From the Archive: HR and the Art of Nudgery

This post was written originally in April of 2014. I think this is as important today as it was then.

A nudge can have a major effect on changing things.
A nudge can have a major effect on changing things.

If you “nudge” someone you move them just slightly. It is generally done as a reminder or a way to alter behavior, as when my wife nudges me in the middle of the night because of my snoring. She wants me to alter my position ever-so-slightly to changing my breathing pattern. We nudge our children forward the first time they meet a dog or some other animal that looks enormous to them but we know is friendly. Friends nudge people together that have a slight attraction to each other because we want them to meet each other. Nudging is a small activity that can make a big difference.

Little things that make a big difference

Tom Peters in his book The Little BIG Things describes nudgery as a fine art. Based on some scientific research Peters says that little things can make big differences, nay staggering differences, in many situations. In his book he gives examples of a number of small things that he thinks can make a big difference. I have selected some examples of things that someone in HR or management might be able to do. These include:

  • If people are in offices that are more than 100 feet apart they may as well be 100 miles apart, in terms of direct communication.
  • Use of a round table rather than a rectangular one will make the number of people contributing go up.
  • Want to make a program “strategic”? Make sure it is at the top of the agenda for EVERY meeting. Make asking about “it” the first question. Put the person in charge in an office beside the “big boss.”
  • Practice fire drills on a regular basis, not just once a year. The behavior of making a safe exit becomes almost “automatic” and it may save a life, as it did on 9/11.
  • If you have a program you want employees to participate in make them opt out rather than opting in.

Chief Nudging Officer

There are a number of areas that HR can take on the role of CNO. These include:

  • Training
  • Performance feedback
  • Structural realignment
  • Conducting more effective meetings

Nudgery is the art of suggestion and can be done without any position power, which makes it perfect for HR in many organizations. Nudgery it the ability to see the world as it is and the way it needs to be and then moving people in that direction. It is the art of asking the question in the right way to make someone think they came up with the solution. As Tom Peters says “The toughest part of this message is that to do much with the idea you need an ‘attitude.’ An attitude that this sort of thing can work, and a willingness to screw around and screw around and then screw around until you get ‘it’ (whatever is under consideration) more or less ‘right’- and then keep fine-tuning, eternally.”
I will end by nudging you to be a nudge. I do that in writing this blog every day. I am hoping to nudge you to a different level of HR. I have no power to make you change the way you do HR, but I hope that by reading this blog on a weekly basis you will see a reason to change something here and there that will improve your job, your life and of your company. NUDGE….

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