One of the most difficult things to achieve in internal or employee communications is behavioral change. Our brains are hard-wired to take the path of least resistance — carrying out an established habit takes little to no mental energy, while changing a habit takes a considerable amount of effort.
So when we ask our employees to change a habit, we’re asking them to do the mental equivalent of a set of push-ups. And just like real push-ups, convincing them to do it requires some motivation…solid, employee-centered motivation.
It’s Not About You
Usually, our motivation for asking folks to change is based on something like a bottom line, a national ranking, or a safety report. That leads you to want to give them reasons like:
- “Changing Habit X will save US money”
- “Changing Habit Y will make US look better among similar institutions nationwide”
- “Changing Habit Z will put US at the top of the safest places to work”
Now, this might not be fun to hear, but those are things that your target audience cares very little about. What do they care about?
By and large, your employees care about simple things like meeting their sales targets, completing a project by a deadline, or getting home in time for dinner. And chances are, the habits they’ve developed either give them those things, or at the very least don’t interfere with them. So the key is to reframe your reasons for change in a way that benefits them:
- “Changing Habit X will save YOU time”
- “Changing Habit Y will make YOU eligible for a performance bonus”
- “Changing Habit Z will ensure YOU go home safe every day”
Make It Easy
Habits are something we do almost without thinking, and when we’re trying to change, reminders can make a huge difference. So make helpful reminders and prompts a part of your change communications plan.
For example, say your managers are filing multiple expense reports each month, and you want them to file one aggregate report instead. As part of your campaign, make a recurring appointment for the last Thursday of each month, reminding them to file their aggregate report, and send it to them as an .ical file. This way, managers who are concerned they’ll forget to file after waiting a whole month don’t have to worry about it falling through the cracks.
And don’t underestimate the value of things like posters, screen-savers and giveaways (mouse pads, coffee mugs, pens, etc.) to keep the message top-of-mind. Reminders and repetition can only serve you and your campaign for change.
If the change you’re gunning for is driven by fiscal concerns, this might seem counterintuitive. But people often need motivation outside of “it’s the right thing to do” if they’re going to change a deep-seated habit, especially if it’s a major inconvenience for them.
Can you advertise a happy hour or lunch for employees who meet the request for change for a whole quarter? Or even better, get leadership to give anyone who goes one year without an accident an extra day of paid vacation? This kind of incentive gives people a concrete reward to remember when they face the inevitable difficulty and frustration that come with change. And generally, the more personal the incentive the better.
There are a LOT of things company leadership can do to help support your campaign. Things like leading by example and holding their managers accountable can have a huge impact. Unfortunately, those things are outside of a communicator’s control. But by keeping your message audience-centric, making change as easy as possible, and offering incentives, you can go a long way toward achieving company goals.