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Is Organizational Friction Costing you Money?

Organizational friction is not a common term, yet it could be one of the biggest reasons that your company is not performing to its full potential.

How much is friction costing you?

Friction in human terms is the unnecessary resistance that a person encounters when trying to achieve a task. Organizational friction is the resistance created by policy, social, or environmental factors within a company.

Bad organization friction creates unnecessary resistance within an organization and impedes performance. It causes wasted time, wasted energy wasted resources, and overall frustration. Good organizational friction creates positive resistance that discourages negative behavior, sloppy thinking or risky shortcuts. 

Bad organizational friction impacts employees in multiple ways. It makes tasks longer, and more prohibitive which in turn can sap our motivation. The more friction that is present the less likely we are to partake in a positive behavior. Inversely, as Jeff Bezos states, “When you reduce friction, make something easy, people do more of it.” 

Let’s set the stage with a simple example of each type of organizational friction and the losses it can correlate to.

  • Policy – this is friction resulting from organizational policy or rules such as a manager requiring all team members to attend an hour-long meeting 2x per week when 10 of them only need to be in the meeting for 15 mins. Say those employees average $30/ hour. That’s $30 (hour wage) x .75 (wasted time in meeting) x 52 (weeks per year) x 10 (employees who could leave meeting after 15 minutes) = $11,700 in salary on one team alone, not accounting for billable hours and productivity. What if you have 100 teams all doing the same? 1,000 teams?
  • Social – this is friction that is caused by social norms or cultural expectations. Traditional hierarchy can lead to this type of organizational friction. If you create a culture that doesn’t encourage open dialogue and respond well to constructive criticism of leadership, employees will be scared to speak up because of the fear of negative social consequences. This can inhibit an employee from bringing up an issue that could have been avoided, such as doubling down on sunk costs, falling victim to groupthink, or making a poor strategic decision. These are some of the costliest mistakes an organization can make.
  • Environmental – this friction is caused when the infrastructure or processes in place create resistance to positive behaviors. Imagine creating an employee health challenge that encourages exercise during the day, but not providing access to shower facilities. Employees will be less likely to partake in the challenge if they need to go elsewhere to shower before going back to work.

Roger Dooley, a neuromarketer, first introduced us to this concept on The Behavioral Grooves podcast and in his book Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage (link).

In the book, he uses the metaphor of a slide (the playground type, not the PowerPoint type, although PowerPoints can cause friction too). Think of behavior as being driven by the following*: a nudge (the initial push off of the top of the slide), the angle (the slope of the slide can be steep or shallow providing different motivation), and friction (the resistance to easily going down the slide).   

Companies can face friction in any number of places. Organizational friction inhibits employees from operating at their full potential. A report by Newtronix estimated $1.8 trillion is lost each year in the US alone due to barriers in workforce productivity.

Knowledge workers spend over 80% of their time in meetings and responding to requests. The average time an employee works before being interrupted is around 12-minutes. For an average company, each email that is sent costs roughly a dollar in labor costs – a midsize firm can easily spend over $1 million dollars a year, just on email.

Each of these factors has a cost to them. They reduce employee productivity, increase their stress level, lead to disengagement, and increase turnover – inevitably costing your organization money.

Some other examples of organizational friction points include:

  • Routing all expense reports through two layers of management
  • Communication that isn’t clear or well understood so employees need additional clarification on what they need to know or do
  • Copying more people on an e-mail than necessary
  • Requiring team members to come to an hour-long meeting when they are really only needed for 5-minutes
  • A culture that doesn’t support speaking out and is always deferential to those in higher leadership positions
  • Social norms about how much work gets done in a shift

If companies can identify where these friction points are and then remove them (or reduce them), the impact on the bottom line would be significant.  It is an unseen cost that is draining the energy and performance of people from across the organization. 

Navigate the slides below to see how The Lantern Group eases friction in organizations using behavioral insights.

