Achieving Behaviour Change

In my last post I wrote about some of the tips that I have used to try and sustain a New Year’s resolution beyond that first week in January. They are also techniques that I have used to inform my approach to school improvement.

Click here for the New Year – New You post

Developing that theme is a very useful video from Jenni Cross (click here for the video) about the myths around behavioural change. There are some very simple steps that we can take to make our personal and professional approaches more effective:

Myth #1 – Education Drives Change

Many people and leaders can be frustrated that others do not ‘understand’ why there needs to be a change. All we have to do is educate those we wish to change, they will see the errors of their ways and change will be achieved.

Only it isn’t as easy as that!

If you want to try and share information that shows the rationale for the change, research shows that this must be:

  • TANGIBLE – the subject must be able to understand the information easily and it must be presented in a meaningful way. Simply throwing statistics at someone doesn’t help to change their mind or motivate them. They need to know what it means, what it looks like…
  • PERSONALISED – which leads to the second point, that information/education must be personal to the individual. In schools it is easy to launch a new initiative at a high level, but what it would look like in EYFS to how it might be enacted in a Y7 setting is likely to be very different. People need to see how the information relates to them or their job/role. Jenni Cross emphasises that each group needs information tailored to them. In schools we can be guilty as leaders of giving everyone the same – it would be too time consuming to present it differently for our various phases wouldn’t it? Does the information that you are harvesting and presenting resonate with each team, does it appeal to them, is it information they are interested in… if not then they are less likely to engage!
  • INTERACTION – and it isn’t enough to just ‘educate’. The information is much more effective if there is meaningful interaction. Do you throw new initiatives at your staff, or do you engage with them, listen to their ideas, talk through the risks/challenges they identify? How you sell something is just as important as what you are selling.

Putting up posters that people may or may not see is never as effective as talking to people.

Tom Sherrington wrote about how many schools try to evidence how they are driving behavioural change by littering the walls with posters – click here for the blog post

When the US Government team – responsible for improving home energy efficiency – used all 3 of the above strategies they saw a three fold increase in the number of homeowners tackling gaps and cracks in their homes (up to 60% from 20%).

FRAMING INFORMATION AS LOSS – is a proven effective way of engaging people in the change you are trying to drive. Humans are loss averse, and are more likely to respond DenverWaterBarrels.jpgto that, than being told what they are winning. A Denver campaign to save water used this strategy effectively. It showed that people underestimate how much they are losing. Adults don’t equate drips from a leaky tap to gallons of wasted water.

In much the same way, parents don’t equate the odd day off with missing months of education. Stephen Tierney wrote about this in his blog on how comparative data is a compelling way of getting parents to engage with their child’s attendance.

Myth #2 – You need to change attitudes to change behaviour

As a leader you can easily get caught up in getting people to buy into the big picture. An example can be those who want people to care more about climate change, but get frustrated when they still have the attitude that ‘climate change isn’t real’.

Instead, focus on the behaviour.

Attitudes follow behaviour

Telling your children that they need to contribute towards reducing the impact of climate change is not proven to be likely to encourage them to switch off lights when they leave the room. Instead SET BEHAVIOURAL EXPECTATIONS.

With pupils, don’t necessarily start with the vision statement about how you want to develop an understanding of citizenship. Start with the BEHAVIOUR EXPECTATION that they will say please/thankyou when they are in the dinner hall.

To help promote a culture of vigilance towards safeguarding in our schools we had reminder notes on all the teacher PCs of what to do if they had a concern about a child. The screensavers for all of the PCs and iPads featured a reminder of what to do if you saw something that made you feel uncomfortable. They both set a behaviour expectation that ‘if you see it, you report it’.

This seems to be contrary to the message earlier that ‘posters are just noise’. But rather than nebulous statements about ‘growth mindset’, these notes have a specific behaviour focus. Put together they build the impression that the school cares about safeguarding.

Changing the behaviour then begins to change the attitudes.

Myth #3 – People think they know what motivates them

Social norms are a powerful motivator for humans. That’s why street musicians place change in their open guitar case… once you see it and think that others have put money in, you do to.

What are the social norms in your organisation/school? What behaviours will staff see the leadership team demonstrating? How are you modelling the change that you want to see? Can you identify champions in different phases of the school to help you communicate these key messages and behaviours so that as many people see the new norm as possible?

The attendance letter highlighted in the Rodgers & Feller research is powerful as it communicates to parents that the social norm in your school is for pupils to attend far more regularly than their child currently is.

BUT – it is not enough to see the change in the guitar case. You really NEED TO SEE someone dropping the change in. The musician should bring their friend to walk past every 10mins and drop a coin in. This could be linked to working on the social networks of the families who are hardest to reach… can they help model the social norms you need to see, but can’t so easily influence?

Research in hotels showed that the most effective way to change the behaviour around recycling towels was:

  • NOT TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT – people think this big picture information is key… but it doesn’t actually motivate
  • instead, FOCUS ON WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING (the social norm) – 75% of people in this hotel recycle their towels. This message was over 20% more effective in getting people to change their behaviour.

There was a post by Malcolm Gladwell about spaghetti sauce. People typically misrepresent their preference for what they like. Coffee companies would tell you that the most popular coffee is milky, but when asked most consumers say they like strong dark coffee – completely at odds with the market research.

Similarly, people THINK that the big picture message/the vision is a key motivator. However the research shows that they are more likely to be influenced by the typical behaviours they see from their colleagues and leaders.

THE DANGER – if you aren’t careful you can create a campaign that actually increases the behaviour that you want to reduce. In this image it showed how much litter h

074ac8da14df5c29e45f77fabe170be2ad been dropped by the bus stop in a week. The aim was to reduce littering. Instead, it inadvertently gave the social norm message that EVERYONE LITTERS.

Make sure you watch the video




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