Business woman making the decision to changeMaking the decision to change

One of the things I really love about being a business change enthusiast is the number of different topics which resonate with my work. There always seems to be something new to learn about business change from different industries and professions.

I recently went to a free talk given by Dr Liraz Margalit, a web psychologist (who knew there was such a thing!). Dr Liraz uses neuroscience and behavioural economics to analyse and explain online behaviour. The context of the talk was how to encourage more consumers to buy things online. However, it was really all about how people make decisions, which is hugely relevant to business change when we need to support end users making the decision to change.

Decisions needed from end users

During business change, there is a lot of decision making carried out by our end users. Initially, these individuals have to decide whether they will engage in, support and buy into our change. During implementation, they have to make the decision whether to make the effort to change their behaviours and work in new ways. Their final, and probably most important decision, is whether to continue with the change once the initial focus and excitement has worn off and new ways of working need to embed into business as usual.

Dr Liraz’s talk struck me as hugely relevant to these decisions making points. I was especially interested in how online retailers try to predict what decisions people are going to make.

When trying to predict decision-making behaviour, many online retailers make two erroneous assumptions. These are:

  1. an individual’s decision of what to buy is based on their previous behaviour
  2. an individual’s decision of what to buy is based on the behaviour of other people with similar profiles

Assumption 1: past behaviour can predict future behaviour

I recently bought my young nephew a present from a well-known online retail site. The purchase was a one-off, and completely different to anything I have bought before or since. However, I now frequently receive recommendations for children’s adventure books. The retailer made the assumption that because I bought one once, I would do so again in the future. Rather than being helpful, I find these recommendations enormously irritating.

Thinking about this after the talk, I began to wonder how many times I have made similar assumptions about my stakeholders. Just because they behaved in one way towards change in the past, does this mean they will do so again? I know that I am often pleasantly surprised when I initially engage with so called ‘difficult’ stakeholders. These are the people who have resisted or caused difficulties with previous changes, and are therefore assumed to be negative about all change. Alternatively, initial engagement with stakeholders described as ‘really nice and supportive’ can sometimes be challenging. If they don’t support aspects of my change, they are not always quite so nice and supportive!

Assumption 2: individual behaviour can be predicted by comparison with others

Dr Liraz explained this assumption by describing a man who bought some olives from a foodstore, and was offered flowers and champagne as well. Previous customers were obviously a romantic bunch, and the store assumed that this behaviour was common for all olive-buyers. The man became increasingly annoyed as he was constantly offered items he did not want to purchase.

This assumption also resonated deeply. How often have I tried to repeat a successful business change activity, only for it to receive a poor reception with different stakeholders? At its worst, this assumption leads to my pet hate – a business change methodology rolled out for all changes, regardless of individual circumstance. We cannot assume our current stakeholders want champagne and flowers with their olives, just because the last stakeholders did.

Different context, different behaviours

Online retailers have confirmed that when it comes to dealing with people’s decision making, there are no easy assumptions to make. Past behaviour, or behaviour from people with a similar profile, cannot predict an individual’s future behaviour. Not only that, but making the assumption that it can leads to lots of irritated stakeholders. We need to work harder than this to support users making the decision to change. We need to understand context, culture and the individual concerns and motivations of each individual. This constant research, analysis and adaptation is one of the things that makes business change such an interesting field.

A quick google search shows there is a lot written about the psychology of decision making. I’m off to see what else I can find. In the meantime, if you want to explore more about online behaviour, Dr Liraz writes a very interesting blog for Psychology Today. It’s worth a read to see what else we can learn to help us with our business change.