IC Matters

Employee Comms

Improve your internal communications through behavioral science


 — August 24th, 2018

Improve your internal communications through behavioral science

Inspiring employees to act is one of the most important roles of an internal communicator – the ability to turn policies and strategies into action. Yet, in practice, it can also be one of the toughest parts of the job. This is where behavioral science comes in.

Behavioral science can provide internal communicators with the insights as well as simple techniques to motivate employees to act. Drawing on insights from psychology, economics, and neuroscience, behavioral science helps us understand how people actually think and act in real life.

7 Steps For a Great Internal Communications Audit & How to Use the Results

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who carefully consider all options when making decisions, but this is far from the case. Most human behavior is in-fact driven by automatic and intuitive thought processes.

This is because our brain processes so much information in a day that it has to revert to decision-making shortcuts. These shortcuts allow people to problem solve quickly, but it means we do not always maximize our options.

Internal communicators can use an understanding of this automatic thinking when designing their communication strategies, tactics and messaging.

Our team at H+K Strategies does this day-in and day-out, using an understanding of the science of human behavior and applying it to the art of communications. So, we’ve put together a tip list, sharing examples of how internal communicators can do the same within their organizations.

1. From ‘know’ to ‘do’

Even if we know and believe doing something is important, it doesn’t mean we will actually do it. This is what behavioral scientists call an ‘intention-action gap’. Working exactly how the name eludes to – it’s a gap, sometimes a huge crater even, between what we know and how we decide to act in the moment.

This is the concept that plagues us when we are trying to achieve a goal. Want to get fit or lose weight? We all know the benefits a healthy lifestyle can bring us – but when you’ve had a long day, going to the gym is the last thing you’re willing to do.

As communicators, we can help people close this intention-action gap through the way we phrase things, frame information, or even the timing of when the information is shared. For example, if you remind people of their values and beliefs at the moment they make a decision this can help them overcome the intention-action gap.

We did exactly this when launching an employee sustainability campaign. At the point where employees would choose to take a disposable cup, we displayed imagery of the sea polluted with plastic. This, coupled with some other behavioral interventions, led to an 88% decrease in average daily cup use.

2. Increasing survey and newsletter traffic

We are social animals; deeply affected by those around us. Impacted not only by what others think of us, but also what we think others think of us.

This feeling is evolutionary. When we are born we can’t survive on our own – we need parents or even a community to survive, and this instinct to connect never goes away. And is a reason why people don’t like to be too different. We like to be different enough to feel individual, but similar enough to feel connected to ‘the pack’.

In communications, we can apply an understanding of this tendency within internal communications. An example of this is splitting your audience by department or geography, and then comparing survey completion rates. By highlighting to employees how other teams like them are doing the survey, can have a marked effect on completion rates. With our clients, we have found a 35% increase in completion-rates, by highlighting low participation figures within offices that are lagging behind their colleagues.

3. Increasing event attendance

Consistency is also important. We don’t like to be seen saying something one day, and then do something completely different the next day. It is uncomfortable for us to be shown that our actions contradict.

Political campaigns have benefitted from this understanding. Earlier in the 2000’s Facebook added an ‘I’m a voter’ button to their newsfeed and displayed the names of friends who had clicked it. Once introduced, it was found that 340,000 extra people voted in the next election because of this button. Why? This is a very public display of an action. No one wants to have to explain why they didn’t vote.

Requesting a small act of engagement now makes subsequent, larger acts of engagement much more likely.

You can apply this concept within your internal environment. When sending out event invitations ask employees to commit publicly to attend. Creating a function, such as a button, on your social intranet that publicises that people are attending. Then they’re much more likely to then act in-line with this commitment going forward.

Our internal audiences are becoming more and more sophisticated, which means we can no longer rely on traditional models of communication. When creating your communication strategies, tactics and messaging – look for small ways to bring in an understanding of automatic decision making. Start small and build your way up.

Behavioural science can help us design for the tricky thing that is human nature.

Learn how Poppulo can help you achieve your internal communication goals
The best on employee communications delivered weekly to your inbox.

By clicking “Accept all cookies” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your browsing experience, analyze site traffic, and serve tailored content and advertisements.

Cookies preferences

When you visit any website, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. This information might be about you, your preferences or your device and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to. The information does not usually directly identify you, but it can give you a more personalized web experience. Because we respect your right to privacy, you can choose not to allow some types of cookies. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings. However, blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer.

Manage consent preferences

Strictly Necessary

Always Active

These cookies are necessary for our website to function. They do not store any personally identifiable information and are usually only set in response to actions made by you, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms. You can set your browser to block these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work.


Functionality cookies are used to remember your preferences. They make the site easier for you to navigate by remembering settings you have applied, detect if you’ve already seen a pop-up or auto-fill forms to make them easier for you to complete.


Targeting cookies are used to deliver ads more relevant to you and your interests. These cookies can also be used to measure ad performance and provide recommendations.