dan ariely giving his ted talk lecture
Learning

Influencing Behavior in Training

  •  
3 Minutes

The best trainers in the world understand that their role doesn't end with knowledge transfer and retention. The best trainers look for ways they can cultivate changes in learner behavior.

This is what we learned from Dan Ariely, a social psychologist and professor from Duke University, who was featured in a TED Talks video in December, 2019. In this short video titled, "How to Change Your Behavior for the Better", Dan talks about how to influence people toward performing the actions they know they should. He focuses on the question: "What's the best way to get people to change their behavior?" While we aren't intending to oversimplify his research, let's briefly look at his big premise...it is still worth it for you to view his short clip for yourself (you really should as he's quite humorous and endearing!).

black and white image of dan ariely sitting in a recliner
Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight.

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Dan begins by saying that behavior change can be compared to getting a rocket into space. The question is, what is needed? He then submits that first, people need a reduction in friction, and second, they need as much fuel as possible. Simple, right? We're glad he left out all the telemetry and physics!

From here, Dan humorously talks about two examples of behavior change. First, he tells how he helped a company prompt people to respond to mailers (just think how difficult this is by asking whether you respond to mailers); and second, he informs how he helped motivate some of the poorest people in Africa to save money while on very low budgets (again, consider the difficulty you have had in this area).

a pill bottle on its side with pills on the counter next to it

In the first example, people weren't responding to mailers which asked them to switch from name-brand to generic prescriptions.

Even though it would save them money, going through a process of filling out paperwork didn't outweigh the benefit of switching drugs. So Dan told the company he was helping they needed to reduce the friction, or pain, of the process.

Instead of framing it as giving their clients something (a reduced cost on medicine), he suggested that the company set it up as potentially losing something (their medicine). By not responding to the mailer, the clients' subscription service would end. They simply needed to respond to a mailer stating that they wanted to continue with the service. Now, the prescription drug users would be forced to answer the mailers, or they wouldn't receive their most important benefit—medicine. Since they had to do paperwork anyway, this would be a perfect place for the company to ask if they would like to save money by switching to generic meds. Ariely claims, "The vast majority switched." Lower friction and increase fuel.

In the second example of getting impoverished families to save money, it was also about reducing friction and adding fuel, or motivation. In this instance, they used a similar, simple tactic. To get people to save, they gave a percentage of money to people before they saved anything, with the understanding that if the Africans didn't save money for the week, the initial deposit was taken back. Many were influenced because they had a fear of losing what they already had, as opposed to gaining something they didn't have. Make sense?

The other tactic was for the African families to make a vertical mark on a token on the days that they saved money, and a horizontal mark on the days that they didn't save money.

a jar full of american coins

Dan submitted that this simple act of seeing a tangible result of an intangible, or invisible action, had the greatest impact. Although they couldn't see the immediate benefit of putting money aside, scratching a coin gave them something they could see...a real result. As the motivation increased, the pain, or friction of not saving money was reduced.

So what does this mean for leading, training, and managing people? Simply put, if you want to motivate your people, you would benefit from thinking about motivating through changing friction and increasing fuel. Don't think tangible rewards, so much as tangible markers (refrain from going to the extreme of, "You'll lose your job!" or "The winner gets a new car!"). Perhaps it's much simpler. What would happen if the highest performer got bragging rights? To lose those bragging rights might be as influential as gaining the bragging rights in the first place? Or what if a bonus is added at the beginning of the month? If performance is low, the bonus amount drops. Or how about offering training courses where trainees begin with points? Instead of winning points, now they only have to focus on maintaining those points?

These are just some simple thoughts that we hope stir your thinking, which is why we posted this; and again, we highly encourage you to consider new methods of influencing your people. You can start by checking out Dan Ariely's TED Talk.

For more information about elearning, learning & development, or leveling up your business training, check out our podcast, ConveYour: On Learning & Development. Or book a FREE demo today!

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