Nudge theory, the science involved in encouraging people to make the better decisions, is happening around us constantly. Influencing routes to improved health, better financial decisions and smarter choices, the principle works to introduce long-lasting change from a collection of smaller actions, retaining a sense of control over the choices we make.
As the creators, shapers and facilitators of messages in our organisations, how can we apply a little nudge theory to encourage change? Rachel Thornton, Director and Co-Founder, scarlettabbott shares her thoughts:
When an irresistible force meets an immovable object
When it comes to cementing a change in behaviours or a new way of working, directives mandated by business leaders are often met with a lukewarm and fractured response. Well-meaning but passive acceptance is often paralleled by stubborn resistance, intentional or otherwise. Long term, the message simply doesn’t stick. So why the Teflon reaction? Essentially, employees who don’t feel invested in the proposition won’t feel inspired to act.
No-one said that change was easy and, when you factor in a work place, diverse in its psychological make-up as large, multi-location and generational organisations tend to be, it’s easy to see how so many blanket corporate calls for change can fall flat.
A push for change
To be an effective communicator is to accept that, for a message to land, embed itself and inspire action, deep understanding of the audience’s motivations, needs and goals must inform the way that message is delivered. Rarely does a ‘just do it’ from above result in a positive, long-lasting change. Moreover, it can trigger a fundamentally defensive and stubborn characteristic ingrained in all of us.
This is why employing a nudge, rather than a shove, is a powerful communication tool, facilitating a feeling of empowerment and autonomy through the use of subtle steers and signposting towards the overall objective.
Becoming the architects of change
Recognising this need to shift to a more empowering and inclusive form of communication, marketers, advertisers and communicators across a broad spectrum of industries are nudging towards a fundamental change in the way they talk to their audiences.
Choice architecture – the design of how options are presented – is becoming more prevalent in the messages we receive, offering perceived autonomy by presenting more choice, but subtly structured such that the ensuing action is gently influenced towards a preferable outcome.
Within health, it is concerned with encouraging certain positive behaviours, rather than penalising negative behaviours. For example, getting shops to place healthy snacks at the checkout, rather than relying on a tax or ban on sugary snacks. It’s been an effective tool in increasing organ donor sign-ups and encouraging people to save for retirement, for example.
How can internal communicators use nudge theory?
In an organisation’s internal communications, the practice of nudge theory can prove extremely effective, creating long term advocacy and more empowered employees with a greater sense of influence and purpose. So how can organisations adopt some of these principals into their corporate communications to encourage change?
- Clearly define what ‘change’ means
Before you can encourage or inspire action towards a change, you need to determine what that change is. What does it look like? Why is it needed and what will success look like? Measurement is vital here, setting a benchmark against which you can monitor progress towards those goals and define your messages accordingly.
- Consider changes from the employees’ point of view
Change will never happen if there isn’t something in it for those being asked to alter their routine or ways of working. Carefully consider what drives your employees to act and look for ways to encourage, inspire, reward and celebrate along the way.
- Use evidence to show the best option
‘89% of people who choose option A saw improvements within a week.’
Showcasing what your people can get out of making a particular choice is a great way to encourage action, helping visualise what this would mean for them. There must be a personal resonance though – it can’t be all about how the organisation will benefit.
- Present the change as a choice
Nobody likes being dictated to. We all like to feel in control of the choices we make and helping your people to feel involved, and their opinions valued, is more likely to encourage participation and long-term change, as well as helping to create excitement and anticipation in place of fear and uncertainty.
- Listen to Feedback
When it comes to change, it’s important to keep checking how your messages are being received. Use feedback to continually tweak and refine to make sure your communications are still effective and relevant.
- Limit obstacles
We are getting used to, and even seeking out, simplified journeys – just look at Amazon’s One Click purchase option. When it comes to change comms, or indeed any communications or campaigns which require an action or response, make it as easy as possible for the audience to engage. Think right platform, simple steps, clear language and an easy-to-share format.
- Keep the momentum up with short term wins
Don’t assume a ‘Field of Dreams’ situation with change comms – simply building is not enough. Keep the motivation going with regular updates, rewards and recognition so that everyone feels involved. Gamification is a great tool here, encouraging your people to keep coming back for more and engaging with the changing narrative along the way.
About scarlettabbott: scarlettabbott is an award-winning team of internal communications consultants, designers and writers, with offices in York and London. With a host of global clients, the agency specialises in helping businesses champion their people through strategic communications, on and offline.