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To change how organizations work, we need to change how people work

How people behave, interact, think, feel, connect, you name it, is fascinating, at least to me!

Do you take time to observe how people behave in organizations, supermarkets and trains? I promise, it is interesting. I’m lucky—my work is about changing the way organizations work. And organizations are bundles of people. If we want to change how organizations work, we have to change how people work. And to change behavior is not easy. Let me share some learnings I’ve made while working for Revolt.

I was impressed by an ‘Eindbazen’ podcast on behavioral change by Paul Smit, neuroscientist, philosopher and comedian. He talked about a Dutch advertising campaign ‘#doeslief’ (translation = ‘be nice’). The ad aimed to stimulate good behavior to others. For example: “Cashier Miryam has been ignored by 30% of her customers today. Be nice.” Paul says, from a neuroscience perspective, this doesn’t work. Worse, it stimulates bad behavior.

Why? Our brain is wired to follow social groups. If 30% of customers ignored her (‘the social group’) our brain thinks “so why shouldn’t I?” And it’s likely we also ignore her, consciously or not. He advises we mention groups that show the desired behavior. A better campaign? “Cashier Miryam has been greeted by 70% of her customers today. Be nice.”

Learning #1: To change group behavior, mention the group that already shows the desired behavior—not the opposite. Our brain is wired to conform, regardless of the behavior.

But what about behavior change at the individual level? There are three types according to management guru Ben Tiggelaar:

1. Behavior you show rarely, like buying a house

2. Behavior you show occasionally, like cleaning your attic

3. Behavior you show frequently, like how you listen, or how you react to e-mail

The latter is ‘habitual behavior’—things we do without thought. They don’t cost energy. You drive to work each day, and you don’t need to think about how you drive. You walk to the shower each morning without thinking about it. At work, you open your laptop without thinking. Habitual behavior is the most difficult to change. But, there are ways.

One method I love is ‘Tiny Habits’, from Stanford Professor BJ Fogg. First, break down your desired change into small steps, and then connect them to an existing habit. For example: “After I wake up in the morning (existing habit), I will do two push-ups (new tiny behavior).”

This makes the change easier, because it costs little or no energy. And after ~60 days it is a habit. You do it without thinking, and you can now slowly build on it.

Learning #2: To change our behavior, break the desired change into tiny habits and connect it to a current habit. It will be much easier to implement.

Together, let’s make work more fun by changing the way organizations (and people) work.


Want to read more? Check out ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg.

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