The desire to do – and be – our best is an innate driver for most people. While I say ‘most people’, I actually believe it is important to all human beings.
Different People, Different Pathways
However, life’s journey takes us down many different paths. Some of those paths nurture our desire and ability to be our best, while other pathways fight against our capacity to be a better version of ourselves. This isn’t anybody’s fault. Some people just haven’t discovered the choices that are available to them and/or given the tools to get there yet.
The Organisational ‘Stage’
When we come together as a collective in an organisational context, such as in teams, there is a kaleidascope of history, personality types, development levels, focus, goals and oh yes, egos. When our goal is to influence others either individually or collectively, then we need to understand human behaviour and how it is shaped. To better understand how this plays out, we can draw from many fields such as psychology, philosophy and behavioural economics.
Nudge Theory comes from the field of behaviour economics and has been popularised and developed by Richard Thaler, an economist from the University of Chicago who was recently announced as this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics.
The central idea behind Prof Thaler’s work is that we are not the rational beings more traditional economic theory would have us believe. In fact, given two options, we are likely to pick the wrong one even if that means making ourselves less well off. Lack of thinking time, habit and poor decision making mean that even when presented with a factual analysis (for example on healthy eating) we are still likely to pick burger and chips.
Nudge Theory takes account of this, based as it is on the simple premise that
people will often choose what is easiest over what is wisest.
As a case-in-point, tests have shown that putting healthier foods on a higher shelf increases sales. The food is more likely to be in someone’s eye line and therefore “nudge” that person towards the purchase – whether they had any idea about the obesity argument or not.
Becoming a ‘Choice Architect’
One of the most fundamental, yet challenging areas for managers, is to influence people in service of a goal. However, managers often go about influencing in all the wrong ways. By failing to understand how people make choices at work and in their own lives, we set ourselves up to experience roadblocks, re-work, pain and frustration. And ultimately, costly failures in our projects and initiatives.
By developing the knowledge and skills necessary to become a more effective choice architect,
we can nudge people towards the choices we want or need them to make.
While this may sound manipulative, it must always be in service of a higher purpose, as opposed to servicing the needs of one individual’s agenda. In a community context, we might hide cigarettes from view to reduce the uptake of smoking in young people. In an organisational context, if a team wanted to become more strategic, we might ensure that only strategic topics are listed on the agenda (as simple as this may be, it can make a big difference).
Developing Requisite Skills
To build stronger managers and leaders, we must do three things. Firstly, there must be insight created (a greater awareness of self, other and the context in which we operate); secondly, influence (the ability to guide and shape another person’s thinking and actions); and finally impact (making a difference to our colleagues, our organisations and our society).
I would argue that it is the role of everyone, including parents, friends, siblings, colleagues and managers, to guide and support people along their chosen path. Sometimes however, we need to create the context where we nudge people to make what we see as the right choices, or at least better choices. The difference between nudge theory and coercive influencing strategies is that in its purest form, in Nudge Theory, choices that are seen as sub-optimal are always available and ultimately left up to the individual to exercise their freedom to choose. In this way, we avoid the trap of assuming an overly-paternalistic (rigid) approach and perhaps even occasionally, a misguided pathway ourselves.
If you are interested in learning more about Nudge Theory and other leading strategies to influence people, please join us for one of our one-day masterclasses.
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