Behavioural Change Strategies for the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide

Behavioural change in the workplace revolves around altering employees’ attitudes and actions to improve overall organisational performance. This change is vital in adapting to market trends, technological advancements, and evolving work dynamics. Behavioural change is not just about creating new policies but also about inspiring a shift in mindset and habits that leads to a more efficient and harmonious workplace.

“What are you practising, and does it nourish you?”
Al Jean – Unsplash

Behavioural Change Strategies

As we were all navigating the uncertainties of the past few years, I’ve been struck by how many of my clients have been practising new ways of doing things. They have been enjoying these habits, but how does one continue to weave them in as the years unfold?

Behavioural change is one of the most challenging things to do. Many of us know what we “should do”, but sticking to good habits can be difficult – even more so in times of great change.

We are always practising something. The question is, does our behaviour deplete us, or nourish us in everyday life?

The Importance of Behavioral Change in Today’s Work Environment

Today, the ability to adapt and evolve is crucial. Behavioural change strategies are essential in this context, offering tools to navigate challenges, enhance employee engagement, and drive organizational success. They are the cornerstone of building a resilient, agile, and forward-thinking workforce.

Identifying Areas for Behavioral Change

Recognising Behavioral Patterns and Habits
Identifying the need for change begins with a thorough understanding of existing behavioural patterns in the workplace. This involves observing daily interactions and creating as well as embedding new team behaviours.. Recognising these patterns helps in pinpointing specific areas where change is most needed.

Assessing Workplace Dynamics
In assessing and understanding workplace dynamics, insights are gained into how employees interact, collaborate, and respond to challenges. This awareness is crucial in formulating effective behavioural change strategies tailored to the team or organisation’s needs.

Foundations of Behavioral Change Strategies

Psychological Principles Behind Behavioral Change
Behavioural change in the workplace is grounded in psychological factors like motivation and perception. Understanding these helps in developing strategies that effectively resonate with employees.  People are far more likely to adopt and embed behaviours that they feel they have co-created rather than feeling mandated to adopt something that has been imposed upon them.

Core Strategies for Influencing Behaviour
Influencing workplace behaviour involves positive reinforcement, clear goal-setting, regular feedback, and employee empowerment. These strategies enhance engagement and productivity and create a positive work environment.

Implementing Behavioral Change Strategies

Steps to Introduce Behavioral Changes
To introduce behavioural changes, start with clear communication of goals and benefits. Engage employees in the process, provide training, and set measurable objectives for tracking progress.

Techniques for Effective Implementation
For effective implementation, use regular feedback, adapt strategies based on employee input, ensure leadership support, and celebrate small victories to maintain momentum and commitment.

Leadership and Behavioural Change 

Role of Leadership in Driving Change
Leadership is key in driving change; leaders set the vision, model desired behaviours, and motivate employees through clear communication and support.

Developing a Culture that Embraces Change
Creating a culture that embraces change involves fostering open communication, encouraging innovation, and building resilience to adapt to new challenges.  To survive and thrive a growth mindset is key.  The more individuals and teams are familiar with stepping out of their comfort zone, the more this becomes the norm and reminds them that having a fixed mindset leads to a stagnant culture.

Communication as a Tool for Behavioral Change

Effective Communication Strategies
Effective communication for behavioural change involves clarity, consistency, curiosity and empathy. It’s crucial to listen actively and convey messages that resonate with employees.

Overcoming Resistance Through Communication
To overcome resistance, address concerns transparently, provide a rationale for changes, and create a dialogue for feedback, fostering a sense of inclusion and understanding.

Training and Development for Behavioral Change

Designing Training Programs for Change
At LiveWorkWell, we design training programs focused on specific behavioural goals, incorporating interactive and practical elements to enhance learning and retention.

Measuring the Impact of Training on Behavior

Measure training impact through regular assessments, feedback, and observing changes in workplace behaviour and productivity post-training.

Technology and Behavioral Change

Digital Tools for Supporting Change
Utilise digital tools like e-learning platforms and performance-tracking software to facilitate and monitor behavioural change efficiently.

Leveraging Technology for Effective Change Management
Incorporate technology to streamline change management processes, enhance communication, and provide data-driven insights for continuous improvement.

Behavioural Change Strategies for the Workplace

Tailoring Strategies to Different Workplace Scenarios
Each workplace has its unique challenges and dynamics, requiring tailored behavioural change strategies. This section delves into how to customise these strategies to fit various workplace scenarios, ensuring they are practical and relevant.

Best Practices in Behavioral Change for Businesses
Implementing behavioural change in a business setting involves several best practices. This section outlines these practices, offering guidance on effectively introducing and sustaining behavioural change in the workplace.

Behavioural Strategies: Real-World Examples  

Say yes, not no.
In a famous study done in 2001 at the University of Maryland, two groups of students were asked to help a cartoon mouse get safely to a mouse hole. One group had some delicious cheese near the maze exit – this is known as positive or approach orientation.  The other group had an owl waiting to pounce on the mouse in a negative or avoidance orientation. 

