Imagine you want everyone to turn up to work next Friday in beach wear. How could you encourage them to do this, or make any other significant behavioural shift, whether it concerns expense policies, sales techniques or bikinis?
Turns out there are four types of action that would be effective, and using these in combination would lead to the best results.
First, it is important that senior figures at work embrace the change in behaviour, and conspicuously so, talking up their personal commitment to it. If the boss takes every opportunity at lunch to describe his Hawaiian board shorts and matching flip flops, then other people start to believe that this whole beach wear thing is actually going to happen, and start to shape their own behaviour accordingly.
‘People take their cues from those who they consider as ‘significant others’ and model their behaviour accordingly’ – Lorenz
‘Proximal others, those in close psychological proximity to a focal individual, including his or her co-workers and leader, are likely to have a strong influence on the individual’s perceptions’ – Lewin
Second, it helps if you give people clear incentives for switching over to a new set of behaviours. If everyone coming into work in their beach wear gets a free lunch, an extra day’s holiday or a boost in their annual review, then they have a very tangible reason to do just that. As always, remember that incentives do not have to be financial, or even material. A massive bunch of flowers and a bottle of champagne is appreciated more than a £50 voucher, whatever people say beforehand.
‘The prize for behaving differently must be greater than the perceived pain involved in entering into the new behaviour’ – Lewin
‘The surrounding environment sends us signals which we each interpret in different ways but which cause greater likelihood to behave in a certain way’ – Skinner
Third, you could provide people with everything they needed to make the behavioural shift. In this hypothetical case, people are likely to understand what you mean by beachwear, and know how to put a bikini on, so training might be less important. But how about telling people that come Friday you will be providing an assortment of trunks, bathing suits and sarongs to rival the wardrobe of Baywatch? By removing the barrier of finding and remembering to bring in their beach wear, you make it even easier for them to take part.
‘ People don’t leap from unskilled to highly skilled in one bound. The job of a parent (organisation) is to underpin (or scaffold) the learning at any stage of development so that it becomes embedded in patterns of behaviour before the next developmental leap occurs’ – Vroom
‘Adults learn through a trial and error approach’ – Kolb
Fourth, it would help no end to explain why you want everyone to come into work in their beach wear. Maybe it’s a charity event, maybe the office party theme. If people understand why they are doing something they are not only more likely to get behind the decision, but they can also extrapolate from your stated goals and help out in ways above and beyond the call of duty. Suddenly you’ll find that someone is organising a tombola, or has gone to the trouble of buying miniature umbrellas for all the cocktails, to help reinforce the mood.
‘It’s difficult to behave in a different way if the behaviour is inconsistent with your view of the world’ – Festinger
Whether you are trying to get everyone to turn up to work in bikinis, or have a more important goal, getting people to change their behaviour is about creating the right context. The most effective contexts for behavioural change are ones where role models and incentives are aligned, people have the necessary skills and tools to make a change, and they understand why they are doing it.