The rapid pace of innovation and disruption means the average lifespan of organisations listed on the S&P has shortened from 60 years in the 1950s to just 18 years today. A significant shrink. As a result, many organisations face a regular battle to reinvent themselves, as well as shift their cultures to match the new reality.
We have recently explored this challenge with our Future of Work Research Consortium members in order to identify the enablers that can help organisations seeking to shift their cultures. Our research indicates that enabling workplace culture shift requires first and foremost an understanding and altering of micro-behaviours, specifically, negative types of micro-behaviours. Such micro-behaviours are thoughtless, unfair, often unintentional, and in dissonance with the environment organisations are looking to create. The collective practice of negative micro-behaviours can lead to the formation of toxic cultures.
How can organisations change negative micro-behaviours? Our research has revealed the effectiveness of nudging. Nudge theory is a concept in behavioural science where positive reinforcements and indirect suggestions influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals. We’ve recently collaborated with Lisa Shu, Professor of Behavioural Economics at London Business School, whose research on nudge theory has shown that whether they intentionally chose this role or not, organisations are inadvertent architects of the decision-making of their employees, customers, and shareholders. However, whilst effective nudges do change the choice environment, the beauty is that they do not require a huge organisational change or intervention. For example, if an organisation were to be fostering a culture of sustainability, the company could put up a display showing the daily energy consumption at the workplace. This gentle nudge has shown to reduce energy consumption in workplaces, helping the development of a sustainable culture.
Another effective way to change negative micro-behaviours is through ‘change agents’, that is, those influencers within your organisation who can, because of their ‘knowledge, skills and position in the company network, and not their formal hierarchical power, shape the views of multiple colleagues’. What we’re finding is that the behaviours of influencers have increasingly significant effect on the company population as a whole. Typically, due to more trust in influencers as relatable role models, employees are more likely to adopt the behaviours, values and attitudes practiced by these colleagues.
With many organisations facing the need to reinvent their culture, our advice to you is to think twice about implementing large-scale strategic programmes or initiatives. Instead look to the people within your organisation, and leverage their collective power through nudging and change agents to effect change.
Want to learn more about nudging and change agents? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to talk you through our research.
 Shu, L. Gino, F. Bazerman, M H., (2011) Ethical Discrepancy: Changing Our Attitudes to Resolve Moral Dissonance, Behavioral Business Ethics: Ideas on an Emerging Field. Taylor and Francis Publishing
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