At the IPMI Institute HR conference in Miami we sat down with 10 HR executives from various industries and exchanged insights. We discussed what was going on in their world and how behavioral science can help the HR community.
We noticed three overarching themes:
Organizations are finding cultural change hard
Organizations have not had significant success at engaging their employees
Organizations don’t have the bandwidth to prioritize employee communications—although they know doing so is important
So far in our design series of blogs, we have touched upon the concept of applying behavioral science to graphic design, and how reducing cognitive load can increase understanding, reduce myopic focus and drive home the key points you want your audience to grasp.
Today we are going to dive deeper into the visual element and explore “why graphics matter.” We utilize the concepts we will lay out in our employee communications, but the value does not stop there. Whether you are in communications, marketing, advertising, or trying to engage employees through internal Communications, this will apply to you. So, sit back, relax, and absorb.
Graphics are fun, graphics are pretty (well some are, beauty is in the eye of the beholder), graphics make information less boring – but there is far more to graphics than one might expect. When properly used graphics:
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.
By pure definition graphic design and behavioral science may seem like two very different areas of study with very little connection to each other.
Graphic design is defined as: The art and profession of visual communication that combines images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience to produce a specific effect.
Behavioral science is defined as: The branches of science (such as psychology, sociology, economics or anthropology) that deals primarily with human action and often seeks to generalize human behavior in society.
However, by utilizing behavioral science principles when practicing graphic design, the result is a more cohesive, higher quality design.
Your design not only looks good, but can increase the impact of the message you are presenting and drive the behaviors of the audience. In fact, many marketing firms and advertising agencies are already utilizing these concepts in their designs to increase the effectiveness of everything from how you shop to what you buy, how you perceive a product or idea and much more. These trailblazing concepts are shaping the world around you and by utilizing them in your own designs you can drive the level of impact you are having when you communicate to the next level.
Here are two ways YOU can start using behavioral science RIGHT NOW to optimize the impact of your designs and join the growing list of professionals who are moving toward the new standard in design.
Reduce Cognitive Load
Let’s talk about cognitive load, the power of simplicity and how it can increase understanding.
Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in working memory. Rationally, we would think that the more information that a person is given, the better informed they would be; therefore they would make more sound decisions. However, this is not typically the case.
People can become overloaded with information and it doesn’t always provide optimal outcomes.
For instance, if we are trying to present the high-level concept of the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation, let’s take a look at these two images:
How long did it take you to understand the concept being presented in the first image? How about the second?
The simplicity of the second allows the brain to focus immediately on what’s important.
The first image is hectic, unorganized and does not allow you to focus in on the key concepts being presented. It is important to design so that you present the most important concepts and key takeaways in an easy to understand manner that does not get lost in the ‘fluff’.
In many cases, less really is more when it comes to making sure your audience interprets the message you are trying to convey.
Think of a billboard – you are cruising by at 65 mph (well probably 80 but I’m not supposed to be promoting speeding over here, let’s focus on design and the human brain)… you are cruising by at 65 mph, you glance up to see something that catches your eye but you have very little time to interpret the message.
With this in mind, the designer needs to ensure that the most important and key message jumps out and stays with you. Ask yourself when creating your design, what do I want my audience to understand IMMEDIATELY? Design around that intent and allow the rest of the design to compliment it without taking away from the main point.
So how can you reduce cognitive load in your designs and maximize the impact of the content and messaging? Remember:
Simplify and reduce. Do you absolutely need to convey that information at this time?
White space is good Fill the page with too much information and the brain can become overloaded.
Visually represent your ideas. Visually representing information in an info-graphic or diagram can significantly reduce cognitive load.
Build Consistency and a Strong Identity with The Power of Branding
Creating a consistent brand, look & feel and color pallet within your design helps the audience link to understanding. If your design is part of a larger project, communication or campaign, utilizing a brand throughout the individual pieces creates a mental stamp for the audience to connect the pieces within that campaign.
At the Lantern Group, we have done a significant amount of work in the area of incentive compensation communications. With every client and project that we work on we start with one thing: establishing a brand and a look and feel for the campaign that we will utilize throughout every part of the project.
