Increase Productivity with a Little Nudge

Increase Productivity with a Little Nudge

by Erin R. Lusby-Donovan, M.Ed, BCBA

Organization’s thrive on the productivity of their employees. If you are in a management role, it can almost be guaranteed that you have been part of change in policies and procedures with the intent to increase employee productivity. It would also be safe to say that also during those times of change, you have been met with resistance and unwanted push back. Imagine if organizational change and employee productivity could occur with aversive consequences?

Nudge management is a an approach to management that applies behavioral principles to an organizational context. It attempts to alter staff behavior by making simple, seemingly unnoticeable changes to an environment that can have a large desired impact.  As a result, productivity can increase with little effort from the employee.

Ebert and Freibichler (2017) provide several examples of how nudge management can aid in solving common workplace problems and increase productivity.

  • Reduce time wasted in meetings by reducing the default duration of meetings
  • Limit number of distractions throughout the day by scheduling blocks of work.
  • Require days free from meetings to allow employees to engage in periods of “deep work.”
  • Arrange environments to ensure staff from different departments are to easily interact. This promotes “knowledge sharing”, critical for next generation innovation of products and ideas.
  • Reduce distraction by turning off email or phone notifications during periods of time when important tasks need to be completed.

These changes to an organization’s environment and expectations are small in scale.  The behavior change that occurs can often got unnoticed by an employee.  Increasing employee productivity does not have to come with harsh changes of policy, it can occur with simple nudges in the right direction.

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Ebert, P. & Freibichler, W. (2017). Nudge Management: Applying behavioural science to increase knowledge worker productivity.  Journal of Organizational Design, 6(4), 1-6.

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Case Study: Creating a context for more effective team communication

Case Study: Creating a context for more effective team communication

An 8-member business unit participated in data-driven consulting and alerts. Their goal was to increase the effectiveness of their communication and discuss difficult, often avoided topics, effectively. Natural Language Processing of staff communications and brief text prompted surveys were used to measure staff behavior and needs during the culture building intervention.

Communication was monitored for a total of three months. Consultants were made available and alerts sent to the team when key behaviors signaled improvement or need.

Pictured to the right: We were able to see changes in communication volume. Through monitoring these and other individual and group communication patterns we were able to monitor distress, satisfaction, and engagement in skills training exercises.



To the Left: Patterns in expressed emotion alerted us to difficulties within customer and employee interactions.

We offered targeted support and skills building, strengthening performance.


Employees reported a >100% increase in the financial value of their daily performance.

Analysis revealed a >25% increase in conversations that addressed target issues identified by management (e.g., operations & budgetary relevance).

Measurement of team alignment in purpose indicate significant increases in “purpose alignment” and a leveling out of work rhythms that had increased employee stress.

Leadership reported increased ROI from regularly scheduled strategic meetings and a change in strategy that improved the financial viability of the unit. Leadership requested continued monitoring and engagement with ENSO Group to address continuing needs and the needs of other business units.

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How to change a culture.

How to change a culture.

Photo by Pratham Gupta on Unsplash

Article by Angela Cathey

We work with companies to improve their cultures. I’ve noticed this term, “culture” inspires a bit of awe and confusion in both business and behavioral analytic communities.

Business leaders have come to a relative state of agreement that “culture is king” (source unknown) and “culture eats strategy for breakfast. (Peter Drucker)” . There’s less agreement about what culture is and if it is indeed changeable at all.

What is “culture”?

From a behavior analytic perspective, culture isn’t so ambiguous. It’s an emergent quality that arises from the interaction of behaviors. This may sound ambiguous but it makes what business often sees as vital and difficult to change, changeable.

Culture isn’t an amorphous cloud.

It’s the psychological effect of a collection of behaviors. It’s the product of people behaving together or over time (see Houmanfar, Rodrigues, & Ward, 2010) for a more thorough analysis. The import point is – it’s changeable and it’s the product of your interpersonal behavior, biases, policy decisions (laws, strucutres, etc.), and verbal behavior. With everything we do, we show others what we see as important, unimportant, desirable, and undesirable.

