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Brain circuits

Changing employee behavior part four: environment as a lever of change

Published 17 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

In order to achieve sustained change in employees’ behavior, managers should also use the key levers summarized in the MAPS model: motivation, ability, psychological capital, and supporting environment In parts two and three we looked at motivation and psychological capital.

Building a supportive environment for behavioral change

The final element in the MAPS model for sustaining changes in employee behavior is creating a supportive environment in terms of physical environment, team dynamics, and organizational culture.

A supportive environment can be built with three levers: social support, habit structure, and choice architecture. The first two are not largely influenced by managers, whereas the last one is both controllable and efficient when it comes to behavior change.

Choice architecture is based on nudges – referring to the unconscious choices people make, without coercing them. Managers can influence behavior through the following five nudges:

Information framing. The same fact can be presented in different ways. Experts, more confident people, and those who are close to achieving their goal respond best to criticism, whereas beginners and unconfident people react better to praise and positive comments.

Priming commitment. This can be achieved by having employees sign their development plans. Priming openness can be achieved by using more comfortable chairs, whereas harder chairs lead to tougher positions in negotiations. Priming confidence can be achieved by using more positive words in conversation or written feedback.

Loss avoidance. People are more motivated by the thought of losing something than of receiving a reward. Losses are perceived as around two and a half times more powerful than gains, so set the goal to avoid losses.

Decision economics. This is simple: In order for change to happen, the costs and benefits of the change should add up and be clearly communicated.

Social influence. Making people aware of social norms (desired or actual) changes their behavior. Because people care about their reputation, peer pressure and accountability can also help influence behavior.

As a manager, practicing the art of subtle nudges in the right direction can help you become very effective at getting employees to alter their behaviors.


Shlomo Ben-Hur

Shlomo Ben-Hur

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior

Professor Shlomo Ben-Hur works on the psychological and cultural aspects of leadership, and the strategic and operational elements of talent management and corporate learning. He is the Director of IMD’s Changing Employee Behavior program and IMD’s Organizational Learning in Action, and author of the books Talent IntelligenceThe Business of Corporate Learning, Changing Employee Behavior: a Practical Guide for Managers and Leadership OS.


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