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Jeff Bezos' famous rules for high output Team Behaviour

How Jeff Bezos designs Team Behaviour

By | Organisational Design

The design of high performance
team behaviour at Amazon

Jeff Bezos' famous rules for high output Team Behaviour

The number one question for every organization in the knowledge economy is to figure out how to get the highest level of creative, intellectual and productive power from their teams. This is a classic wicked Behavioural Design challenge: How do you design the ultimate high-output team? And how can you trigger team behaviour that leads to high output? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has got some fascinating answers to this problem.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is famous for his unorthodox management ideas to get the most out of a group of talented people. At Amazon they cultivate certain behavioural design principles that are designed to challenge group-think and promote excellence. The Atlantic published a fascinating long read about Bezos in which a couple of these ideas are covered.

The two-pizza team

The most famous rule is the “two-pizza teams”-rule: Every team should be able to be fed with no more than two pizza’s. The idea is that the small teams instil a sense of ownership over projects. The downside of this design is that “employees placed on such small teams can also experience a greater fear of failure because there’s no larger group in which to hide or to more widely distribute blame” (Quote from The Atlantic).

The 6-page memo

Another rule I learned about is the 6-page memo. Quoting the Atlantic again:

“Amazon has a raft of procedures to guide its disparate teams. Bezos insists that plans be pitched in six-page memos, written in full sentences, a form he describes as “narrative.” This practice emerged from a sense that PowerPoint had become a tool for disguising fuzzy thinking. Writing, Bezos surmised, demands a more linear type of reasoning. As John Rossman, an alumnus of the company who wrote a book called Think Like Amazon, described it, “If you can’t write it out, then you’re not ready to defend it.”

The six-pagers are consumed at the beginning of meetings in what Bezos has called a “study hall” atmosphere. This ensures that the audience isn’t faking its way through the meeting either. Only after the silent digestion of the memo—which can be an anxiety-inducing stretch for its authors—can the group ask questions about the document”.

What a fascinating intervention to design high performance team behaviour! By simply asking people to pitch their plans in a 6-page narrative, they are forced to think very clearly about the problem and the solution. And by setting up this “study hall”-ritual at the beginning of the meeting, you know that your text will be read thoroughly and that you will be shredded if you didn’t think things through.

Behavioural Design is the missing layer

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Culture is not about values, but about behaviour

How often have you been in a session in which you are asked to think about core values that define the culture of the organisation? I think this exercise is total crap. The whole idea that a team can cough up core values based on a brainstorm is insane. Values, beliefs and cultures are shaped by how the team interacts. And how the team interacts is by large determined by how the little rules, rituals of habits they installed to shape their interactions. If a team is committed to a daily check-in, a proper check-out of every meeting and a weekly retrospective in which they share a round of constructive feedback, they will think of themselves as totally committed to growing and learning. They will think of honesty and feedback as something they simply do as a team.

Organisational design is about designing decision-making

There was another passage in the longread about Jeff Bezos that I thought was fascinating:

“What is Amazon, aside from a listing on Nasdaq? This is a flummoxing question. The company is named for the world’s most voluminous river, but it also has tributaries shooting out in all directions. Retailer hardly captures the company now that it’s also a movie studio, an artificial-intelligence developer, a device manufacturer, and a web-services provider. But to describe it as a conglomerate isn’t quite right either, given that so many of its businesses are tightly integrated or eventually will be. When I posed the question to Amazonians, I got the sense that they considered the company to be a paradigm—a distinctive approach to making decisions, a set of values, the Jeff Bezos view of the world extended through some 600,000 employees. This description, of course, means that the company’s expansion has no natural boundary; no sector of the economy inherently lies beyond its core competencies”.

Amazon is a paradigm, a distinctive approach to making decisions. That’s what makes the company so dangerous. The reason why they win in nearly every market is that they figured ways to analyse customer preferences and needs, build technology to cater to those needs and most of all: they know how to quickly turn this into success because they have a set of rules that allows them to make winning decisions much faster than their competitors.

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Real Artist ship - quote

How to design an innovation habit?

