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Exploiting behavioural science to support a digital transformation programme

This piece is the fifth article of our July issue of FOCUS, the theme of which is digital transformation.

19 August 2020

Exploiting behavioural science to support a digital transformation programme

The introductory article in this edition alluded, not just to the importance of establishing technical architectures to support a Digital Transformation programme, but for a complimentary ‘action architecture’ to be created by the Senior Leadership Team to enable behavioural change to take place.

Whilst numerous Digital Transformation programmes successfully deliver the technological change, persuading stakeholders to embrace and fully exploit the new tools and functionality that they will have at their disposal can be an uphill battle.

This can be achieved by establishing an effective and inclusive ‘action architecture’, but many programmes insufficiently resource them or fail to establish one at all.

For six decades now, researchers have studied human behaviour and there can be little doubt that there’s a science to the art of persuasion. One of the most eminent and respected behavioural scientists in this area is Professor Robert Cialdini.

Cialdini has studied this phenomenon for years, his management books have sold millions and organisations embarking on Digital Transformation programmes would do well to read his work.

Cialdini’s 6 principles

Cialdini’s work in this domain has determined six factors that guide human behaviour. These are: Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Liking and Consensus.

If Digital Transformation Programme Board members are able to understand these shortcuts and can employ them in an ethical manner, then the likelihood of stakeholders being persuaded to change their behaviours can be significantly increased and this will enhance the likelihood of the benefits being realised from a Digital Transformation Programme’s Business Case.

Readers wishing to read more on Cialdini’s work can find it here

Applying principles of persuasion to a Digital Transformation programme

There are numerous ways that Cialdini’s principles can be applied within a Digital Transformation Programme and these are likely to depend on the culture of the company and the willingness of the Programme Board to use them. Here we explore the use of Authority. Consistency and Consensus.

Authority: This principle is about the concept that people will follow the lead of knowledgeable and trustworthy experts. So if stakeholders believe that there is unanimous support for the programme from the senior leadership team and the external company that has been brought in to support the delivery of the programme is credible and has a solid track record of success, then they will buy into the change. This might include testimonials of the previous programmes that they have supported and the business benefits that have been realised by previous clients.

Consistency: This principle is predicated on the idea that people are partial to things that they have previously said or done. So, by engaging with stakeholders early and asking them for a small commitment or action, it will then be far easier for this commitment to be increased rather than delaying engagement and then asking for a significant commitment when change is imminent and required. A Digital Transformation Programme could therefore release a Beta version of a future tool to get users familiar with some of its mechanisms for building cross-functional support across a less siloed organisation, in preparation for migration to full functionality later.

This breaking down of organisational silos (and internal vertical alignment and open architecture structures) supports a culture that is far more inclusive and agile, and one that is not shy of cross functional collaboration.

Consensus: The final principle that could be applied is Consensus. This is particularly useful as it is most applicable when people are uncertain. This is when stakeholders will choose to look at the behaviours and actions of their co-workers to determine their own. If these social norms are supportive of the programme, then they are more likely to buy in too.

This could be applied by promulgating statistics of the number of staff that are already using a new tool or piece of functionality, along with recommendations of its utility. When uncertain users see this level of adoption, they are far more likely to follow.

As these simple steps require few resources to implement while yet yielding significant benefits, including a significant ROI on a business’ strategy, shareholder value and team morale, it seems a no-brainer then for programme teams to consider persuasion science as one of their delivery agents.

Meet the author

Jon Heaton

Lead Cyber Security Consultant, BMT

Jon Heaton

Lead Cyber Security Consultant, BMT

With over 30 years’ experience in the communications industry, Jon’s experience was primarily accrued from a full career in the British Army where he completed a myriad of roles and deployments including his final 7 years being spent in cyber appointments. Jon is the cyber capability lead within BMT’s Technology and Innovation Services (TIS) team, where he heads up a burgeoning cyber practice that is currently delivering a number of high profile contracts and looking to grow further. Jon has a particular interest and expertise in the human elements of cyber security, instigated through an MSc dissertation in the domain. He is also a Chartered Engineer, Chartered IT Professional and an active Fellow of the British Computer Society.

To contact Jon, please email

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