The average person makes 35,000 decisions a day.1

And we routinely have to make these decisions with limited memory, self-control and mental energy. It’s simply not possible to consciously weigh up and optimize every choice, so to help simplify and speed up our decision-making we rely on subconscious shortcuts.

Hundreds of them.

Here are five behaviourally-informed principles to help ensure your employees’ shortcuts lead to the desired destination. 

  1. Attract

We like to be liked, particularly by our peers, and conformity tends to be the easiest way to ensure this. If your employees believe their fellow colleagues are behaving a certain way, they’re more likely to behave that way themselves.

People tend to do what they think others are doing. This is called ‘descriptive norms.’

To play into your employees’ pattern:

  • Tap into social networks
  • Communicate what actions you want employees to do, when, and how you want them to be done
  • Encourage and enable a culture of sharing.

By creating a culture and space for sharing, you’re more likely to see your desired behaviours in action, and ensure your communications and initiatives are seen, heard and talked about.  

  1. Co-create

Known as the IKEA Effect, people tend to attribute more value to a product or organization when they feel like they’ve played a part in building it and making it what it is.

There’s value in co-creation and there’s value in co-ownership, so make it easy for employees to actively contribute business improvement or development ideas.

There’s a wealth of diverse knowledge, experience and ideas out there – don’t just be open to hearing it, actively listen and demonstrate as much. Feed back to your colleagues with immediacy and visibility.

Northumbrian Water, for example, not only progress ideas generated through design sprints, data hacks and workshops at their annual Innovation Festival, but promote and celebrate them as well.2 

  1. Make space

Remove barriers.


Steve Jobs famously had the Pixar building designed to promote unplanned encounters and collaborations. 3

Doors, walls, massive computer monitors – move them out of the way and open the physical space up to conversations. Even chairs with wheels instead of legs can be the difference between an email and a face-to-face interaction.

Reposition desks, coffee machines, encourage encounters between colleagues and teams that wouldn’t ordinarily be in direct contact with each other.

Ease of communication has the added bonus of opening situations up to timely prompts and feedback. 

  1. Commit

For behaviour change to be picked up and acted upon, get your colleagues to commit to a focused goal or a single objective with a clear plan and deadline. Frame rules in a way that fits neatly into the way colleagues already think and act.

Chunking can help break a more complex aim into bitesize, manageable steps.

It’s also worth noting that public commitments are more likely to be carried out. Saying it out loud or starting a pledge wall are two simple ways you can increase the visibility of commitments.

  1. Celebrate

Celebrate success and achievements.

I’m not talking about big bonuses or financial rewards. I’m talking about social, hedonic rewards.

Oxytocin is the chemical release we get from physical touch and emotional bonds. Simon Sinek suggests that a handshake, a high-five, or a pat on the back can go a long way to bonding with your team. 4

Reward and acknowledge achievements – big, small, your own, or someone else’s. An individual win is a team win. And again, share that success with wider teams. It all feeds back into descriptive norms and creates a culture of friendly competition.