Magazine excerpt: Don’t tick the box

Owen Rose looks to behavioural sciences and the advertising industry for inspiration in his training design.

Do you ever feel that you’re just ticking the box? The business has asked for training. Maybe it’s for a mandatory requirement? You’ll do your best, but you know that learners, and the business, aren’t that interested. It just has to be delivered and recorded; job done, box ticked.

Nobody wants to be just a box-ticker, do they? As training professionals, we want to be in the business of behaviour change. Whether the need is induction, compliance, specialist skills, leadership or personal development, we want to help people do more of the things that make them successful, less of the things that cause problems, and sometimes help them do new things altogether.

But achieving behaviour change is difficult because learners are human beings and subject to lots of normal human biases and barriers. We like to take short cuts. We find it hard to change from established practice. We’re very influenced by peers. And we frequently overestimate our own capability.

So how can you design training interventions that overcome these biases and barriers; interventions that help to change behaviour and deliver impact – for learners and the organisations they work for?

We can start by borrowing ideas from experts in behaviour change, such as behavioural scientists and advertising agencies. Then we can use those ideas to design training that’s focused on delivering impact.

Humans are not logical calculating machines and can’t always be relied on to make good choices, even when they know what they ‘should’ do. 

We’re looking for ideas to help cut through the noise and tackle those innate human barriers that hinder our ability to learn and adapt; ideas that help us do much more than just tick the box, and maybe let us get rid of the box altogether.

So, what can we learn from the behavioural sciences and advertising industries? Let’s have a look at some of their tools-of-the-trade and consider how these might inform what training professionals can do. 

Give them a nudge

Behavioural scientists know the value of a nudge in the right direction. Have you ever adjusted your driving speed in response to an electronic sign with a frowning face? Ever got out of the chair when that band  on your wrist buzzed to remind you to take a few more steps? Ever grabbed a snack from beside the supermarket checkout? If you have, then you’ve been ‘nudged’.

In behavioural science, a nudge is any feature of the environment that attracts our attention and changes our behaviour. Nudge Theory recognises that humans are not logical calculating machines and can’t always be relied on to make good choices, even when they know what they ‘should’ do.

Instead, nudges speak to our innate instincts, biases and social conditioning. The theory now informs all sorts of disciplines where changing behaviour is the goal, and one of its leading lights, Richard Thaler of Chicago University, recently won a Nobel prize for his work.

What can training professionals learn from Nudge Theory? An effective nudge will usually have four key characteristics. It will be easy (I clearly understand what I need to do); it will be attractive (I want to do it); it will be social (doing it makes me feel part of the group), and it will be timely (I get the nudge as close as possible to the point at which I need to use the behaviour). 

What would these characteristics look like in a training intervention? We can make it easy (cut out excessive detail and focus only on key messages); attractive (connect those messages to what really motivates the learner); social (show how other colleagues model the required behaviour), and timely (go beyond the ‘one hit’ and deliver learning as a campaign using multiple channels).

Thinking like a behavioural scientist and making your training into an effective nudge will help you deliver impact.

Now, what can we learn from the masters of influencing behaviour – the advertising industry? We’ve all experienced their work, and probably all been influenced by it. In some cases, we’ll have changed our behaviour as a result – made a purchase, switched suppliers, given a donation and so on.

So what are some of the things that make advertising campaigns stick, and can we borrow them to make training more likely to influence behaviour?


About the author

Owen Rose is managing partner at Acteon. Owen is also  a speaker at the TJ Awards Conference 2018 on 4 December. To find out more, visit where you can also confirm a place.


This is an excerpt from November’s TJ Magazine. To find out what makes advertising campaigns stick and to access the rest of TJ’s premium content, take out a free 3 month trial here.


Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *