Many organisations focus solely on developing products and services by finding faster, better and cheaper ways to do what their clients already do. The most successful companies focus on behavioural innovation. They are not so much in the business of what we buy, but the way we act.
They go beyond the question of how we can make processes faster, better and cheaper. They ask why people do what they do to begin with. Asking “why?”, increases the likelihood that you’ll find an answer that explores behaviour.
It is only at that point that you can start to challenge and reshape behaviour through innovative product design. Let’s take the iPod as an example.
Apple recently reached the “10 billion songs downloaded” milestone, a journey that has created a huge shift in how customers buy music and engage with artists. Less than two decades ago, it was both unimaginable and impossible for people to purchase individual songs online. The music industry was designed to make most of its revenue from album sales. This model was put at risk in the early noughties due to the rise of illegal Internet downloads.
Apple designed a product suite that led to a huge behavioural shift. So big that it changed the fabric of an entire industry. Today online and on-demand consumption dominate the music market. Apple’s incredible story is an example of the impact product design has on people’s lives.
The impact of products in the workplace
“The buildings we inhabit can mould our actions in many ways.”
– Jon Fletcher
The average knowledge worker uses a minimum of 15 technology tools in the workplace. And as technology becomes increasingly essential to perform work, those tools come to mould people’s actions. A great example of how technology can negatively impact an organisation’s goals is e-mail. Inboxes are designed as siloed communication boxes between selected individuals, and this is exactly how people use them. Organisations that rely heavily on e-mail to communicate experience problems such as poor team collaboration, terrible document management practices, and ineffective project management due to entire initiatives running in silos with little visibility. Most people blame the culture, not the systems, for issues like this in their organisation. Culture is a big component in creating and sustaining the collective behaviours necessary to succeed as an organisation, but research shows that changing people’s habits through persuasion is very hard, especially if their surroundings stay the same. That is why organisations fail when trying to improve communication in an e-mail led environment. A lot of companies try to improve communication without introducing a new communication tool. Sometimes even when organisations bring great new technologies to support the behavioural change needed, the first instinct is to replicate current behaviours and habits in a new system.
For example, it is very easy for a company purchasing Slack to end up with the same siloed communication culture. This happens when employees are given Slack, but continue to use direct messages as their main form of communication, instead of exploring more collaborative features such as channels.
Sometimes, failure isn’t obvious and is disguised as short-term gains such as high adoption and usage rates among teams. However, these metrics won’t create the change needed to achieve long-term goals. In these circumstances, culture becomes an easy scapegoat when instead we should be throwing incorrect tools or poor implementation processes under the bus instead.
Optimising for Behavioural Change
We have a vast number of SaaS products to choose from, and business solutions tend to be extremely versatile in how they can be configured, but companies don’t always know how to choose products that will drive behavioural change. So here are seven tips on how to drive behavioural change using technology in your organisation:
1. Identify the key problems you are seeing in your organisation: What are teams struggling with? Perhaps it’s poor performance in a specific area, a lack of innovative ideas or poor customer experience. Identify it and name it.
2. Map the problems based on behaviours: Cluster the problems that you’ve identified based on the underlying behavioural traits shown in your team. By connecting problems to behaviours you may start to become aware of issues like a dated hierarchical structure, poor communication, lack of collaboration or poor visibility etc.
3. Identify systems supporting those behaviours: Associate the behaviours mapped in the previous step with the systems being used in the organisation. In this exercise, you should be able to look at the entire product stack the team is using and pick out the systems that are driving the identified poor behaviours.
4. Design new behavioural patterns: In step four, start with the end picture by imagining what you want the result to be. From there map the behaviours that will lead to that result. If the end goal is to become more innovative, you might want to stimulate cross-department ideation, increase project visibility to stakeholders that can view the project from a new perspectives or improve diversity in teams by recruiting different skills.
5. Audit your current products: Evaluate the value of your current stack and grade them on their potential to fulfill your vision. Anything that cannot be adapted to drive those behaviours should go. Any gaps in technology should be noted. If the objective is to drive innovation, systems such as e-mail will likely not be scrapped, as they still offer value when communicating with the outside world, but their usage will be defined and minimised internally.
6. Select and implement new systems: Identify new solutions that can drive the behaviours needed to fulfill your strategy and invest time and resources in implementing those systems correctly to avoid replication of bad behaviour. For example, when implementing an instant message tool, ensure that you have designed the space and the playbook to suit the style of communication, and as a result – the behaviour, you are looking to promote.
7. Nurture a supporting culture: The culture of the organisation is fundamental in driving change. New systems should work like the structure of a building by shaping attitudes and providing the foundation to allow change to happen.
Products have the potential to transform your organisation and create competitive advantage in unexpected places. Are you paying enough attention to the very structures that have the potential to make your company thrive?