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A Big Win For Behavioral Science
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The White House is ready to shake up the status quo with a more “people-centered” design of programs

We’ve all been there. The Social Security Office. The Tax Office. The DMV. Taking a number. Waiting in line. Filling out yet another long, monotonous government form, inner voice screaming, Really!? This is the opposite of efficient, why has no one fixed this yet!?

Well, we might start to see some improvements, thanks to a new Executive Order released last month. Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People encourages the Federal Government to:

“Design policies and programs to reflect our best understanding of how people engage with, participate, use, and respond to those policies and programs.”

In other words, streamline processes by removing administrative hurdles, shortening wait times, and simplifying forms.

I’m thrilled to hear this, and not just because I hate standing in lines and filling out forms. This executive order is a great endorsement for the work that we do, especially in HR analytics–using data to improve the programs and processes that surround people in their lives and in their work. Reexamining the bureaucratic status quo through the lens of behavioral science (my passion) should yield some exciting results.

New ways to engage

I immediately think of a restaurant client of mine that adopted a behavioral science perspective by offering a more interactive experience for customers. They introduced Ziosk tablets at each table that customers can use to order food, check out, and rate the service. Customers feel more engaged, and the restaurant has instant access to hundreds of data points on customer behavior. Thanks to all this feedback, the restaurant has a new wealth of insight that helps them calibrate new menu offerings and create success profiles for their service roles.

Another example comes to mind with automated reference checking. Phone-based reference checking was the norm for so many years, but not because it worked well. It was often a mandatory but worthless step in the hiring process. Now organizations are beginning to realize that by automating the process, they can save time, protect anonymity, and increase participation (evident in completion rates of 70% in 2 days!) Employers can collect meaningful data, and more of it, to help them make better hiring decisions.

I hope that other organizations outside of government see this as a prime opportunity to lean into behavioral science for guidance as they design or redesign their systems. It’s a win-win. Behavioral science can help you improve the experience for the end user AND for the people who deliver the improved experience.

It’s all about people

People are the life-blood of all operations. Even as you use technology to automate processes and deliver experiences online, you still have people at the heart of it all. Whether it’s the face behind the counter, or the mind behind the algorithm, your processes always begin with people.

The problem is, while we like the idea of change (because who likes inefficient processes?), it’s extremely difficult to reform established norms and standards. That’s where behavioral science can make a big difference—not just in redesigning a process for the end user, but in choosing the people to imagine and execute those changes.

There’s a competency model for that

If you’re looking to streamline, shorten, and simplify your processes, then you’re in the business of change. You’re ready to shake up the status quo. To do this, you probably want a team of people who value innovation. Leaders who champion change and encourage others to voice new and creative ideas. People with a strong customer focus who care deeply about delivering exceptional customer experiences.

Using competency models, you can assemble a continuous improvement dream team for a specific project, or build an entire organization that embodies the core values and individual aptitudes essential for success. Bringing new people, or “fresh blood” into your organization will provide new perspectives and help others break from the status quo. But that’s not to say you need to replace existing employees in order to enact change. You can use a reward system to promote key competencies that might exist but be underutilized in your organization.

Behavioral science and beyond

I’m excited to see the White House embrace behavioral science, and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead as we find more and more ways to apply insights from behavioral science to government programs, business, and beyond.

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