Content-heavy solutions are not always the answer when it comes to creating behavior change. Here's why...
Lessons about activating behavior change can come from unexpected places. I once saw this quote on a fridge magnet: “When I read about the dangers of drinking and smoking, I gave up reading.”
This neatly captures why many employee behavior change initiatives don’t work. If ignorance isn’t the problem, then information isn’t the answer. Yet, content-heavy, infocentric 'solutions' are everywhere. Some really do an excellent job of carving up informational content and presenting it in delightful and relatable ways based on reliable science. But, again, if lack of knowledge isn’t the obstacle, then information isn’t the answer.
So, how can we design behavior change management practices that don't rely heavily on content? This depends on our options, but here are a few different examples of common behavior change challenges to spark further ideas:
Challenge 1: Information security struggles
Consider the case where employees don't change passwords regularly, or don’t run security updates reliably. The reason we've identified is that when people are busy, which is often, they postpone taking action and then forget.
In cases like this, action is neither difficult nor time consuming. What's often missing is an environmental trigger that prompts immediate action.
For this, we can implement a simple intervention. Here's one way we can do it: in the last few minutes of a meeting, invite everyone present to "do it now" and also to set a recurring reminder that includes the words "do it now". In this way, not only the reminder, but also the words become environmental triggers.
Challenge 2: Obstacles in onboarding
In this case, one onboarding obstacle is that many new recruits don't feel safe enough to experiment with unfamiliar tools or systems – what if they break something important?
One option is to add an extra part to onboarding tasks that instructs new recruits to immediately request a safe sandbox environment where they can practice and experiment. If one doesn't exist, it'll serve as a prompt for others to set it up. Over time, safe spaces for practice become standard.
Challenge 3: Collaboration concerns in workplace training
Consider a work environment where people know how to collaborate and understand why it's valuable, but where they also receive recognition for their work on an individual basis. In this instance, the desired collaborative behavior is undermined by another practice in the business.
Here, we could improve collaboration by aiming our intervention at something slightly different – recognition practices. A possible intervention could be to invite managers to schedule time every week to share public appreciation for instances of good collaboration.
When we look at the examples above, we can see that there are alternatives to infocentric solutions. Information can play an important role in behavior change initiatives at work, but only if relevant. When we remind ourselves to explore alternatives, it becomes possible to find simpler and more elegant ways to activate behavior change.