By | Organisational Design

The organizational habits that
produce innovation and growth

Real Artist ship - quote

Why are some companies more innovative than others? I want to argue that they have habits in place that produce more ideas and habits to get those ideas shipped. As Steve Jobs once famously said (paraphrasing William Gibson) : “Real artists ship”.

In this blogpost I want to explore this innovation habit, based on our 8 year experience with collaborating with teams.

The habits that kill innovation.

Dozens of books havebeen written about this subject, but from our own experiences on running behavioural design sprint, these were the most common habits that kill innovation:

  1. No research culture / a crisis of curiosity. The bigger a company get, the more out of touch it becomes with how real users think, feel and behave. Managers rely on abstract data, like market shares, sales volumes, etc. The more detached they become from the real customer, the less probable they will be able to spot exciting opportunities.
  2. No ideation culture / a crisis of imagination. Once an organisation outgrew its startup phase and entered its scale-up phase, the whole mindset of the organisation is focused on growing the business. Most businesses organise their process around building the existing product offering. Moreover, to achieve this growth mindset, a specialisation of roles is required. Everyone, from the product manager to marketing manager, digital manager, UX-er, and communication manager, is expected to perform on their specific domain. This results in a decreased capability of the organisation to think out-of-the-box and to think outside-in. Nearly always, the exciting opportunity for innovation transcends the boundaries of the specific discipline.
  3. No prototyping culture / a crisis of experimentation. The more an organisation specialises, the more we expect those specialists to know what they are doing. This expert fallacy is a well know organisational problem: Because we are expected to be experts, we are more inclined to act like experts. The more we think we know, the less alienated we become from discovering the truth. Not knowing is perceived as weakness in these companies while every successful startup knows that aggressive experimentation is the nr one secret ingredient to growth.
  4. Conflicting incentives / a crisis of management. The problem with innovation in most organisations is that everyone, including management, is hired to execute the strategy. Not only are they hired, but they’re also reviewed based on the execution of the strategy. When your promotion depends on hitting the targets, everything related to new ideas will be perceived as a distraction.
The net effect of these habits is total inertia. Even in the context of declining market share, missing targets and aggressive competition, all the forces in the organisation seem to pull people towards repeating the same strategies over and over again. The habit of keeping doing what we always do is just too strong.

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The habits that boost innovation

Innovation is not a goal as such. Innovation is always a function of growth. Some organisations are far better than others to spot opportunities, come up with ideas, test them and succeed in actually shipping them. Whether they improve the product, marketing, process or campaign, the value of new ideas is that they succeed in contributing to growth.

That’s why we need to study the innovative power of an organisation as a habit problem. Innovative companies have habits in place that trigger more curiosity, ideation, and experimentation. Continuous improvement is their default mode. We have facilitated sprints with many teams. Most of them don’t call themselves “innovation teams”. They’re product teams, or growth teams, or customer experience teams. The biggest challenge they all face is to improve their output to generate growth for the business. There are four team habits we came across that strongly correlated with the creative and innovative power of a team:

 

  1. A deep love-relationship with customer problems: Innovative teams are in love with the problem of the customer. They relentlessly talk to customers or observe them in the real world and try to spot opportunities for helping customer to overcome pains, break bad habits, take away barriers and achieve goals. They are always asking themselves the question: How might we help our customers to be more successful
  2. A fast process for generating ideas: Innovative teams have proper ideation sessions. They follow the core principles for group creativity (like brainwriting and dotmocracy) and treat every idea as an interesting hypothesis. In a well designed creative process, the individuals come up with as many ideas as possible and the group decides upon which ideas are worth experimenting.
  3. A process and tools in place to prototype and ship: Great teams have a maker-mentality. They always try to figure out ways to prototype their ideas and test them in the real world. This allows them to increase their learning curve and their success rate rapidly. An essential condition for allowing this to happen is to have an infrastructure that allows experimentation.
  4. A cultural shift that promotes, rewards and celebrates braveness. This is by far the most important habit. Very often, the problem is cultural. If the organisation is number-driven, then you’ll always end up with all kinds of triggers that incline people to believe that following the rules and reaching targets is what the organisation expects of them. However, if you want to create a culture of experimentation, then you’ll have to embrace failure, promote and rewards braveness. People need to experience that experimentation is being expected of them.

