Skip to content
  • Blog
  • 11th Apr 2024

Why behavioural science is your secret weapon for foolproof change management

Why do so many change management programs fail, but some manage to succeed? Research shows that many transformation initiatives fall down due to human factors, from employee resistance to lack of leadership support. 

In a world where as many as 93% of change management programs fail, the need for foolproof strategies has never been more evident. While change is often viewed as a structural transformation, its success hinges on effectively understanding and influencing human behaviour. Traditional change management approaches typically rely on training delivery and communications. While these elements are important, on their own they are insufficient to bring about the desired change. 

 At BIT we work with business leaders and organisations to design better systems, policies, products and services. We have decades of experience solving business challenges globally and have developed a dedicated one-day executive training in behavioural science for business leaders to bring our learning into your workplace. 

By harnessing the power of behavioural science, organisations can navigate common challenges and drive successful change. 

  1. Shape the social and physical environment

As anyone who is four months into 2024 and no closer to achieving their new year’s resolutions will know: information and knowledge alone are not enough to drive sustained behaviour change. When it comes to changing behaviours – especially daily, ingrained habits – it is essential that the social and physical environment makes it easy for people to adopt the new behaviour. Behavioural science provides an evidence-based toolkit for effectively shaping the environment. When used well, even small tweaks, such as highlighting positive social norms, providing timely prompts and using commitment devices shape the environment and enhance uptake of desired behaviours.

  1. Overcome resistance to change

Resistance to change is one of the most commonly cited barriers to the success of change management programs. You can have the best-designed vision and program in the world, but unless employees and leaders adopt the desired behaviours, the transformation would fail to achieve the intended return on investment. Behavioural science offers a broad suite of interventions that go beyond the traditional change management approach to overcoming resistance. Techniques such as behavioural mapping and journey analysis allow organisations to gain insights into psychological barriers, mental shortcuts and social dynamics that underpin resistance. These insights are then translated into well-targeted initiatives that are designed to overcome the specific barriers that an organisation is grappling with to effectively build buy-in among all employees. 

  1. Design effective communication strategies for leaders and employees

Communications play a crucial role in change management, but traditional approaches may rely on one-size-fits-all messages that fail to resonate with employees. Segmenting staff into personas based on demographics or structural characteristics may not be effective, as these factors are rarely aligned to individuals’ different motivations and values. Behaviourally-informed personas are one method of using behavioural science to tailor communications to the specific cognitive biases and emotional drivers of different groups, enhancing the cut-through of communications messages. 

  1. Build a culture of experimentation

Traditional change management often emphasises top-down directives and rigid implementation plans, assuming that change and adoption follow a linear process. However, a behaviourally-informed approach is more flexible and iterative, by drawing on data and well-designed measurement tools to ensure initiatives create the desired change. This approach focuses on measuring changes in actual behaviour, rather than simply measuring attitudes or awareness. Regularly capturing data enables organisations to adapt initiatives while the transformation is still in-flight, enabling a higher level of overall adoption and sustainable change. 

CASE STUDY: How Microsoft used behavioural science techniques to transform its culture and triple its value

The remarkable transformation of Microsoft under Satya Nadella’s leadership from 2014 is a testament to applying behavioural science to organisational change. By adopting a behaviourally-informed approach, Nadella not only transformed Microsoft’s culture but also significantly increased its market value. Let’s unpack how Microsoft leveraged each of the four behavioural science techniques in its change management program: 

  1. Shaping the social and physical environment: Recognising performance management as a powerful driver of organisational behaviour, Microsoft ceased their stack ranking system. This system previously forced managers to evenly split the rankings of their teams – similarly to the bell curve approach – and it was stifling innovation by fostering a fear of failure. The new performance management framework created a culture of learning and mutual success, and involved scoring employees on three dimensions: individual contributions, collaboration and leveraging collective strengths. Additionally, regular signals in the environment, such as managers’ reminders to approach challenges with a growth mindset at the start of a meeting, contributed to shaping the environment to align to the new culture. 
  2. Overcoming resistance to change by fostering a growth mindset: Nadella role-modelled the growth mindset he wanted to embed. A key example of this is when he sent out an internal memo to apologise for suggesting that women should not ask for raises, but rely on “faith” and “karma”. Nadella’s role-modelling and storytelling meant that he led by example. Similarly, leaders were encouraged to undertake ‘stretch assignments’ where they had to overcome fixed mindsets that something wouldn’t work. Role-modelling at every level of leadership helped to build employee buy-in to the change. 
  3. Designing effective communication strategies: Throughout the change program, Nadella adopted the mantra of shifting the company from “know-it-alls” to “learn-it-alls”. Microsoft used a multifaceted communication strategy to instil this mantra and growth mindset behaviours, including interactive games, quizzes, curated book collections and a mobile empathy museum. This approach enabled key messages to be reinforced over multiple touchpoints, aligned to different audiences’ preferred communication styles, and embedded the growth mindset culture as the new norm. 
  4. Building a culture of experimentation: Microsoft conducted daily pulse surveys to gather real-time feedback about employees’ perceptions of culture, their experiences with growth mindset practices and nuanced items such as perceptions of risk aversion. This enabled the organisation to constantly assess the state of the transformation program and to use behavioural data to adapt their change initiatives as needed. 

Microsoft’s cultural transformation not only highlights the importance of deeply understanding and applying behavioural science to drive change, but also the importance of culture in driving significant business success. By adopting a growth mindset culture, Nadella changed the course of Microsoft from a company that was headed toward obsolescence to one that was innovative and thriving. 

In the dynamic landscape of change management, harnessing the insights of behavioural science can be the differentiator between success and failure. At BIT, we specialise in leveraging behavioural science to help organisations navigate change successfully. Reach out to us today to learn more about how our approach can transform your change management efforts and drive sustainable results.

Want to learn more?

Our one-day executive programme in behavioural science for business leaders offers a deeper dive into the ways that behavioural insights can help you to manage change within your organisation.

Get in touch with us to learn more about how our global team of experts can help you with your transformation program.