Can behaviour be changed, and if it can, what are the better forms of behaviour change available to L&Ders, HR types, and ultimately to the organisation we work for/on behalf of.
Allow me to sidetrack for a moment, while I talk about Dan Pink – he of purpose, autonomy and mastery fame. He who, when delivering a keynote speech at CIPD ACE back in 2012, told all the HR types that selling is ultimately what our game is about. He of the famous RSA video on what really motivates people.
He’s recently done a series on National Geographic in the UK where he’s tried to show how possible it is to get people to change their behaviour. The series is called Crowd Control, and at 22 mins per episode, it’s very watchable.
What I love about Pink is that he’s not just saying we should do things better or differently, but he’s experimenting and using research based approaches to show what makes a difference.
In the series, he shows how possible it is to get people to:
– wash their hands after they’ve been to the toilet
– eat less in an all you can eat restaurant
– listen and watch in flight instructions for what to do in an emergency
– hand in a lost wallet
– stop using their mobile phones in a restaurant
– remember where they’ve parked at the airport
– throw their rubbish in a bin while out drinking
– stop peeing in a public swimming pool
All quite impressive stuff.
But what he actually shows, is that getting people to change their behaviour is really hard. In pretty much most of the examples above, he had to game people into changing their behaviour. That is, he created an element of fun/competition/winning to encourage people to change their automatic behaviour. In other instances, he drew on empathy as a way to motivate behaviour change.
At work, we know that behaviour change is hard. It’s why there’s a whole industry built specifically around it as a topic. The challenge with taking the Dan Pink approach in Crowd Control is that he designed a situation to create a better result. When you have that freedom available to you, of course you can create change. Often, though, what we’re faced with is that we can’t design a situation to specifically change a behaviour. We’re often tasked with changing a lot of behaviour in a very tight time frame.
If you take into account the RSA video, and the work he’s done in Crowd Control, what we’re seeing is that on one level he’s saying treat people with respect at work and they’ll be great. On another he’s saying design a situation where people only have the choice to act better.
So what’s the right answer?
A couple of weeks ago, Gem Reucroft wrote about an app that she came across which encourages her to try a new behaviour over a 30 day period. The theory being (according to the app developer) that if sustained over this period of time, it becomes a habit, and you will have a newly formed behaviour you’re comfortable continuing with.
Last year, Maria Popova, over on Brain Pickings, wrote about how long it takes to change behaviour too. In her article, she says it can be as little as 20 days, for others as long as 84 days, and there seems to be an average number of 66 days.
Are you getting the idea that this topic of behaviour change is suddenly quite and very complicated?
And I’ve not even tried to talk about what neuroscience tells us about new habit forming.
There is no easy answer here. Organisationally, we have to be cognisant of all of the above because it all informs us of how complex it is.
When a manager asks and expects that a one day workshop, or some e-learning content will resolve the learning need, we can quite confidently say that isn’t the case. What is harder to sell, is that for behaviour change to take place, it needs up to 66 days worth of effort and practise for behaviour to change.
Take that in the context of developing someone’s assertiveness skills. Or they need compliance training. Or they need management development. Or they need time management training. Or they need to become a project manager. Or they need to learn a new bit of code. Or they need to learn the new system. Or they need to understand customer service better. And you don’t have 66 days available.
I’m feeling a bit exhausted now.