It sounds like a lot – but changing a culture is a matter of making different choices. It’s creating an environment that is purposeful, well-designed, and makes the choice to appropriately reinforce or reward what truly ‘matters.’ By looking at the collective behaviors of a culture, a business, and the experiences that relate to them (e.g., psychological safety), we can use behavior analysis to move key switch points and change a culture for the better.

If you’re thinking now, so what’s the answer – what do I do?

1. Start with the realization that the answer is dependent on the problem & desired endpoint. There is no single solution. Thankfully, their are methods and practices that have great evidence supporting them, these include behavior analysis and measurement.

2. With the endpoint you seek in mind, measure actual behavior and how it influences this endpoint.

3. Apply behavior analytic principles to create change and support that change.

4. Continue to measure and apply – real behavior change requires teaching skills to fluency and supporting the use of those skills. It’s not as complicated as it may sound – but it requires real thought and application of science to meet your goal.

What to know more about how to change culture? Contact us for a free consultation.


Houmanfour, R., Rodrigues, N. J., & Ward, T. A. (2010). Emergence and metacontingency: Points of contact and departure. Behavior and Social Issues, 19, 78-103.

Ten books to help you create a better world.

Ten books to help you create a better world.

In this post, I recommend 10 books that show us how we can create a better future. These books are perspective shifting. They organize the chaos of our world and provide new direction for creating a better world.

  1. More Human: Designing a world where people come first by Hilton, Bade, & Bade

This book begins with a poignant story of the clash between humanity and red tape. A mother on a plane with a three-year-old is near removed as a disruptive passenger. Why?  Her child had to use the bathroom while the “fasten seatbelts” sign was lit.

This book is about designing better systems so we treat each other more humanely. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why the does everyone seem so content to blindly hurt each other?” This one’s for you. Design is a tool that can support our strengths or weaknesses. Choose wisely and enjoy.

  1. Blindspot by Anthony Greenwald

Blindspot is a book about our thinking biases and the influence that these have on our everyday behavior. Though I’m a behavior analyst I’ve also worked closely with cognitive psychologists and used tools like the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and its’ more behaviorally grounded counterparts.

I’d hope that everyone would read this book and take the biases to heart. Stop and notice exactly how much of our world we simply perceive and react to “as if.” Though the ability to automatically categorize our lives and react accordingly is essential ability to reduce the chaos around us to understandable level –  it often blinds us. In Blindspot, Anthony Greenwald talks about the most common effects of these blindspots and some of the ways in which we can detect our blindspots. Using this knowledge and stepping to behavior analytic theory – we can gain a better grasp of how to step back from the pervasive influence of assumption in our lives.

  1. Social Physics: How good ideas spread – lessons from a new science by Alex Pentland

Alex Pentland is a former MIT Media Lab leader. The MIT Media Lab is a veritable gift to cultural and scientific innovation. Those that have led or “grown-up” in this innovation stronghold have spawned technologies that now touch every aspect of our lives.

One these innovations that is quickly taking hold in the business world is, Alex Pentland’s People Analytics. People Analytics is a specific variety of Data Science that follows from “Social Physics,” essentially a Big Data application of sensor technologies (badges, passive mobile data, etc.) to understanding social behavior dynamics. Pentland term’s these dynamics “Social Physics.” Social Physics specifically tends to deal with how structural (i.e., architectural, ergonomic, or human factors) factors influence human interaction patterns.

Here we’re seeing the science of how organizations work at the level of placement of the water cooler, or speed of preferred communication forms, results in change in interaction patterns between employees. It’s a look at the many things that go unnoticed but yet deeply influence how we interact with each other.

