Originally published on August 14th, 2019 on www.smdhr.com.

The “nudging” approach has become a popular idea in the HR technology landscape of late. This theory first became popular in 2008 when Richard Thaler (a Nobel prize-winning behavioral economist) and Cass Sunstein published Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. The primary application was intended for behavioral economics and public policy. So how does it apply to HR?

What is a Nudge?

But first, let’s discuss what a “nudge” is. A “nudge” is an indirect suggestion or subtle reminder intended to influence people’s behavior, according to Forbes[i]. Essentially, the goal of “nudging” is to steer individuals towards making the right choice.

How to Apply Nudging to Employee Surveys

When applying Thaler and Sunstein’s theory to the world of HR, we should focus on the “intended to influence people’s behavior” portion of the definition. Nudging is not a reminder. We all know what a reminder is. We also know that reminders are easily forgotten and oftentimes lead to zero action.

The applications of “nudging” in HR seem almost endless (e.g., coaching, training, etc.). So, to narrow the scope of this blog, I will focus specifically on the application through a core HR process – the employee experience or engagement survey.

A core part of our business at SMD is to provide this specific service to organizations through our platform (SMD Link) and our supporting services. So, “nudging” is a critical facet of how we get managers to take action (i.e., action planning) on his/her survey results. We know that our services are only as good as the actions managers take after the actual survey is over.

Eight Post-Survey Nudging Tips

Below are several ways you can apply nudging to the post-survey process. We apply these methods through our survey platform and our HR partners inside of organizations. I’ve also included one example from our approach (I can’t give all of our secrets to reducing voluntary turnover by 11% with our clients!).

  1. Provide facts that lead to the intended action: This one is straightforward. Through communications in our platform and other traditional channels we encourage managers to build an action plan with evidence-based facts like “Managers that build an action plan reduce their voluntary turnover by 46%.”
  2. Reinforce behavior through feedback: In HR we know feedback works. This one can be as simple as a pop-up communication that says “Congratulations! You just completed the first step in reducing your turnover by submitting an action plan.”
  3. Make the decision-making process easy through defaults: The goal here is to ensure managers are making the best decisions possible. We do this through the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in our tool. Our reporting system tells every leader exactly what to work on and what to do about it. Our Action AI functionality pre-populates a plan with proven actions. This makes the decision-making as easy as possible – no analysis paralysis or expecting all managers to be OD experts. The tool does it for them so they can spend time and energy on making improvements.
  4. Provide incentives to reinforce behavior: This is another strategy HR practitioners are very familiar with. You can reward managers with a $5 gift card when an action plan is completed or reward points through the company’s reward and recognition program.
  5. Use competition to encourage the intended action: This strategy has become more popular in recent years.  For the survey, providing periodic updates on action-planning compliance can help motivate managers – “65% of your peers have completed an action plan.” This headline paired with a system reminder will be more effective in driving action. Companies use this principle all the time to encourage completion of a survey but often forget about the most important part – doing something with the results!
  6. Use compliance to motivate the conscientious: Managers that are high on the conscientious trait will be motivated by a need to complete a task and comply with a request. For them, the traditional compliance report will work the best. A standard reminder email and deadline will supply all the necessary motivation.
  7. Stakeholder Influence/Involvement: Getting leaders’ attention when nudging is critical, and having the nudge come from a key stakeholder of the business outcomes that you are focused on (e.g. CEO, COO, CFO) adds a sense of urgency and gravity. Yes; a nudge from the technology is great, but having that technology facilitate a nudge from a senior leader is even better.
  8. Communicate with managers using multiple formats and channels: This last principle guides the methods when the previous seven principles are applied. For example, instead of just sending out a text-based action-planning tip, provide a short video with recommendations. People prefer different types of communication, so it makes sense to provide them.

As you can see, building a comprehensive nudging strategy requires various tactics using multiple communication methods. Surveys don’t matter if managers don’t actually take action. When a strategy applies all the principles of “nudging,” the impact and success of the survey initiative will increase substantially.

Ready to learn more about nudging? Listen to our recorded webinar: Navigating New Technology: How to Use Artificial Intelligence & Nudging in HR here.

Happy nudging!