Both groups solved the riddle in about two minutes, but what was interesting is the second test in which they had unknowingly taken part – measuring creativity.  Those who had avoided the owl performed 50% worse than the group who had helped the mouse. 

Comparing Approach and Avoidance Orientations

Their avoidant state of mind had shut down options, leaving the students with a lingering sense of fear and apprehension. They were less flexible and agile, whereas the group engaged in more approach-oriented behaviour were far better able to generate creative alternatives. (See Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman; The Effects of Promotion and Prevention Cues on Creativity by Friedman and Forster, 2001, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)

This ties in with so much of the thinking around how we thrive as individuals and teams when we have an approach-type mentality instead of an avoidance mentality. Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist at Stanford, recognises the value of positive motivation – seeing yourself thrive.  She encourages people to say “yes” to something new rather than it being about changing bad habits or saying “no”.  I love this idea of holding a vision of yourself succeeding and being drawn towards this, rather than being harsh with yourself for still having work to do. 

This sentiment is echoed in the team culture one of my clients is creating. He recently emailed:

“You might find it interesting that I took your advice ages ago to introduce a simple check-in at the beginning of our security leadership meetings where we went around and asked everyone to give one word describing their current state of mind.  In the last eight weeks, I’ve transitioned that over to one minute’s arriving practice at the beginning of our meetings, and the feedback has been great – the team are finding it very useful.”

Building Psychological Safety and Trust in Teams

Creating these behavioural changes is invaluable and embeds good habits that, in time, change the social norms within the team.  As teams create a sense of psychological safety, a culture develops that builds trust and ‘approach’ type behaviour, leading to greater engagement, productivity and creativity.  This is so different to environments where there is fear and avoidance of dealing with challenges.

Think small, not big with your behavioural change strategies

Big goals feel like a burden, so start ridiculously small, writes Sabina Nawaz, a leadership coach, in Harvard Business Review. Here are her tips:

  • Identify a micro habit. Want to read, exercise or meditate more? Start with one paragraph, one push-up or one minute of meditation a day. Small changes make a difference and feel do-able.
  • Make it part of a ritual. Tag it onto something else you do regularly. For example, meditate while making your morning coffee.
  • Don’t ramp up too soon. Keep it at that level for at least two weeks, then increase by 10%.
  • Measure it. People often find wearable devices make a difference, or mark it daily with Y or N on a simple “yes list” where you keep track of your new habit.
  • Rally social support. Engage a friend or colleague, or a small group, to hold you accountable.

One client started meditating a few minutes a day and kept track with an app she enjoyed. (See Seven of the best mindfulness apps). Many apps show how your practice builds over consecutive days, which can be very motivating. She says:

“Yesterday marked one whole year – 365 consecutive days of morning meditation practice – so I’ve not missed a single day in a year.  As you know, I’ve meditated on and off for many years (since I was 19 years old, actually), but never have I managed to stick to it for such a long time.  It’s such an important part of managing my stress, anxiety and coping in a very overstimulating world – so thank you.”

Connect with the why

Managing stress and anxiety to engage more effectively has been a powerful motivator for my client above, making engaging with the new behaviour much easier to commit to. In time, it becomes the new normal.

Kelly McConigal discusses connecting with the “why” rather than the “what”. Perhaps your motivation is about becoming fitter or feeling more supple – find something you enjoy and fit in well with your lifestyle.

Another client found avoiding public transport a powerful reason for their new exercise habit:
During to the pandemic, I started cycling to work on the days that I was in London – this was a 45-minute journey each way. Never thought I’d do it but didn’t want to get on the underground. I was surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed having this time between work and home.  I’m fitter, saving money and get to and from work in less time!

I hope people can “taste” the benefit in working with individuals and teams.  When we feel the benefits of being less stressed or feeling fitter, staying motivated becomes much easier.

Acknowledging that establishing new behaviours takes time as it involves small changes and social support.  I recently worked with a team whose eating habits had become more healthy. I was really curious to understand this better so asked what had led to this positive change.  It was the simple fact that they had a new team member who had prioritised a healthy lifestyle and seeing and hearing about this had in turn led to others in the team becoming aware that some of their old habits were unhealthy behaviours which weren’t serving them or those around them well.

Don’t have too many goals

Adopting too many goals at once bogs you down, says Dorie Clarke, who teaches at Duke University’s Business School and regularly contributes to Harvard Business Review. She identifies four key steps to help you prioritise which goal to focus on:

  1. What is the most important goal I can be working on right now? What really matters to me?
  2. Create a goal timeline. Don’t rush the process, but break it down into achievable, realistic steps
  3. Identify a keystone goal. If you accomplish this “bigger picture” goal, others will become more attainable too.
  4. Work towards this goal for a predetermined time. Common challenges are fearing that you are not doing enough or not doing the right things, which can lead to giving up too quickly to try something else. This is known as a ‘burn and churn’ phenomenon. Set a six-month period to focus on your goal.

So, what are you practising? Does it nourish you? Embed a new habit that supports you by saying yes to something positive, connecting with why it matters to you, starting small – and then sticking to it for a set time.