James Warne
27th Feb 2024
Article

Why run a behavioural experiment programme?

Businesses are facing more change and complexity than ever. The transformation needed to stay ahead is at the top of almost every leaders’ list of priorities. But time and again we hear that with organisational focus and energy firmly fixed on technology, process, operations and now even AI-implementation, the people and culture side of change that can’t run fast enough. Why? Behaviours. Senior leaders don’t feel they’re seeing the right behaviours in their people to drive the change they need. Sound familiar?

It could be that through a challenging hybrid environment, your people aren’t connecting or collaborating how you feel they should; perhaps there’s too much reliance on the status quo, and not enough innovation or creativity; or maybe there’s not enough risk-taking, agile decision-making or entrepreneurship around…Whatever operational challenge you’re facing, I would bet my bottom dollar it’s got a behavioural root cause, which can be identified through actively listening to your people.

Running behavioural experiment programmes can tackle these root causes, and can be used for a wide range of cultural and business goals. You may want:
– To achieve a target culture or particular strategic outcome (e.g. a culture of control or entrepreneurialism)
– To embed your new purpose or values, bringing them to life in an exciting way; or
– To empower your people to show up differently with each other and your clients so you don’t lose out.


So let’s say (as a recent large infrastructure client of ours did), you decide you need a culture of collaboration. What does that actually mean in practice? Do we organise a team lunch? Do we break out the Lego? Don’t you just love it when people tell you to – “Be more collaborative!”… it’s like “Yes! thank you!!! What a solution to all of our problems”. Tick. No. The key is to get specific and identify individual behaviours that sit underneath this that are observable and specific (e.g. sharing information openly with one another, creating an inclusive environment where everyone’s opinion is listened to, or speaking up and saying the important things in the moment); only then do people begin to understand what is genuinely expected of them, and relate it to their day-to-day. Once your people know what these are, you have your grounding for experiments.

So what actually is a behavioural experiment programme?


The design can vary depending on the outcomes you’re looking to achieve, the size of the group, the operational environment, and existing culture. A typical programme might be a 6-8 week sprint cycle of experiences, helping teams dial-up behaviours to overcome a challenge that’s real and on their desk right now. As one Kin&Co client said recently, the objective is to provide people a “behavioural problem-solving framework they can use again and again to improve their working experience”.


How it feels is important too, our Service Innovation Director Mav Popat gives some insight this:
“Each session should be a designed and thoughtful experience. Let’s say if you’ve got a new group coming together, start by connecting them with a purposeful energiser, for example – ‘in pairs, you have three minutes to find something strange you have in common’. This breaks down barriers and sets the right energy and emotional state for an engaging programme.”

So how do you run a behavioural experiment programme successfully?


Three principles for behavioural experiment success:


1. Start with the strategic outcomes you want – “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.” Whilst behavioural experiments can create a sense of collective dynamism and energy on their own, they should be directional to have the biggest impact. Is there a target behaviour or culture you’ve identified? Or more broadly, what are the business’ strategic goals, and how can we ensure all the experimentation is grounded in the behaviours that power these? It is worth spending time at the outset of any behavioural experiment programme to identify what we want the target culture to be, communicate this clearly with the group, and embed the requisite behaviours as the “focus behaviours” that the group will “dial-up” when designing their experiments.


Example experiment (Trust): One client recently needed to dial-up behaviours around trust existing within a defined behavioural charter. The experiment was for a manager to allow team members to choose which job they wanted to prioritise from their weekly list rather than their team leader. They were then given direct access to their line manager / senior teams for support when they needed it.


2. Ground the programmes in behavioural science – ensure core behavioural science principles are used throughout the programme. The IKEA effect (a theory that documents how people are more committed to something that they’ve had a hand in creating), should be leveraged to build ownership for those performing the experiments. If they design the experiments themselves (within the guardrails of the focus behaviours as above), they are far more likely to commit to the change.

When designing the programme, think about the COM-B Model of behaviour change:

Capability

Ensure your team are equipped and upskilled to be able to understand the concepts and perform the experiments themselves; this takes some thought and time to get right;


Opportunity

As a client said recently – “The biggest learning for me is to take time and to properly reflect” – make sure your people are given enough space through the programme to reasonably apply the concepts, (e.g. how much protected time for the sessions will you give? What support will be provided for them?) If the group doesn’t feel the organisation is investing in this properly, why should they?


Motivation

Ensure each individual grounds the experiments they design in the operational challenges that matter to them right now. They need to be passionate about the prospect of solving them, providing the incentive to focus.

Example Experiment (Collaboration): The team faced a serious challenge around working silos, so set up and hosted fortnightly collaboration sessions with leaders from other departments. These sessions were used to get clear on delivery expectations, align on best-practice, troubleshoot on shared challenges, and build closer working relationships. The experiment was grounded in the motivation of the group.


3. Measure, Measure, Measure! – we don’t just mean a survey here. You need to measure how people are thinking differently, how they’re acting differently, but most crucially for ROI, what is the genuine business impact of the experiments that have been run. Get the group to be specific, how much time did they save for them and their teams? What teams or people were brought together? What processes were established, improved, or efficiencies unlocked? Whilst the full extent of the impact is often under the surface, the more you can measure, the more you know where to redouble your efforts, and replicate these principles for other teams.

Example Experiment (Empowerment): Faced with the knowledge that the team leader was a bottle-neck, she gave all decision-making power to her team for one week, then reviewed the decisions and discovered that 98% of them were the same she would have made or better. With the 2% difference being due to the team missing information which she would be able to provide them.

There is no doubt behaviour-change is hard, but behavioural experiments can provide an experience that shifts peoples’ mindsets, which then in-turn influences their behaviour. We know that when big transformations fail, it’s because all the energy is going into the process and system change only; the best organisations know to invest in culture from the start, building confidence and capability across the team from day one. Plus, given it is investment in your people, and how they do what they do; it can be the gift that keeps on giving.


At Kin&Co, we can work closely with you to design an effective programme for your strategic objectives, specific organisational context, and allocated budget. A recent eight week programme we led resulted in a 37% increase in collaboration, a 2x increase in the application of desired behaviours, and c£150k saved in team time. We have the experience in these programmes to be able to predict the impact we can have to de-risk the investment too, ensuring it’s a cost-effective way to make change happen in a challenging market. Get in touch if you’d like to explore further!


“I’m really proud of the team’s progress, they’ve come a long way. Whilst it’s a journey, they are now more equipped to lead on behaviours in the way they should. There has definitely been a shift, and we’re seeing the team act together as one; it’s great to see, and a testament to what Kin&Co have done.” Kin&Co Client