Behavioural science can help fuel change and overcome friction to true transformation. Andy Young outlines five steps to help organisations apply behavioural science to successfully enable change.

In this blog series, I’ve been discussing how and why behavioural science can enable long-lasting change and unlock business value.

To create change, you must understand the mindsets and behaviours that matter to the business outcome. Contrary to business myths, people can change their views and ways of working—and do so quickly. We’ve seen this in recent months as people stay at home, wash their hands, and prioritise their well-being.

That’s good news for organisations that want to harness change. But you cannot change everything all at once. So: What behaviours matter? Which do you prioritise? And where do you start?

Keys to creating change

To create change, business leaders should keep three guiding principles in mind:

  • Make it easy for people to take action. Transformations are big changes to how we work. You can help people move toward a shared goal by breaking things into smaller, more consumable steps. This reduces the fear and anxiety around change. In addition, it creates opportunities to reinforce new behaviours through repetition, which helps people move from consciously ‘trying on’ a new behaviour toward it becoming a habit or team norm. As new behaviours get adopted, you can also layer on new ones. This approach fits well with an organisational approach to an emergent, agile approach to change that releases iterative value.
  • Understand what works and what doesn’t. It isn’t enough to have a strategy for digital transformation; you must also understand the written and unwritten rules of your organisation. This means identifying the leadership, organisational, and grassroots interventions that will motivate and block change. With a clear understanding of what will create fuel and remove friction from your change initiative, you can support people to adopt new mindsets and behaviours. This is where the science part of behavioural science can help provide new options and techniques that resonate better with employees and customers.
  • Create an environment that works. Ultimately, individuals have to create change for themselves. But business leaders and organisations can support this with the right environment. This entails nurturing psychological safety and instilling a growth mindset. Both of these are key to creating a culture in which people feel safe to speak up, learn and try new things.

Case study: Co-creating a future state

In the UK, a tier-one bank applied behavioural science to accelerate adoption of a new sales and servicing platform. This required it to assess existing mindsets and identify cultural and structural blockers (friction) and desired habits and motivations (fuel).

First, the change team solicited qualitative feedback and learned that some employees felt disconnected from the organisation and its work. Next, to increase belonging in teams, the team used A/B testing to identify versions of a shared purpose that could connect previously disengaged employees to the project’s vision. People voted for the version that resonated most and inspired the impacted audiences to commit to changing their mindsets to adopt the new platform.

To scale and sustain desired behaviours, the organisation tracked incremental behavioural change and analysed it continuously to ensure that fuel was exceeding friction.

The result? The bank’s Net Promoter Score went up, driving increased client retention, business, and revenue—showing that behavioural change underpins transformation.

Five steps to changing people’s behaviour

Here are some simple steps to make this possible:

  • Discover. This first phase is about discovering the mindsets and behaviours in the workforce today. This means understanding things like how people behave and work, how they make their decisions, who they interact with (their social networks), and their feelings toward change. You can achieve this by combining qualitative and quantitative methods, such as ethnographic study plus Accenture’s Culture DNA benchmarks and analysis. The goal? To step into the shoes of employees and customers—or better yet, co-create with them.
  • Describe. This phase is about developing clear behavioural and intervention hypotheses. We design personas to explore how different individuals and teams will feel during change, how change will affect the employee experience, and identify the fuel and friction for change. We can set target behaviours and map the behavioural journeys. We can identify and refine the interventions that may be relevant for different personas and target behaviours.
  • Co-create and experiment. In this phase, we start to elicit new behaviours. We can create early change by working with groups of colleagues who are open to change to ideate and spark new behaviours. Another method is to empower groups with the mandate to experiment informally around new behaviours and gather success stories and ideas. In addition to these grassroots efforts, we can more formally test and experiment. This includes testing behaviours and interventions using A/B/n testing or randomised control trials to identify what works and what doesn’t. From there, we iterate the behaviours and retest. The data-driven insights from the experiments can help refine the approach.
  • Scale. Next, we scale the desired behaviours and effective interventions that we identified in earlier steps. Where earlier steps involve more in-person interactions, scaling normally requires finding ways to deliver interventions through social networks and digital channels. It’s also important to localise and customise the approach and gather feedback regularly. This ensures that behaviours and interventions travel smoothly across business units, employee groups, and national cultures.
  • Sustain. In the final phases, the focus is on ensuring the new behaviours and habits become the ‘new normal’. We can tweak the environment to make the new behaviour the path of least resistance or even block the old behaviour. We can support the formation of new habits and social norms through repetition and social proof. Importantly, behaviour isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it activity: we need to track adoption with data-driven insights and if behaviours wane, understand where and why.

These key steps can help your firm use behavioural science to explore the behaviours and interventions that work best for your people as a route to transformation and performance. This approach should be as familiar as launching a new product or IT system—like a muscle that all business leaders need to exercise. 

To find out more about how to apply behavioural science to create sustainable change in your organisation, please contact me here, or @andyyoungACN on Twitter.

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