Behavior-first government transformation

Report by Deloitte: “…When experts try to explain why so many transformation initiatives fail, both in the commercial world and at government agencies, they rarely talk about habit or other human factors. It’s much easier to focus on a project’s most expensive, visible, or contentious elements, such as new technologies, process redesign, or changes to the organizational chart. But the human element can be crucial to the success of organizational transformation.

This is true when you’re aiming for transformation with a capital T, such as designing and implementing an entirely new operating model. It’s also true when you’re trying to make some aspects of an existing model work better, or when you’re trying to build a new capability. No matter what kind of change an organization wants to implement, it’s crucial to understand how the proposed changes will affect people as individuals, and what it might take—psychologically, emotionally, or politically—to make them change their behavior. After all, if people keep doing the same things in the same way, what has really been transformed?

Even when leaders understand that they need to encourage behavioral change, they often aim for that goal using strategies without a proven track record. For example, they might offer financial incentives to employees who meet certain performance targets, without clear evidence that this kind of reinforcement works in that context. What if the motivating factors that can overcome inertia in a certain situation have more to do with how employees feel about their work, or how they cohere as a community?

Fortunately, thanks to the work of behavioral psychologists and economists, as well as neuroscientists, we understand much more than we used to about human behavior and its drivers. This work has demonstrated, for example:

  • What typically motivates people—a sense of purpose, a sense of autonomy, and the ability to grow in one’s job1
  • Why people engage in “predictably irrational” behavior, and how we can harness this understanding to shape and nudge behavior2
  • How to use customer analytics and customer experience techniques such as human-centered design to drive workforce experience3

We also know that transparency can help a transformation initiative succeed. By keeping stakeholders informed about all aspects of the effort and inviting feedback, project leaders can gain insights into human motivation and behavior, and how their employees are experiencing the change, as those factors pertain to their particular project. This can help leaders understand which aspects of the transformation are working and which are not, and it helps to build trust among everyone involved.

“Behavior-first change” applies insights from a range of disciplines including anthropology, behavioral economics, neuroscience, and psychology to better understand and influence human behavior—and governments are beginning to apply it to their transformation initiatives. In fact, with more than 200 behavioral insights units in government worldwide, the public sector has been at the forefront of this movement. So, we’re not proposing a behavioral change approach as something radically new. Instead, we’re suggesting government agencies that might already be applying these techniques externally can systematically apply these insights to their own transformations—whether “capital T” programs or more focused efforts—to improve the chances that these programs will realize their intended outcomes….(More)”.