What we are achieving by doing this is establishing the expectation with our audience that when they see that brand their brain automatically connects it to the content and concept.
Additionally, this can drive increased understanding – seeing that brand can help the user (often subconsciously) trigger what they have already learned in previous communications. These cues and reminders help provide a more immediate understanding of what the content will be and can lay out much of the legwork to capture the audience for you.
Let’s go back to the highway – you are cruising along at 65 mph (I’m willing to bet you think this is a wisecrack about speeding before you even read it, why? Because it feels the same as the previous comment)…
Anyways, you see a large yellow “M” – the golden arches. There is a good chance you already know what the golden arches represent without even needing to see the name of the establishment. The brand is so ingrained in your mind that the link to what you are seeing and what it represents become automatic (a strong established brand).
This same concept can be applied to communications and graphic design!
Now let’s go even further, there is also a good chance that you can remember what that restaurant will look like, what is on the menu, how the ordering process works, etc. The cue has been planted with the yellow “M” and your brain connects the pieces.
Now incentive communications may not be as exciting as a Big Mac, a milkshake, and some fries BUT we can create that same visual cue through a strong brand and increase the power of the information we are presenting. We are allowing our incentive brand to initiate the understanding amongst our audience every time we send out a communication.
You too can have that same impact on your audience when communicating the information you need to get across, the advertisement you are creating, or the logo you are designing by establishing a strong brand.
We hope this has helped you begin to understand the benefits of applying behavioral science to your designs. Next time you begin a design start by establishing a strong brand and evaluating exactly what NEEDS to be portrayed to reduce cognitive load so you can redefine yourself as a behavioral graphic designer.
Behavioral graphic design is defined as: The profession of visual communication that applies scientific principles dealing primarily with human behavior to the art of combining images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience and drive human behavior.
Over the past few years, we have seen a shift in how organizations value their internal communications. In the past, employee focused communications were often an afterthought. Companies would spend significant time, effort and money on developing out their incentive plans, making sure they were designed to drive the right behaviors and performance, only to communicate it to the field in an e-mail with a 30-page, single-spaced legal contract attached.
For the past 20 years, I have been exploring how people change their behavior. This exploration has led me down many different paths and lines of inquiry. One of the most fascinating areas of research that I’ve investigated surrounds the now hot topic of behavioral economics.
I often describe behavioral economics as the “fusion of psychology and economics in order to gain a better understanding of human behavior and decision making.”
So what do we find out when we fuse psychology and economics together?
“Humans often act in very irrational ways.”
Now that is not ground breaking news for most of us. Even when I graduated with an economics degree, I knew that people didn’t always act in rational ways – or at least I didn’t (otherwise why would I stay up watching bad T.V. until 2:30 AM when I knew I had to get up by 7:00 AM for a meeting or why would I spend a hundred dollars on a dinner out but fret over buying a steak that was over $10 at the grocery store?).
However, for many economists, that statement was hearsay. Many economic models are based on the fact that people act in rational ways to maximize their own utility (i.e., happiness). These theories stated that we might make irrational choices in the short-term, or when we don’t have enough information, or that at least your irrational behavior would be vastly different than mine so that on average, we would be rational.
The truth discovered by behavioral economics is that is not often the case. We don’t act rationally – in fact, we sometimes act exactly opposite of how an economist would think we should act.
For example, research has shown that we will judge the value of an unknown item using totally irrelevant data to help us in that decision. Dan Ariely ran a wonderful study where he asked people to bid on a wireless keyboard (something that they were not very familiar with at the time), but before they answered, they had to write down the last two digits of their social security number (a totally irrelevant piece of data). The results of the bid were fascinating (top 20% being SSN that ended in 80 or above, the bottom 20% being SSN that ended in 20 or below):
This is a significant difference in how much they bid – entirely based on the last two digits of the SSN.
Here’s another one.
Would you work harder for a set amount (say $10) or for an uncertain amount (say 50% chance of $10 or 50% chance of $5)? Most rational people would say that they would work harder for the guaranteed payout of $10…that isn’t the case.
In a study that looked at drinking a large amount of water in two minutes – some people were offered a $2 fixed amount for finishing it – the other group was told they would earn either $1 or $2 (random chance of either). So what was the result?
