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RESET - Switching to an evidence-based practice with behavioural science

Engagement Objective: Transform existing business process to a behavioural science driven process

Project duration: 6 months - 2 years

Industry: Industrial Safety & Logistics

Project Cagetory: Organisational Transformation

Project output: Except the one manned top management, every other leader in the organisation on whom implementation of this evidence-based process was hinged, was skeptical about behavioural evidence. Skepticism stemming from unfamiliarity and critical scrutiny.

It was a journey of over 2 years working on smaller projects, evaluating impact and navigating organisational and stakeholder biases and heuristics. The engagement ended with the company confidently pitching to a future client, a process with behavioural science methodology. This in addition to hands-on capacity building of ground teams and middle management using behavioural science to effect change.



As Debra Meyerson identifies, organisational transformations such as opting to go digital or choosing sustainability inside-out, often happen via two ways: 1) top-down and/or imposed, and 2) gradual evolution and adaptation often driven by tempered radicals. Both ways meet with resistance from the other side that needs to be navigated in their own ways. Whatever the direction of change maybe, in the end, if the head doesn't approve, organisational level change doesn't happen.

But then, what happens when the decision-making on such organisation level change are open and collective rather than top-down or bottom-up? The operational word here is 'individual buy-ins' to the new approach. And individual buy-ins are hard to get. Because:

1. Behaviour change outcomes take time to show in numbers:

A conventional approach to behaviour change is enabling awareness. It is assumed that humans are rational beings (homo economicus), and mere awareness will lead to their change in behaviours. So the conventional behaviour change interventions are often trainings or communication campaigns, and the metrics to measure behaviour change are number of trainings or campaigns conducted. Most clients are used to these numbers where every action adds up in the tally.

However if we were to view awareness from a behavioural impact lens: One could say that, if a training participant, when asked about their learning say one month after the session: remembers, recalls, is able to articulate the learning, knows to apply and adapt to context - then they have achieved awareness. Measuring these attributes of how many remembered, recalled, articulated, etc. take time to show up in users and take effort to measure - two valuable resources that are often unavailable owing to false assumptions about behaviour change.

2. Sometimes behaviour change interventions involve changing self and/or the system we are part of. Both of which are mostly collectively resisted owing to status quo bias, fear of change and consequential uncertainty if any and perceived effort to cope and adapt to change:

Why do we not litter within an airport but on the road? Why do we present ourselves a certain way professionally at office, in front of colleagues, and certain other way in front of friends and family? Even though British, Indian and other nationals of once colonised land drive on the left side of the road, once reaching North America, without question drive on the right even if not habituated so? We do these because, in that local context any other behaviour would be out of place, illegal or outcasted. The larger external context of our where we live or where we work, in addition to our internal context of identity, personality, beliefs, values, etc dictate what we decide and how we behave. The external context on the other hand may be in the form of policies, spatial design, operational cues, routines, cultural norms, incentive structure that motivate or demotivate actions, etc.

So, intervening for systems level change: such as incentive structure, data collections, or shifting around spatial artefacts, etc. sometimes bring about significant change in the context. This means, it will bring about significant change in resulting behaviours and norms for that matter. These perceived tectonic shifts are scary to initiate and are often met with thick resistance.

3. Thirdly, individual buy-ins are difficult because of the fundamental misconception about the business of behaviour change:

Behavioural science practitioners are mostly facilitators and enablers of transformational change in an organisation. But for transformation itself to take place, the involved stakeholders need to get their hands dirty. Often this is not anticipated. It is often assumed that a few posters and artwork designed by behavioural designers will do the trick without affecting the everyday routine. This expectation discrepancy delays implementation and also erases many potential and promising interventions, off the chart.

So, how to navigate these justified resistance?

  1. Leverage the champion from the top of the pyramid.

  2. Create a champion in the middle and bottom - this is a non-negotiable. If they don't see value, you cannot move any further.

  3. Implement least effort and low hanging interventions and motivate testing. Do the testing yourself if needed.

  4. Show outcomes sooner than later. In quotes and observations if not in numbers.

  5. Do mini-projects across divisions or departments

  6. Push to capacitate teams on various applied knowledge of behavioural sciences. Everyone works with behaviours. So everyone has an inherent need to better understand human behaviours.

  7. In a scale from disappoitment to satiation, ensure you don't slip to the side of disappointment.

  8. Expect the inevitable skepticism even after these.

  9. Believe in your process, commit to client's need, align with their goals and provide a final push for the transformation to happen.

  10. Always be available for support until final implementation.

This ten step approach may seem incremental and tiring. But in real it is exciting to witness the gradual change in your client's approach, influenced by your own evidenced and informed efforts. And the success of achieving what the client hired you for - in this case presenting the evidenced new process to their clients - is always heart whelming and fulfilling.