  1. The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan

The Social Labs movement is near and dear to us. This book, and the movement it describes, addresses a movement and methodology that is being used to solve complex social problems. It’s a look at the types of institutions we’ve traditionally used to solve issues that matter, their failings, and a manifesto for creating hybrid organizations that marry social entrepreneurship to participatory applied research methods. 

  1. People Analytics by Ben Waber

This volume further elaborates on what the “new science” of People Analytics has found in its first few years of Big Data research in organizations. The methods used by Waber and other’s (“People Analytics”) are new in the technological sense, but simply make contingencies previously unobservable more observable.

This methodology is potentially a great growth area for behavior analysis. People Analytics as a framework has traditionally focused on large-scale predictive analytics (i.e., they’re using an analytic strategy that relies on averages and unfortunately can speak little to adjusting for better outcomes in the evolving context). Behavior analysis, used in coordination with these types of live-feed data collection methods allows the behavior analytic practitioner to take a look at behavior at micro and macro levels, and cater change efforts to their function at multiple levels. This allows for a more powerful, flexible, and scalable ‘medicine’ than simple predictive models for change management.

  1. Honest Signals: How they shape our world by Alex Pentland

This is another volume further that describes methodology that can be used to measure contingencies ‘typical’ in interpersonal interactions. Though cultural and individual differences may be ‘averaged’ out by the traditional analytic strategy used by People Analytics practitioners the measurement is useful for behavior analytic purposes.  Some of the topics of interest included in this volume include understanding how vocal tone, body positioning, and other ever present social variables tend to influence others.

  1. The Time Paradox: The new psychology of time that will change your life by Phillip Zimbardo

Phillip Zimbardo was made famous by his early work with the Stanford Prison experiment. Unfortunately, few may be aware of his more recent work which has focused much more on the effects of one’s predominantly used time perspective. If you’re more familiar with Relational Frame Theory (RFT) and temporal deictics you’ll find the response sets described around “future focus”, “past focus”, and “present focus” interesting.

  1. The Nurture Effect: How the science of human behavior can improve our lives and our world by Anthony Biglan

Anthony Biglan writes this inspiring text. Biglan hails from a more familiar behavior analytic background. His work on how the behavioral sciences can influence large-scale change is popular. As a speaker, you can often catch him at the Association of Contextual Behavioral Science conference. In this text, he describes, among other treasures, how we can improve education practices and how traditional corporate marketing practices may be influencing our society. This is an easy and inspiring read.

  1. Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. James Fowler & Nicholas Christakis

This book takes a look at the social structures of influence in our lives. As social creatures, humans are highly interconnected. We are influenced by the ideas, choices, and verbal behavior of those around us. The connectedness of our society only provides a better platform for emotion, health behavior, and ideas to spread across groups. This book reviews a great deal of research about the kinds of habits, choices, and moods that spread across our social networks and the conditions under which they optimally spread.

  1. Contagious: Why things catch on by Jonah Berger

Contagious may seem like an unlikely favorite for a behavior analyst but again we’re looking at conditions and platforms under which information and emotion spread and influence. This book focuses on marketing influence. Media, social media, and now the algorithms that rank this material, now greatly influence our lives. This book does a great job of being a fun introduction to a wealth of research about the conditions that lead to viral spread of ideas. For the behavioral analyst, there’s an interesting blend of focus on basic human responses to aversive and appetitive conditions and their interaction with environment.

Remembering the classics: Books that took the science of behavior to a new level.

Remembering the classics: Books that took the science of behavior to a new level.

by Angela Cathey

With the New Year approaching, I’ve decided to put into writing a few of my favorite influences. Some of these are a bit “heavy” and others pure poetry of science. Though any of these books can be said to be exceptional on the whole, for some I focus on specific chapters and what they offer.

I chose these particular works for their “mind-stretching” capabilities. Like good post-apocalyptic sci-fi, they in so many ways, hint of what in human nature may save us or destroy us. I hope that the newer generations of behavior analysts will fall in love with these books as well.

  1. Handbook for Analyzing the Social Strategies of Everyday Life – Bernard Guerin, 2004

Bernard Guerin has the ambition of someone who loves the world and what good science can do for it. He has an integrative style that smacks of an avid reader. He brings together research from sociology, anthropology, and psychology under a behavior analytic framework. This volume, one of his two larger survey works, includes analysis of social contingencies broadly applicable to doing good Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), or Prosocial work. Further, the applications extend to simply understanding the social world in a way that allows one to be a better human to others.

Guerin’s handling of this material necessitates an understanding of the vast applications of behavior analytic principles. As an organizational interventionist, I find his work on allocation of resources in groups impressive. Bernard has a way of rather seamlessly unifying behavioral economics with large-scale contingencies and consumer behavior.

Of equal interest are Guerin’s sections on social strategies, trust, and group dynamics. Again, Guerin presents an impressive account of how one might understand the evolution of trust, and dynamics that influence it, across micro and macro contexts. If you are a behavior analyst interested in creating “real-world” change, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

  1. Analyzing Social Behavior by Bernard Guerin

This volume is Bernard Guerin’s earlier survey of behavior analytic principles as they apply to a wide array of important intrapersonal and interpersonal behaviors. Here Bernard handles a wide array of topics that most behavior analysts shy away from with thorough appreciation of the subjects, and his own limitations. Like Guerin’s other volumes this volume integrates findings from other sciences and provides the scaffolding needed for gaining an in-depth of knowledge of human behavior.

Of particular interest in this volume are his handlings of creativity and chapters like “Zen and the Art of Contingency-governed Behavior.” These chapters are fun and ground the new learner of behavior analysis in the wealth of applications the science affords. Further chapters on the impact of modern communication and media are rich with inspiration for applied researchers and provide great insight for integrative clinicians.

  1. Understanding Verbal Relations – Steven Hayes & Linda Hayes, 1992

This book can hardly be considered light reading, but should be considered essential reading for those in behavior analysis. With chapters like, “Verbal Relations, Time, and Suicide” written by Steve Hayes – it’s one that anyone in the field long enough will want to read. (If for only the reason that you’ll still hear argument over these points decades later.) One particularly good chapter is that written by Linda Hayes, “Equivalence as Process.” Here Linda Hayes describes an interbehavioral (Kantorian) view of events as interactions evolving through the ever-present historical context.

  1. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, 1962

This is a great meta-science text. It takes a look at the science-of-science – how scientific paradigms form and shift under the process of science itself. This is about noticing our field’s influence on the creation of knowledge itself.

  1. Rule-Governed Behavior: Cognition, contingencies, and instructional control. Ed. Steven Hayes.

This is admittedly fairly dry reading. It’s an important read due to its thorough handling of rule-governed behavior. This highly influential category of human behavior is known to influence huge swaths of adult human behavior and expereince. With chapters with basic analyses of “knowing,” “understanding,” and “listening,” it’s a dense but worthwhile reads.

  1. Clinical Behavior Analysis by Michael Dougher

Whether your training is centered more based in clinical psychology or directly in behavior analysis, there are few who wouldn’t benefit from a read of this text. The author presents a different view of many forms of “psychological disorder.” This is a good one to read if you’re into considering the impact of the medical model and other ways of understanding variation in human behavior.

  1. Mastering the Clinical Conversation. Matt Villatte & Jen Villatte

We’re now seeing more writing from the clinical and applied RFT folks that are approaching the level of fluidity seen in this volume; however, this is still a great read to start your journey towards learning Relational Frame Theory (RFT).

  1. Relational Frame Theory: A post-Skinnerian account of human language and cognition. Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, and Roche

“Big purple” as it is often referred to, should be a necessary read if due only to its importance in the scheme of behavior analytic theory. Chapters that deal with the role of verbal/symbolic relating as it applies to group membership are useful and interesting.