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Improve your internal communications through behavioral science

Thea KnightThea Knight·

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.

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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

Learn how Poppulo can help you achieve your internal communication goals.Request a demo

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