Kurt Nelson, PhD | Behavior Matters!

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Sculpting Motivation – Maximizing your Total Rewards with Behavioral Science

This article highlights the key learnings from Kurt’s presentation at the “2020 World at Work Spotlight on Sales Conference”. The original slide deck is available below.

Man screaming into phone exhibiting bad sales behavior
Rewards Programs are a Key Driver of Sales Behavior

In 1937, paleontologist Gustav von Koeningswald was working on the island of Java in Southeast Asia, searching for new evidence of our early human ancestors.  To achieve this goal, he needed to find fossils, and the apex of fossils was the skull. With an intact skull, paleontologists are better able to distinguish between ape and human. 

But skulls were rarely are found intact. 

Instead, paleontologists needed to piece together a multitude of small skull fragments in a complex 3D puzzle.  It was difficult work – difficult to find all the pieces and difficult to fit them together in the right way to reform the original skull. 

To help alieve the burden of searching and finding the skull pieces, von Koeningswald enlisted the help of people from the local village.  He did this by giving them an incentive. He paid them 10 cents per skull fragment that they delivered to him.   

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Identifying Friction in Your Organization

Friction is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the force that resists relative motion between two bodies in contact” or “the clashing between two parties of opposed views.”   

Identifying Organizational Friction
Organizational Friction

In our last article, we identified three types of organizational friction (the resistance points within a company that limit its performance). Those friction points were caused by oversight or shortcomings in Policy, Culture, and Environment. Each type of organizational friction has its own unique root causes and manifests itself differently within a company.

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How to Shape Company Culture Through Communication

Words matter.

A study conducted by Gary Latham PhD, replaced 12 words in an e-mail from a company president to his employees to demonstrate the power of word choice.

 A Powerful Reinforcement Loop With a Common Thread
A Powerful Reinforcement Loop With a Common Thread

Half of the company received the president’s original e-mail and half of the company received the same e-mail with 12 achievement-focused words added in. The result? After a week, objectively measured performance showed an increase in effectiveness by 15% and efficiency by 35% for the employees who received the achievement centric email.

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The Key to a Great Company: Great Culture

Have you ever experienced a company with a culture so powerful that you notice it immediately? There is a positive tone in the conversation, a joyful way in which people interact, a different feeling that you get walking through the door.    

Those companies are rare.   

It is more likely you’ve experienced a company with a culture that is toxic. One where the tone of the conversation is so negative that it instantly brings you down, were the interactions between employees seem hostile, and where you would like to run out the door shortly after entering.   

Luckily, those companies are also rare.  

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Identifying the Root Cause – Employee Issues are Human Issues

By Kurt Nelson, Ph.D.

If only employees were robots. 

If we were robots, then when we are underperforming or not working, a simple diagnostic process would show us where the issue is. We would need to determine if it was a hardware or software issue, work through the bugs, and identify the component issues. It might be hard, but it is a structured process that a sound engineer can handle. And in the end, you know when you get it right because the issue is solved.  

But we are not robots. We are human.   

Employees are not robots

We are complex, context-driven, emotional, overstressed, and irrational. We often tell people what we think they want to hear, not what we really feel. We tend to avoid conflict and repress our feelings. Hell, we don’t even understand our feelings a lot of the time.  

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Misinformation and the Corona Virus: How We Respond Matters

I’m a behavioral scientist at heart. I look at the numbers and the data and think about how people respond. Right now, I don’t think a lot of people are responding very well.

In the past few days, I’ve seen Facebook posts talking about how overblown and hyped up the coronavirus pandemic is.

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Scary Biases

Halloween is scary. All sorts of creatures are running wild – ghouls and ghosts, witches and goblins, werewolves and vampires…biases and heuristics.

That’s right, biases and heuristics can be scary too! They can cause us undue harm if we are not careful, but understanding the power that they have over our behaviors can help.

Six Behavioral Biases to be Aware of

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Habits vs Routines

Curious about improving your own habits & routines? Send your questions here.

Habit and routine, we often use the two words interchangeably, for example, “It was his habit to wake up at six every morning” is easily replaced with “It was his routine to wake up at six every morning.”  For purposes of this article, however, each term has a specific meaning.   Habit is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.”  Whereas they define routine as “a regular course of procedure.”  The distinction is important.

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The Behavioral Science of Socks!

Socks – really?

No, this isn’t one of those government studies where you wonder how it ever got approved (i.e., how long can shrimp run on a treadmill or does playing FarmVille on Facebook help people to make friends and keep them?*).

Socks and behavioral science. The two do not seem to fit together, yet I consistently use my socks as a personal behavioral modification tool.

Here’s how.

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Behavioral Grooves

Back in September,  I partnered with Tim Houlihan to start “a monthly gathering of curious minds” which we called Behavioral Grooves.  We thought it would be interesting to get like-minded people together to talk about applying behavioral science to life and work.

We had no idea if others would be interested in this…

We announced the meetup and were hoping to get at least a few of the friends that we had contacted to show up.  We ended up with 24 people for that first session where we talked about habits – how they are formed and what people can do to improve them.

We were thrilled!

From there, it took off.  We have over 180 members signed up to our meetup group and it is growing fast.  We have had three monthly sessions as of early January 2018 and our fourth is lined up for two weeks from today.  We have over 20 people who have made it to two or more of the sessions.

I guess we struck a nerve.

For our second session, we invited Professor James Heyman to speak and thought, hey, since he’s here, why don’t we interview him and make a podcast out of it.  Thus, our Behavioral Grooves podcast was born.  Tim and I both loved that so much that we decided that we didn’t want to wait for the next Behavioral Grooves session to record our next one – so we started to invite people and interview them – both live and over the internet.

To date, we have seven interviews recorded and three more in the works.  These podcasts mirror the Behavioral Grooves sessions in that they are conversational in nature where we geek out over behavioral science and how we can apply behavioral science insights into our daily work and lives.

They have been a blast!

In reflecting on this, it appears to me that these two outlets provide us with a way of both learning and sharing.  We want to be advocates for good, ethical use of behavioral science.  We believe that there is much to learn and we can improve our work and lives by understanding and by applying these principles in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

We also realized that we love the community that this is creating.  A community of curious minds who are interested in science and the application of that science.  A community of people that we can bounce ideas off of.  A community of people that can push us to think about things from new perspectives.

This is ultimately what we have been building and hope that it grows and provides a place and outlet for others, as well as ourselves.

If you are ever in Minneapolis on the third Thursday of the month – please come and join us at our meetup (find out more info here) and if you can’t make that, please listen in to our podcasts (click here to find the latest).

Come and join our community of curious minds!

Thanks!

Kurt

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