How (& why) to start infusing your company with behavioral science

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Here’s an excerpt from this article from Ethical Systems:

A growing number of companies (including Johnson & Johnson, Vanguard, Allstate, Indeed, among others) are building “nudge units” and exploring ways to apply and embed insights and methods from behavioral science. One key idea is that, since we’re constantly looking to conserve mental energy, we’re naturally led to take “shortcuts” in our thinking. We often lighten our “cognitive load” by looking to others for cues (i.e. following social norms, the unwritten rules of behavior); reacting to what’s most visible or salient in our environment; and/or following the path of least resistance.

This is reflected in the fact that small, low-cost changes or interventions can have a disproportionate impact on how people actually behave. Take the idea of defaulting employees into retirement savings: Simply requiring them to “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” has an enormous impact on their savings rates.

This reality helps explain an underlying truth, which is that a good deal of unethical or unhelpful behavior is inadvertent and situational. Most employees are not actively plotting to break the rules and game the system. They would like to do the right thing, but the ethical path or set of actions is simply too burdensome—or perhaps too easily forgotten or ignored. So if you are trying to encourage ethical behavior, it’s important to make doing the right thing as intuitive and relatively effortless as possible.

For example, if expectations are already clear, an expensive and time-consuming training program may not be the most effective way to promote compliance. What might work better instead is just ensuring that employees simply receive the right reminders—and perhaps a quick dose of positive reinforcement—at the right moment. Along the same lines, simply changing the way that communications are framed can potentially have a significant effect.