like the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement to embed new values systems.

We don’t want to miss out

About half the population of the UK regularly play the national lottery. They regularly take a 1 in 14 million risk – on the face of it a pretty irrational choice. Nudge theory has a lovely phrase for why they do this: ‘regret-aversion’. We don’t want to miss out on an opportunity, particularly when the barriers to taking part are so low.

By showing people what they’ll be missing out on, and how easy it is to get involved, you can dramatically improve staff engagement with change. Rather than telling people why you want them to join workshops, roadshows or even take part in surveys, tell them about the opportunity they’d miss out on by not taking part.

We don’t want to be the odd one out

On a daily basis we compare ourselves to those we respect or interact with. When HMRC trialled a letter based on this premise, to encourage people to comply with tax obligations, they recouped around £160m over a six week period.

So, when you ask staff to get involved with change it’s a good idea to appeal to ’social norms’. Perhaps once a change is underway, by showing how many people are already using a new system or taking part in new initiatives for example. 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.

The onus is on you

Applying these techniques may be a challenge in itself. They force you to think carefully about what makes your people tick – and to make the connection between their work and the success of your organisation. But they’re powerful techniques, so it’s worth that analysis. They’re techniques that have, for example, helped improve adherence to HIV treatment in Malawi – so they could revolutionise the way you manage change in your organisation.

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