Nudge theory: pushing ourselves into the future

Curium | 21 Feb 2018 | News | General News

Nudge theory: pushing ourselves into the future

In her first Curium blog, Senior Consultant Becky Oliver takes a look at nudge theory and how creating new habits can help to achieve change.

I read a study, which showed that most people use the same toilet cubicle every single day. I asked myself, “Do I use the same cubicle?” The answer was yes. Why? It’s a habit, I guess.

Habits can be defined as “an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”.

While going to a different loo is an easy change, workplace habits and how you operate in your role can be very hard to give up. It can be even harder to give up these habits when changes in the organisation – new technology, for example – are forcing you to behave differently.

However, change is the new standing still.

We live in exciting times, where radical change is happening all around us: virtual reality, self-driven cars, artificial intelligence, face recognition… the list goes on!

Transformational change in business is exciting… as a concept. I bet that most people working in today’s fast-paced business world would agree that change is needed. I also believe that people want to change.

However, in my experience, there is a huge difference between someone wanting to change, and actually changing the way they behave to make transformation happen. It’s daunting, scary and unknown.

After the 2010 general election, The Cabinet Office created its Behavioural Insights Team (otherwise known as the Nudge Unit). This team found that relatively minor changes to processes, forms and language can have a significant positive impact on behaviour, and that ‘nudge theory’ could help the government to save millions of pounds.

So, what is nudge theory? ‘Nudges’ are an incremental way to take individuals through a change journey.

Take the example of transferring from a paper-based solution to a digital one. Rather than having a fixed date when the new system and process kick in, you might want to nudge people by introducing small changes in the run up to the switchover.

You might change the paper-based form to reflect the new digital solution format and language, and then you might then ask colleagues to download and play with the app for a period of time.

All of this can help nudge people through the change, creating less conflict and resistance. It can also help develop new habits for your colleagues, giving them the opportunity to try and embed a new, quicker and easier way of working.

So, given the complex nature of people’s behaviour and the habits they already have, is nudge theory the way to go?  I don’t think there is one answer to this question. Time, quality and cost / resources all play their part in determining the best way to make a change happen and stick.

I think nudge theory has a part to play, but it’s just one of the methods in a change manager’s toolkit.

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