Do the right thing: 3 ways to nudge people toward better behavior by Kate Baskin

By Kate Baskin

Humans behave predictably, research shows. Here’s how to use that to your advantage when motivating your staff toward greater good.

Increase observability

It’s human nature to want positive recognition. It’s why charities publish donor lists, for instance. With this in mind, Yoeli recently collaborated with a power company to reduce energy demand during peak times and avoid blackouts. The challenge: It needed people to enroll in its conservation programs. The company started by sending out a letter asking customers to sign up via a hotline. The effort fell flat.

So it switched to sign-up sheets posted near mailboxes in customers’ buildings, with full visibility. Anyone walking by could see who had joined. Interest spiked.

Eliminate excuses

Think about charity bell-ringers stationed outside stores during the holidays. It’s tempting to avoid them by looking at your phone or entering through a different door, isn’t it? Yoeli pointed to a study conducted in San Diego, where researchers partnered with the Salvation Army to increase charity donations. They stationed volunteers at what they thought was every door, not just one — until they noticed that people stopped coming out of the supermarket at all. Where was everyone? They had snuck out through a small utility door to avoid the bell-ringers.

“This teaches us an important lesson: When trying to eliminate excuses, we need to be very thorough, because people are really creative in making them,” he said.

In other words, it’s important to check every metaphorical door.

Communicate expectations

Think about subways in London and Washington. People stand on the right side of the escalator to allow those on the left to pass. The proper behavioral expectation is easily seen — hogging space on the left side is socially inappropriate.

Companies can mimic that subway effect by clearly communicating expectations.

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