43% completion rate for the certain award versus 70% completion rate for the variable? Not what you would think right?
Note – that this doesn’t apply to people choosing to participate – existing research suggests that we prefer certainty over uncertainty when deciding if we should opt-in for a goal. However, uncertainty is more powerful in boosting motivation en-route to a goal.
So what does any of this have to do with change?
We so often want to drive change in ourselves or our organizations and think through the process of this – in a rational and systematic manner. I’ve worked with companies who are baffled that they don’t see a long-term increase in employee productivity and satisfaction after they increase their wage (Hedonic Treadmill Effect). I know people who have mapped out their exercise routine for the next day, only to hit the snooze button instead of getting up and going for their morning run (Hyperbolic Discounting).
Too often we try to implement a change program based on a belief that we are rational beings.
Behavioral economics highlights that this just isn’t the case.
Change is hard. In fact, it is damn hard. Yet we are being asked (or forced) to change more frequently than ever – in both our personal and business lives. The world is moving and changing faster than at anytime in our history. Think about it, five years ago, no one owned an iPhone.
Most people don’t like change. We fight it. We avoid it. We dismiss it and hope that it will just go away
Change often makes us uncomfortable. It alters how we do things, how we think about things, how we perceive things. It causes us to change habits that we’ve been perfecting for years and years. Change often replaces things that we’ve held dear for a long time – with new things that we are uncertain about.
Example: I used to advertise in trade journals. Now we focus more on social media and the web. Because I’m not alone in this shift, trade journals are forced to change how they do business or go out of business. They have to overcome a paradigm shift and explore unknown avenues of generating business.
So what separates those companies that are successful at change and those that are not?
Great leaders understand that change is hard. They know that just issuing a command from up-top isn’t going to be enough to make change happen down in the trenches. They understand that they need to work at changing the systems and environment in the workplace to allow change to happen. Great leaders understand that they need to show why change is necessary and important – not just for the stockholders, but for the workers and the customers. Successful change requires a multifaceted approach that requires fortitude to keep with it and not revert back to old ways of doing things at the first sign of resistance or negative results.
Focus on people
All the companies that I’ve worked with that were successful with change did one thing really well – they focused their energy on their people. When a large division of a telecommunication firm implemented a major new computer system and software that impacted their sales force, they spent months in communicating, training, and listening to their employees. They adapted their processes not only because of the new systems capabilities, but to help drive the adaption of the system with their employees.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Look at any book on organizational change and you will see that communication is vital. Companies that are successful at change make sure that they over communicate elements about the change to their employees, their suppliers, their customers and often even to the general public. Successful communication tells a story and starts to impact the culture – not only explaining the “what” and the “how” but the “why” and “impact.”
Make change as easy as possible
If I’m on a diet, I don’t want to be tempted by the ice cream in the freezer so I don’t buy ice cream and keep it in the freezer. In the same way, companies that do change successfully take away those elements that could entice workers to not change. They focus on getting the right people working together with the right tools and with the right incentives. Too often I’ve seen change initiatives that do a great job of being led by management, having training and communications reinforce the key messages, and then fall flat because the recognition or incentive system hasn’t been changed or wasn’t changed enough. For instance, a large company was trying to change the sales culture to one of great customer service and they even added in a metric to their incentive plan around customer satisfaction. However, the sales team quickly realized that sales results still drove the majority of the incentive plan and trumped the customer measure hands down. Needless to say, the focus on customer service was more lip service than getting that next sale.
Let me know your thoughts and your experiences with change – good and bad…
The following is the second of 3 posts from our guest blogger Paul Schoening, President of Plan C. He is bringing a unique perspective on what it takes for a small business to survive. In his first post (here) he talked about the difficulty of starting a business based on passion and how that passion is both good and bad. He discussed how entrepreneurs need to look at building a sustainability plan and not a business plan. In this blog are his next two tips. Over the next few weeks, the final post will outline the final two survival tips. Enjoy!
2. Show me the money: When starting a new business, oftentimes entrepreneurs focus on sales revenue or profit figures to assess how they are doing. I know I did. In fact, we had record sales in our final quarter as a business and yet we couldn’t make it last.
