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How To: Convince your colleagues to use behavioural science at work

How To: Convince your colleagues to use behavioural science at work

The application of behavioural science in real-world settings has become somewhat of a hot topic in the last decade. This is because companies, policymakers, and program designers, among other decision-makers, are recognising the benefits of incorporating behavioural insights as a tool to optimise outcomes in a number of contexts – whether that may be in economics, healthcare, sustainability, public policy, and so much more.

You may have recently completed a behaviour change course, or been involved with a behavioural insights unit, and seen the advantages of using these techniques to optimise your own business processes.
So, how do you convince your colleagues to hop onto the idea? We at BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA) get asked this question a lot.

The problem

Suggesting change (even if it’s for the better of the project) can be a difficult topic to bring up, especially if you’re in a position that lacks decision-making power. Behavioural science can be a complex subject matter, which many could assume to be too daunting, intimidating, or even unnecessary to incorporate into a system otherwise considered to still be working. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, right?

So, what can you do? Is there a way to promote change within your organisation, to incorporate a new way of thinking into company culture, to convince your colleagues to use behavioural science in the workplace, in project design, and in program development?

A few years ago, we raised these questions with some of our industry and government partners at our first BWA ‘Community of Practice’ – a series of presentations, discussions, and workshops that provided an opportunity for knowledge sharing and skills development. Here, we uncovered some experiences of common challenges faced when trying to incorporate behaviour change thinking into projects and other organisational processes. You may have experienced some of these challenges as well, such as organisational culture and leadership (e.g. when there’s usually one person calling all the shots) or conflicting priorities (e.g. when someone does not see value in your proposition compared to their own). So, we’ve highlighted some of our findings to give you some tips on how you can address some of these barriers

Tackling the ‘business as usual’ phenomenon

One of the many challenges of proposing a new way of thinking, especially in how a project is designed, is that individuals and teams charged with these tasks will typically choose to work with methods they are more comfortable with. In such cases, teams tend to be confident in their knowledge of the problem, their assumption about what will work, and the tools they have at their disposal. Hence, incorporating innovation, such as behavioural sciences, into an already established project design could be deemed “too hard” and “unnecessary”.

To break some of these barriers, your proposal to incorporate behaviour change thinking might need to offer something new or add value to the existing project design (e.g. by interrogating some of the underlying assumptions, and offering alternative approaches backed up by evidence). By offering it as a potential leverage to support teams in their current way of thinking, adding in behavioural science could be deemed as a beneficial addition to the project design, providing insights to alternative approaches, identifying new discoveries, and acknowledging uncertainties.

Achieving quick wins with quick results

Quick wins might be crucial to establish value in investing in behavioural science research into project design and development. So, what constitutes a quick win? A common example involves applying some well-recognised behaviour tools to letters and other forms of communication to improve response rates and the uptake of desired behaviours (without the need to conduct lengthy and costly audience research). We’ve done this ourselves with projects related to unfit drivers and vaccinations, and have re-produced some of these techniques in a framework we call INSPIRE.

A word of caution: though quick wins can offer an effective way of quickly winning over a team to a new idea, a heavy focus on picking on the “low-hanging fruit” risks diluting the quality of the research or intervention. For example, a requirement for quick results risks a much narrower focus on behaviour change research, thus not being able to capture the broader range of influences and insights related to a particular problem. To avoid this, a solution could be to focus on both short-term quick wins and longer-term opportunities and outcomes in parallel.

Show them

When ‘telling them’ how good something is isn’t enough (e.g. by saying behaviour change can be quicker, more immediate, is shown to work, and is a core function of government and businesses), you show them. So, your first step in convincing your colleagues to incorporate behavioural science may be to provide them with an opportunity to use it. Try to find a behaviour change program that will suit your team’s and your project’s needs. Taking part in a team-based behaviour change program, guided by expert educators of the field, can prove to be an effective first step in showing your team the benefits of incorporating behavioural science. Some programs can even tailor the course to your specific organisational needs, such as our Bespoke Training courses and Behaviour Change Bootcamp, where you and your team are given the opportunity to directly apply the learnings to your project designs.

Convincing your colleagues to use behavioural science in the workplace can prove to be challenging. However, once people understand the basic principles of behaviour change, and have a chance to experience its benefits when applied to their own work, they soon realise the opportunities and benefits of understanding human behaviour when designing programs. BehaviourWorks Australia’s central premise is that most problems can be (at least) partially solved by influencing the behaviours that underpin them, and aims to share knowledge and insights into best approaches to addressing them.

Get in touch if you have more questions about how to convince others to incorporate behavioural science into organisational processes, or if you’d like to find out more about applying behavioural science to project design and implementation.

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