Nudging Change

What if you could bypass resistance to change by designing nudges into your change?

And what if you could make it easier for people to change?

These questions are ones that crop up time and again in different forms.  Often with the underlying assumption that resistance to change is natural.  And that change is hard.

We often get asked these types of questions by our clients and whilst the answer isn’t straightforward, there are some steps we can take that move us from the domain of change expert to choice architect.

You may have heard of the term Nudge but perhaps not so familiar with the term choice architecture.  Both terms relate to the field of economic science called behavioural science.

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein created the term ‘nudges’ to describe what happens when we “steer behaviour without overloading the brain or direct coercion”.

In their book of the same name, Nudges they explore the psychological. cognitive, cultural and social factors that influence our decision making.  Without getting too nerdy, classical economic theory suggests that humans act rationally in their own best interests.  As we know, this isn’t always the case – particularly when we apply the lens of cognitive biases into the mix.

So what does all of this do for us when we’re involved in organisations going through change?

Default – No thinking involved!

One of the ways of steering behaviour is through a choice called the default option.  You will already be familiar with this without even realising that’s what it is.  Technology uses this choice architecture frequently.  For example, last year I bought a new Microsoft Surface Pro – when I turned it on, there were default settings for the look and sounds.  I didn’t have to start from scratch, but I could change the settings if I wished. (Although I still haven’t worked out how to turn off the annoying sounds letting me know every time someone updates Facebook!)

This option is one I have used many times – even before I knew about nudges!  Many years ago, as an HR Manager, I was managing a project for harmonising terms and conditions of employment. We used the default – opt out.  In other words, we worked on the assumption that everyone would opt in.  People could opt out if they wished.  Interestingly, even though there were many conversations, no one opted out.

In the table below there are three simple forms of the default option to get you thinking about what you could do in your change programme.  The default option you choose depends on the behaviour you’re looking to steer.  So, if you want people to try out the beta version of new software you would use that as the default option.  People would actively have to choose to stay on the old software.

Beta testing new softwareOld/New
Configuring a dashboardSwitch on/switch off
Terms and Conditionsopt in/opt out

We’d love to hear what you do with this and whether you’re already using choice architecture in your change programme.

Ro Gorell

Ro Gorell

Ro Gorell is a co-director of Change Optimised and a multiple published author. One of her books, 50 Top Tools for Coaching, is a Kogan Page best seller with an audio version in production in 2020. She is driven by a desire to help individuals and organisations become future fit – so they can thrive no matter what. She also advocates for integrating work and life, valuing time spent in the gym and singing with West Australian Symphony Orchestra Choir.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *