Applying behavioural science to our most important assets – our people

Author: Rebecca Wilson, Director of Human Experience

Anyone who’s worked in contact centres like me would recall conversations with Team Leaders, often lamenting that they needed a psychology degree to deal with some of the people issues that came their way (I can see the nods of agreement from here!). From the challenges of recruitment (“Can you just clone “Jenny” for me? I need a team of Jennys”) to the stressors created by having so many different personalities at close quarters, often 24/7, the work environment of contact centres has always fascinated me.

Why do I mention this now? The first half of 2020 has changed the way people work and live. As well as the oft-cited changes to the way brands connect with their target audience, it’s also changed the way that businesses connect with their employees. For example, working from home has accelerated in contact centres (as well as other workplaces) and has resulted in a re-think about how to keep employees connected. 

The things I learnt managing contact centre teams have bubbled to the surface now that I am formally a student and exponent of behavioural science as a business practice and we are faced with such extraordinary challenges in our personal and work lives. I’ve realised, for example, that I was applying  a behavioural science approach to contact centre recruitment many years ago, profiling the different motivations of successful versus not-so-successful agents to create a targeted recruitment model.

This type of study is integral to what we do today at Sprout. Core human motivational needs help to explain our behaviour – why a person choses to behave in a particular way, make decisions, recalls and engages with communication etc. We can’t detect these motivational needs though by asking direct questions – they are non-conscious and difficult to articulate for everyday people. As a consequence, our research is grounded in Implicit or ‘System 1’ techniques, using a technology enabled neuroscience tool called MindSight®.

Recently, my very clever colleague, Kerry Dymond mapped the insights we discovered through our on-going study into the motivational drivers of Australians onto the Kubler-Ross grief cycle . What she produced is a framework that helps leaders understand workers/employees now and as we continue to navigate an uncertain future. We call it Sprout’s COVID Employee Experience Journey (a similar version can also be used for consumer understanding – see here

Our most recent wave of research in late June showed that our people are in danger of being caught in the “hopeful/hopelessness yoyo”. We can imagine how this plays out just by reflecting on the impact across Australia of Victoria’s second wave of the virus. At this Yoyo stage, we see both the need to feel engaged and to belong play a significant role in the behaviour and performance of employees. Organisations therefore need to deliver emotional support to their people to help them feel engaged and part of something, and avoid feelings of depression.

Thus, it stands that knowledge about mental health at work and understanding what is motivating our people is more critical than ever. Using the Sprout model can help leaders understand where their people might be in the grief cycle and what sort of support they might need. A nice example I have seen is the creation of a “virtual lunchroom” open at noon each day. In recognition that some employees may miss having lunch with their colleagues, (therefore impacting on their sense of belonging and engagement), this is a great way to keep that tradition going.

Why is this important? Obviously as employers, we are morally obliged to care for our people. If you also need a commercial reason, look no further than the proven link between employee experience, customer experience and business success. Employees who feel they belong and are supported and enabled will perform better in their job and be more likely to provide discretionary effort. As reported in the Harvard Business Review in 2017 Companies that invest in employee experience are four times more profitable than those that don’t. More recently,  business magazine Forbes stated, “Employee Experience Has Become the Linchpin to Success”.  

Over time, we all know the actions that have worked well for our people and others that would be best left in the past. You may, like me, reflect and realise that you’ve been applying behavioural science all along. The lesson for me has been that  if you engage with peoples’ core emotions and motivations, your actions are more likely to be right.

We have our implicit MindSight® tool ready to apply to your business now. Please reach out if you’d like to know more about how to understand what is really motivating your people and how you can apply that knowledge to ensure future success.