This week on #PrimeTimePRchat we were lucky to have Paul Gibbons join us for a conversation about behavioral science. Paul wrote a book on how millennial culture and behavioral science affect how leaders lead change. He sees the chief challenge for CEOs and their teams in our digital age is ensuring that the human side of organizations keeps up with the technological, such as artificial intelligence, data science & advanced robotics.
The book, Impact – Leading Change in the Digital Age, is intended to determine how we create organizations that deliver human value in human ways. Volume I began with an overview of creating agile businesses, evidence-based management, behavioral science, mindfulness and influencing, and how cognitive biases lead to failed change. This volume takes a deeper look at a few of those ideas but begins with the context for change in the third century of the third millennium.*
“If you read one book on ‘change’ make it this one! It combines the best research on the science of change AND brings it bang up to date with the disruptive elements in ‘The Digital Age’. It’s not only easy to read, it’s packed with references, sources, and critical thinking that takes a long hard look at how we’ve been misdirected around change. His conver- sational style brings to life what are usually dry topics and makes them entertaining and memorable. Loved it!”
~ Rosemary Gorrell, Change Strategist and Author
Paul talked about leading change in the digital age and how we need to use behavioral science to engage employees and change behaviors or influence and how can little nudges and behavioral science interventions make a huge difference in how businesses can harness certain biases to increase CX and EX. His key message is this: Treat your employees well because they are the ones who treat your customers.
CX = f(EX)
The effect of information glut and millennial culture on influencing in the digital age. Collaboration tools for constant engagement and learning rather than employees pull toward them. Turning JOMO (joy of missing out on PowerPoint snoozefests and boring conferences) into FOMO.
Central to the whole picture, of changing how we change, of humanizing business, of upskilling workforces, is leadership. In a world where advancing human capability is critical, leaders need to lead that. The idea of the leader as a learner is central to Impact (“The Chief Learning Officer”).*
With half of the U.S. workforce now employing millennials (people born roughly between 1980 and 1996), that number will grow in 2025 to having 75 percent of the workforce comprised of workers from this cohort.
Millennial culture is also a global culture. Back in the day, half of boomers could not find France on a map. Now the Chinese love Game of Thrones; a global bank CEO ended a motivational talk with the Korean Gangnam Style dance (I shall preserve his dignity); hip-hop is a music mainstay in Africa and Pakistan; Reggaeton and K-Pop are global phenomena; the Mexican film Roma was nominated for ten Academy Awards; American blockbusters (Endgame, Black Panther) make more than twice as much abroad as in the US; Neymar, Messi, and Ronaldo (Brazil, Argentina, Portugal) are the best-known sporting figures, American tragedies such as the Newtown shooting get global sympathy, and the plight of the Rohingya makes the pages of Western newspapers.
One word of caution, differences between generations are based on arbitrary lines, and broad generalizations. Falsehoods
and overgeneralizations abound. For example, millennials are supposed to be job hoppers, but the data suggest they stay in jobs longer than non-millennial peers. Yet millennial “research” and books about them have a veneer of science. Tread carefully. As sociologist Elwood Carson says: “Deciding which differences separate generations is more of an art than a science.” Where millennial culture and technology converge is some- times called “the future of work.” Accenture Research’s Dr. Kelly Monahan frames it as, “How do we change talent and workplace practices to enable these human-machine collaborations?”*
Paul explained what change-agile means and why is it important, as well as how pull not push relates to trust, transparency & authenticity.
Business is more powerful than governments, media, or international bodies in shaping our world, thus raising ethical issues of accountability, responsibility, and transparency. Citizens have a moral right to a say in issues that affect them, and business actions overwhelmingly do. Do current models of oversight and regulation sufficiently accord them that right—or, as Reverend King wondered, has that check bounced?
Although his book is principally about micro-level change in business, behaviors, hearts, minds, and culture, megatrends affect the context in which that change happens. Our “exam question” remains “how does this changing world affect business, people at work, and how to lead change?*
The revolutions in the “soft” side offer us breakthroughs in human influencing, learning, and adaptation. The ideas come from behavioral science and from the use of modern communications technologies to create constant engagement, not the periodic engagement of old (town halls, workshops, and so forth). The shift in influencing is toward “pull” models away from “push” models, and toward personalization from “spray and pray.” People are naturally curious. Spark that curiosity, and they will “pull” learning and communications toward them rather than having those “pushed” (shoved) at them. Most of my change management activities in the Bronze Age were of this push and periodic type—“cascades” where communication about a change had to be rolled out the group by group, stakeholder by a stakeholder to “overcome” resistance, itself a dysfunctional notion.*
So how does this affect branding & what you say is fighting for their attention for your signal amid the noise?
“Digital transformation is on the rise. The problem is there is a lot of noise and not enough empirically grounded thinking around what all this complexity means for organizations. Paul Gibbons’ new book is the signal in the noise that we need to help frame the conversation draw- ing inquisitively from both the complexity and behavioral sciences. Wonderfully researched and well-written, it is a must-read for leaders navigating their organizations through transformation.”
~ Dr. Kelly Monahan, Talent Research Lead Senior Principal at Accenture Research
Regarding Virality (Spreadability) Paul says:
Projects have a brand, and those brands are sticky. Once you’ve got their attention, you can’t count on keeping it. Attention scarcity means stakeholders demand well-presented, engaging content. Consider YouTube, webinars, podcasts, live video, vlogs, and TED talks as formats to try. You also need constant, not periodic, engagement: Platforms such as Slack (covered in a later section) enable constant rapid engagement and responsiveness, as do project management process such
as agile. If you do produce engagement, the engaged become your communicators, and network effects multiply your message. This can become a virtuous circle, or the opposite, working for you or against you. If your change message is salient, relevant, useful, and interesting, it will get shared, commented, and liked (depending on your chosen platform). As Gen Y says, if it is “legit,” it gets shared; if it is lame, it gets dumpstered.*
In talking about gatekeepers and audiences, or the people formerly known as the audience, Paul notes:
In interactive communications, which we really want, the change communicator is no longer an editor or a gatekeeper, but a “mod,” people who moderate content on message boards and forums (such as Reddit, LinkedIn, or Facebook groups). Mods only make sure rules are followed; if they are too heavy-handed, users flee. One-way communication through a dusty suggestion box at the end of the hall or a periodic change survey is done
for. Push models of communications never worked well for change, and they work considerably less well now in our noisy world. Design all communication, not just change communications, with pull models in mind. Entice stakeholders into the conversation, understand their information needs, spark their “FOMO106,” make your content spreadable, and they will pull information rather than you having to push it.*