While it is good to be profitable and increase sales – it is absolutely critical to have a positive cash flow! You need to have enough cash flow to give yourself time to get off the ground and pay your ongoing bills. Fast growth and increased sales are great, but this can create a sense of overconfidence that can skew your decision-making especially with early business success. Conversely, when times are challenging and a business owner is under pressure we can easily make rash decisions fueled by emotion, not logic (i.e., “how the hell am I going to pay for this?”).
One example of cash flow issues was custom cabinet seller M&J Kitchens – who had survived the Great Recession even when its revenue from homeowners and builders dropped by more than half in 2009. They weathered the storm. Then, late in 2011, with sales almost 42 percent higher than the prior year, they were unable to pay their bills and owner Drew Davies was forced to shut the 26-year-old company down. What happened? M&J highlights how important cash flow is. The issue was a “cash-flow crisis precipitated by his bank and trading partners, who Davies says, abandoned payment agreements that had been in place for decades.” M&J’s cash inflows were coming in slower and it’s payments still needed to be made. In this instance “M&J had to float their customers—builders, architects, and home remodelers—who had slowed their payments, typically from 30 days to 60 or 90. At the same time, his own suppliers changed agreements that had been in place for decades by cutting credit lines or requiring deposits, which Davies says could tie up between $60,000 and $120,000 per month.” After more than 25 years of business, the company was forced out of business, not because sales were down, but because it couldn’t cover its cash flow.
Source: Businessweek.com February, 2011
What happened to M&J is not atypical. It can happen to all of us. Which is why we need to have cash flow plan. One way of looking at this to think about how much cash is required to make payroll, pay suppliers, and cover other expenses each month – then figure how many months of cash reserve you will need to have if things don’t go smoothly. In my case with the bike business, I usually looked out 3 to 4 months. I should have been looking out 6 to 9 months. Each business is different – so think hard about what a downturn or change in situation would mean to you. How fast do your customers pay? How long can you push out your own payments.
One way to avoid these mistakes is by finding a great accountant or financial consultant and using them to map out a plan for this. Look at ways you can collect money faster by offering discounts for payments early or requiring a deposit. See how you can restructure payments on goods and services that you use. Look at payroll differently – offset high bi-weekly pay by using quarterly or annual bonuses that provide flexibility for you and rewards your employees for great work. If you can’t afford to hire an accountant full-time, there are many firms that you can outsource part of the accounting of the business to or hire in for consulting. The voice of reality (a shrewd accountant) will keep you in check.
3. Double the time you think it will take: Time is a resource that is often underestimated when starting a new adventure. In the passion of developing out this great new idea, we forget about how long things can take. Particularly the little things. You can celebrate that you are the President or CEO of your business and be very happy to have the title. But you are also the janitor, the sales person, marketer and customer service rep. You need time to handle all of these responsibilities, take time to do research and to ensure that you are continuing your education and staying on top of the latest trends and facets of the marketplace.
Here are a few examples of some rough time estimates that an entrepreneurial friend put together for me for some of the things that he does that are not part of his core business.
Accounts payable: 2 hours per week
Accounts receivable: 1 hour per week
Payroll: 1 hour per week
Social Media Outreach: 3 hours per week
Developing marketing campaign: 2 hours per week (varies, but this is an average)
HR: 1 hour a week (up to 8 hours a week when issues arise with employees or when hiring)
Scheduling: 1 hour per week
Responding to sales requests: 1 hour per week
Networking: 2-4 hours per week
Miscellaneous (IT trouble shooting, equipment purchase/repair, responding to solicitations, etc..): 2 hours per week
This totals up to over a day and a half out of the week for work doesn’t even include business development, sales, or anything that has to do with the work that drives value for his customers (granted, he could probably reduce his Social Media Outreach – I mean really, 3 hours on Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook?).
One way to overcome this time crunch is to look at outsourcing some of the functions of your business so you can focus on the areas of which you have immediate control and greatest value-add. This might require you to increase your outflow of cash (which can be troublesome – see #2) but if it can allow you the time to focus on the important things for success, then it is worth it. Another option is to think outside of the “box” and look at creating partnerships and alliance where you can trade services or leverage each others core competencies.
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