This year’s annual research entitled, ‘Communicating for Action, From Changing Minds to Changing Behaviors’ made its second European appearance last week, this time at CEB’s London headquarters. In this piece of research we take a behavioral psychological view into why our stakeholders do the things they do or, more importantly, what’s preventing them from doing the things we want them to do despite our best communications efforts. We also look at the evolution of communications skills and how we as communicators need to work more consultatively with business partners in a way that yields true impact to our businesses.
Attendees included approximately 30 senior Heads of Communications from some of Europe’s most prestigious organizations, ranging from a variety of industries including banking, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, energy, and beverages to name but a few, which really proved for a stimulating discussion. Communicators in the room shared how hard they and their teams are having to work now versus just a few years ago: The increase in business partner demands, the heightened pace of internal company changes, the greater stakeholder demand for transparency and with fewer resources than before to do it all. Communicators are responding to this increase in demand in three main ways — doing MORE, MORE, MORE. That is communicating MORE, through MORE channels, with MORE people in hopes of getting stakeholders to think and feel positively about the company.
Yet despite our increased communications activity remaining at a high quality and timely standard, a frustration shared in the room was the fact that our contribution to business results still remains somewhat fuzzy and unclear. We hear these words a lot, ‘business results’. It becomes part of the corporate vocabulary, most times even viewed as something that we as communicators don’t have much control over. But when you think about it, ANY business result can be decomposed into specific human behaviors that must happen to achieve it.
We see behavior change being a better goal for communicators as it is visible, measurable, more closely linked to business results and something that communications can directly influence. I wanted to share with you a behavioral psychological framework which caused a lot of discussion in the room and might help you think about how you approach certain Comms activities moving forward.
There are three drivers of behavior change, all three need to be present for the behavior change to occur but each have varying importance.
- Individual Attitudes: (Think and Feel) Individuals’ values and beliefs, which determine how they want to behave
- Capability: Individuals’ real and perceived ability to undertake different actions. How doable is this thing you are trying to get me to do?
- Social Cues: The norms and signals individuals infer from their environment about what behavior is appropriate
We in communications do a brilliant job at getting our stakeholders to like us, spending a lot of our time in the ‘Individual Attitudes’ category, but this is the one that has least influence on behavior. The good news is that we can adopt tactics that address the capability and social cue gap, but it requires us to pause, work backwards from the desired business outcome and understand what is preventing the desired stakeholder behavior in the first place before we jump to what we think is the correct communications solution.
Use this behavior psychological view to demonstrate communications impact in 4 steps:
- Identify business outcomes How we can help: Consultative Skills Training Workbook to help you work more consultatively with business partners and come to an agreement on what you are trying to achieve and why.
- Diagnose behavioral barriers How we can help: Use our BEACONS Listening Guide to narrow down what type of information you should be listening for and understand the root cause as to why stakeholders aren’t already engaging in the desired behavior. You can also listen to our teleconference replay where we presented this.
- Set target metrics How can we help: Use our Communications Measurement and Reporting Guide to help you think beyond typical volumetrics but additionally selecting behavioral metrics that are closely associated to business outcomes.
- Target communications solution How can we help: Look at CEC’s full study on Communicating for Action to see a list of possible best practice communications tactics that remove the specific stakeholder behavioral obstacle.
How about you? How has communications changed for you today versus a few years ago? What excites you the most about focusing your team on changing stakeholder behavior? And what do you find scary about the idea – what will be difficult to execute?