Magazine excerpt: Ten behaviour change mistakes people make (and how to avoid them)

Magazine excerpt: Tess Robinson of LAS discusses how to avoid behaviour change mistakes.

As we explored in 5 ways to get your employees to change, stimulating and sustaining behaviour change in organisations is really, really hard and it’s very easy to get it wrong. So what are the most common mistakes and how can you avoid making them?

Not being relevant

Whatever type of learning you choose to help engender behaviour change, it’s imperative that the change you want to make is clearly related to organisational goals. That relevance MUST also be extended to a well-defined What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) for the individual learners.

If you don’t or can’t show why people should make the change, both for themselves and for the organisation there will be no incentive for them to do it.

Trying to do too much at once

The Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford have done some really interesting work focussing on the use of technology to change behaviours. They emphasise the importance of directing your efforts towards changing one or two behaviours at a time and suggest that the best approach is to ‘seek tiny successes one after the other’.

It may feel pretty frustrating to have decided to make changes then not be able to do it all at once, but incremental change has been shown to improve the chances of embedding new behaviours.

Not allowing time to learn or embed new behaviours

Behaviour change cannot be treated as an aside from day-to-day work or as a bolt-on. If you’re serious about wanting to make changes that stick, you will need to make it a priority.

That may mean rearranging your team’s responsibilities to allow them the time and space to practise and hone the behaviours you want to encourage.

Underestimating the influence of culture

The culture of your organisation really does have a massive effect on the success of behaviour change programmes and it’s important to understand the environment you’re operating in from the outset. This means, not only understanding the stated culture but also micro-cultures that exist in the organisation.

A well researched and crafted communications campaign can go a long way to easing through any change.

Relying on top-down communications

No one likes being told what to do. Allow your people to own behaviour change by involving those it will effect at the planning stage. This will assist buy-in and will also help you to understand and overcome any objections, in partnership with those the change will affect.

Leadership not modelling the change you want to see.

Leaders inspire – their job is to translate the vision that will come about due to the behaviour change, manage the emotions associated with it and keep everyone on track. However, leadership will be more readily accepted if leaders are also modelling the change that they are expecting their team to make –  ‘be the change you want to see’.

Assuming that people will always act rationally

Behavioural economics turns the assumptions of traditional economics on their head and suggests that, instead of humans being rational beings who evaluate their situation in a logical way, making decisions based on cost-benefit analysis, actually, we are myopic creatures whose choices are loaded with emotions and cognitive bias.

Don’t be surprised if your behaviour change programme doesn’t entirely go to plan. There are many ways to harness this irrationality that can help: contextualization, limiting options, storytelling, social learning and providing little nudges in the right direction. I’ll cover this in more detail in a future article.

Telling people what they are doing wrong

Do you like being criticised? I certainly don’t. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the trick here is not to try to stop old behaviours but instead create new ones. Show people that the preferred behaviour is the new norm.

Not considering how the environment enables or cements the old behaviour

Context is important. This relates not just the cultural, economic or political environment but also, sometimes, to the physical environment. Are there elements of your processes or even the way your office desks or shop floor is arranged that will limit the success of the change? These aren’t always easy or obvious things to spot but always have in mind how you can change things to make the new behaviour easier

Not planning

Behaviour change is not generally something that just happens. It requires planning in terms of learning and communications and a deep understanding of the culture and environment – both internal and external – that you’re working in. Timing can be so important. If you try to do it at a time of redundancies, for example, when your team are on edge, then it may well fail. Pick your moment carefully.

There are dozens of ways to get behaviour change wrong. Although some are tricky to navigate, none is insurmountable. Behaviour change is a complex thing but if you try to understand the context, include those it will affect from the outset, encourage leaders to model the new behaviours, focus your efforts and time it right – you’ll not be far off success.

This piece first appeared in the July issue of TJ Magazine. You can subscribe here.


About the author

Tess is a director of LAS. LAS helps people and organisations grow and evolve through digital learning experiences. Tess has a keen interest in the psychology and behaviours behind how people learn and holds a masters degree in organisational behaviour.


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