The Lantern Group’s Solution to Organizational Friction

*Roger also includes gravity as one of the key aspects here but it doesn’t apply specifically to our discussion, so I left it out.  If you want to find out more, here is a really good short article on Dooley’s persuasion slide in a UX context https://sostoked.com.au/psychology-of-persuasion/

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Good Prime – Bad Prime

Priming, in relation to human behavior, is the idea that exposure to an external stimulus can subconsciously trigger our brains to drive specific behaviors.

messaging and communicating

A study in Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” examined how a simple word could prime the brain to think differently in a similar situation. Subjects were exposed to one of two words and then shown the letters “SO_P” and asked to fill in the blank.

People who were exposed to the word “eat” prior to the exercise were more likely to fill in the letter “U” (SOUP), and those exposed to the word “shower” were more like to fill in the letter “A” (SOAP).

In this situation, the first word they were exposed to impacted their interpretation of the blank letter and completed word. This is a simple example, but priming can also cause us to unconsciously engage in behaviors both good and bad.

Let’s looks at some examples in the real world. 

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How to Apply Behavioral Science in Your Job (And Why it Matters)

By Kurt Nelson, Ph.D. & Ben Granlund

Would being able to understand the underlying reasons why you and others “do the things you do” be helpful to you in your job?  Is there value in having the knowledge to be able to predict and understand people’s responses to your requests or changes?  How about being able to anticipate how people will most likely respond in a given situation or environment?  Would the ability to make more rational and sound decisions help you in moving your business forward?

For most people, that answer is “yes.” 

Most of us work in an environment that involves some level of involvement and interaction with other people. Whether it be coworkers, bosses, employees, vendors, or customers – at some point in your workday, there is likely a human involved.   

How you interact with those humans can change how they respond. 

We need to be able to work effectively with those humans. If we can understand and empathize with their underlying drives, decipher how they are interpreting our words and actions, and anticipate how they will respond to what we do, our interactions with them will be significantly improved. 

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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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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

Questions or comments? Use the form below or email them to behavior@lanterngroup.com

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Human Behavior Observations in Airport

Behavioral Observations from the Road: Denver Airport

Humans are interesting, they are quirky, they are irrational.

We think we know what is best for us. Often, we even assume that we KNOW what is best for us. e funny thing is – our behaviors do not always align with what’s best.

Dan Ariely introduced us to the fascinating world of irrational thought in his flagship book Predictably Irrational (one of our all time favorites) and I recently observed an interesting example of it at Denver International Airport.

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Behavioral Observations: “On the Road Reflections” from the Hindu Kush 

Here at the Lantern Group, we specialize in applying behavioral science insights to drive organizational performance and change employee behavior.

For this article, however, I am going to take you on a journey deep into the mountains of northern Pakistan. Right now, you are probably wondering: “what could the Hindu Kush possibly have to do with behavioral science!?

Well, as we have been telling you, it’s everywhere!

So, bear with me and let’s have some fun while we talk about behavioral insights in action; observed from a recent adventure in northern Pakistan.

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Change is Hard.

How hard is it to change?

Change is Hard

This is not a warm fuzzy blog telling you how easy it is to change, its a honest look at the challenges we face and how we can work to overcome them. It is important to look at the world empirically and without rose colored glasses.  We need to understand the reality that we face when we are trying to change or achieve a goal if we want to be succesful. Don’t worry though, it ends on a postivie note. 

So here we go…some change statistics:

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Cognitive Load – What it is & Why it Matters

Back in January we introduced you to the concept of integrating Behavioral Science into Graphic Design. If you did not have a chance to read it, or for a recap, click here

Today we will expand a bit more on the idea of “cognitive load”.
Not only is cognitive load a valuable resource to utilize in graphic design; but it is also extremely valuable in communications, speaking engagements, presentation’s and an all-around useful tool for increasing the understanding of any subject.

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