Small nudges, big changes: how behavioural science can help shift the system in your organisation

Organisational development

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Eighty-five percent of visitors to this page read this article through to the end. How likely are you to buck the trend? Especially when we tell you we’ve saved the best tip for last? According to the behavioural scientists behind “nudge theory”, the answer is “not very” – and here’s why.

Nudge theory uses behavioural insights to encourage people to make better decisions, both for themselves and others. It entered the lexicon in 2008 with the publication of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth And Happiness. This book brought into focus how seemingly small changes to the choices people are offered can lead to dramatic changes in their behaviour.

The public and health sectors embraced the idea with great gusto. One of the earliest adopters was the Cabinet Office, whose Behavioural Insights Team (dubbed the Nudge Unit) has blazed a trail in nudging people towards a whole range of “good behaviours” by making subtle changes to the way the government communicates its services and policies. One of its greatest successes saw a significant rise in income tax payments after a reminder letter was simply reworded to say that most people pay their bills on time.

That particular instance drew on the key insight that most people are uncomfortable flouting social norms and that their behaviour is profoundly influenced by what others are seen to be doing. So if we’re told most people choose to pay their bills on time, we’re more likely to follow suit. And if we’re told that most people read to the end of this article, then we’re more likely to do that, too...

So what do these insights have to offer organisations striving for growth and transformation? Here at Ludic, we have found that nudging can demonstrate real success in supporting systemic change. Nudges are typically inexpensive and easy to implement and, as part of our transformation programmes, can dramatically increase engagement and help shift an organisation to its new state.

We are experts in developing the appropriate set of nudges to support transformation in your organisation. At the heart of our approach are four main categories of nudges: simplifiers, attractors, timers and connectors. Each can be effectively targeted at different points of influence. 

Simplifiers make it easy for people to behave in ways that achieve the desired result by making use of prompted choices and defaults, removing friction or obstacles and presenting key messages clearly and simply. This could be anything from reconfiguring workspaces to allow teams to interact more easily and encourage collaboration, to reducing the number of available options for a customer.

Attractors are designed to grab attention and make a particular course of action appealing or salient. These nudges are often most compelling when personalised and can make use of games and incentives to motivate people to engage. A striking example of the power of attractors comes from Coca-Cola, whose famous “Share a Coke” campaign saw millions around the world seek out their own names on personalised bottles. Other ways to use attractors include competitions and awards that recognise an intended type of behaviour or action.

Timers are nudges that are implemented at key moments during the transformation programme. Well-timed messages and prompts can make a great difference to understanding and engagement during periods of transition. Providing a countdown to an important event or a daily reminder to complete an activity are helpful timers in nudging behaviour.

Finally, connectors bring us back to the example of the Nudge Unit’s tax deadline letter. These nudges tap into the profound influence social norms can have on people’s behaviour. They can be used to highlight how most colleagues have adopted the desired behaviour or values, and may harness the power of social networks to encourage people to make commitments to others on their teams and beyond. Teams can be effectively connected through forums, discussion groups and challenges to build and maintain momentum.

Ludic’s community animators (“nudgers”) are highly skilled at not only designing the perfect set of nudges for your organisation but also choreographing them so that they have the greatest impact. It’s a fine art and perhaps the best analogy is that of the community animator as consummate party host. The talented host understands that their job is not simply to invite the right guests to the right soirée, greet them at the door and offer them a drink. It is also to play the right music, plan the right menu, make the right introductions and to mix and mingle, anticipating every guest’s needs so that everyone is encouraged to join in the spirit of the occasion. 

So now you’ve been nudged to the end of this article, what better time to learn more about how Ludic’s experts can design and co-ordinate the appropriate set of nudges to support transformation in your organisation?

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