Business and People Strategy and Performance

Research: Applying Social Science to Behavioural Change

  • February 22, 2022

So what is behaviour change?

At the individual level, it is a person doing things differently to how they were done in the past. At the organisational level, in the words of Jonathan Kohn, former Vice President, HR Trading and Supply at Shell, it is “collectively changing habits at the same time. In order to change a community, every individual has to change too.” 

But how do we get people to do things differently – at all, much less collectively and at the same time?

We do so by articulating the change destination, getting buy-in and participation from senior leaders up front, understanding the attitudes and motivations of people at all levels of the organisation, assessing the barriers to change, and developing a structural and practical plan to execute change. Behavioural change is a journey – often complex, slow, and messy – and it is the job of change leaders to contextualise and curate this journey. By doing so, change leaders increase the chances of successfully arriving at the desired behavioural destination, and in a way that is easier for people and perhaps somewhat quicker than it might otherwise have been.

In this Briefing Paper, we explore many aspects of behavioural change, with a special focus on the insights that social science has to offer for designing and implementing behaviour change efforts. 

Chapter 1
We look at the reasons organisations might want to change behaviour and review the social scientific literature on behaviour change. Is it possible? How do you do it, in both structural and practical terms? Where do you start? 

Chapter 2
We share seven case notes of how organisations have approached behavioural change at individual, team, role, and organisational levels. What behaviour needed to change? For what business reasons? How did the organisation implement the change? Did it work? And what lessons were learned?

Chapter 3
We share summary notes from CRF’s recent two-day workshop, Applying Social Science to Behavioural Change, led by Grace Lordan, Founding Director, The Inclusion Initiative and Associate Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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