Nudge, nudge (3 August 2015)

Researchers recently showed that a “nudge” – adding a small note of encouragement – to a request to do something had an amazing – well, possibly! – impact on peoples’ subsequent behaviours.

The most graphic example was one from a JobCentre, which has had a big problem with unemployed people not turning up for arranged interviews. Reminders are sent on the morning of the interview by text. In this case, some received the following message:

Eight new Customer Assistant jobs are now available at Tesco. Come to Bedford Jobcentre on Monday 10 June between 10am and 4pm and ask for Sarah to find out more

11% turned up. But then the jobseekers name was added to the next batch:

Hi Julie, eight new Customer Assistant jobs are now available at Tesco. Come to Bedford Jobcentre on Monday 10 June between 10am and 4pm and ask for Sarah to find out more

The percentage of those turning up rose to 15%. But then the JobCentre adviser signed the next batch and wished the claimant good luck:

Hi Julie, eight new Customer Assistant jobs are now available at Tesco. Come to Bedford Jobcentre on Monday 10 June between 10am and 4pm and ask for Sarah to find out more. I've booked you a place. Good luck, Michael

The proportion turning up rose to 27%. Not brilliant, still, but a lot better. Apparently this “personal touch” is now being used in every JobCentre in the UK.

“Nudge theory” came from the publication of a book on behavioural economics, Nudge, written by US academics Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, and has been taken up by many organisations – at one level, it is an inexpensive way to get people to do the right thing, especially when more direct requests – pick up your litter, don’t step on the grass, pay your tax now – cause a negative reaction. The UK government even has a grandly named Behavioural Insights team to think up nudges – it claims success in reducing the drop-out rate from adult education classes, getting the elderly to switch to a cheaper energy supplier and encouraging students from poorer backgrounds to apply to university.

So what can the world of coaching learn from this development? Actually, coaching already knows this seemingly new theory! Treating people as you would wish to be treated, showing respect and kindness, being clear and polite – people, whether friends, colleagues, customers, whatever – are far more likely to respond positively if you show warmth and regard.

And there is an extra benefit that nudge theory seems not to have stressed; when we wish someone good luck, we start to connect with their situation, with their aspirations, to relate to it and understand, even a little, what their world is like. Which makes us feel good, too. So next time you are trying to make people do what you think they should, whether in person, by text, email, whatever – try a little nudging and feel good yourself

All the best

Graham

www.tigercoaching.co.uk - email: graham@tigercoaching.co.uk - tel: + (44) (0) 7890 360 806 - skype: tigercoaching1