Incremental versus radical innovation

In the literature on innovation, quite often the distinction is made between radical and incremental innovation. Incremental innovation is the optimisation of the existing products and services, whereas disruptive innovation is the more radical ideas to transform the business.

To be honest: I think this distinction is a bit artificial. If you think about the innovation habits we described above, then they are about being radically customer-centred, about having a maker-mentality, and a culture of experimentation. Out of this habit, both incremental, as well as radical ideas can emerge. The only thing an organisation needs to have in place is a fund to invest in the rapid prototyping and testing of some of the more radical ideas.

 

What this means for innovation leadership

When approaching the problem of innovation in organisations from this perspective, I thinkthe role of an innovation leader in a company is to help to build the innovation habit. I don’t believe an innovation department – as the place where innovation is happening -isthe solution.

An innovation leader / or innovation tribe should be a group of people that facilitate and train teams to install the innovation habit. If new radical ideas come out of this process, they should be able to invest money in them to be able to hire a team to design, build, prototype and test the idea in the real world. If this experiment turned out to be successful, then it’s their job to convince the board to invest in the concept with ambition.

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BJ Fogg model explained

By | Behavioural Science

Excerpt: this is a reference page on which you can find an explanation of the Behavior Model as developed by professor BJ Fogg who founded the Standford Persuasive Tech Lab. His model shows that it takes three elements to be present at the same time: motivation, ability and a trigger to be able to change behaviour. It’s such an elegant and easy to understand model that we use it on a daily basis to come up with solutions that will lead to positive behaviour.

 

BJ Fogg model

On this page, we want to give you an introduction to  BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. Professor Fogg is one of the grounding fathers of the scientifical research in behavioral psychology. Maybe you have heard of the concept persuasive technology or even persuasive design. The BJ Fogg Behaviour model is a smart and easy-to-use tool in this field of expertise. It explains which three buttons you need to push to be able to persuade someone into doing something. Or as BJ Fogg explains it himself three elements that have to be present at the same time to change behaviour: motivation, ability, and trigger.

Advocate in using behavioural psychology for the positive

Important side note to this is that BJ Fogg is a very strong advocate of using insights into human psychology for the positive. And so are we. Our founding mission is to unlock the power of behavioural psychology to nudge people into making positive choices in work, life, and play. Behavioral psychology or behavioural design is a very powerful tool for changing people’s behaviour, let’s all use it for helping people to engage in a better behaviour.

This isn’t so much an article, but more a reference page that you can consult whenever you want to know more or reread about the BJ Fogg model. To make your life a bit easier we have created page sections, so you can easily jump to a particular subject that is of particular interest to you. We also have included links into this page to more detailed information if you want to dive a bit deeper. The page sections:

BJ Fogg Behavior Model explained
Triggers
Motivation
Ability

BJ Fogg Behavior Model explained

We love working with the Behavior Model because of its elegance. There’s a lot of research on behavioural psychology, and there are a lot of models on behaviour change out there, but things can get pretty complicated. BJ Fogg has made understanding what triggers people to change behaviour very simple. This makes his model very easy to use on a daily basis. What does the model look like?

Bottom line is this: Behavior = motivation x ability x trigger. When the desired behaviour does not happen, at least one of those three elements is missing. The most important implication of this is that using the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM) as a guide; you can quickly identify what stops people from performing behaviours that you seek. Also known as the desired behaviour.

If a sufficient degree of motivation to perform a behaviour is matched with the ability to do that behavior, all that is then needed for the behaviour to occur is a trigger. Illustrated in the model as the activation threshold. Triggers placed on the right-hand side of the threshold will lead to behaviour change, triggers to the left will probably show no behaviour change.

Three simple questions to ask

What makes the model so easy to use in practice, is that anytime you want to understand better why a behaviour isn’t happening, all you have to do is ask yourself three simple questions to spot what is lacking for behaviour change to happen:

  1. Is someone motivated enough?
  2. Does someone have the capabilities of performing the desired behaviour?
  3. Did we remind them/ask them to perform the desired behaviour?

Let’s discuss an example. Think about quitting smoking. If someone doesn’t want to stop smoking (low motivation). You can trigger him all you want, but nothing will happen, as quitting smoking is very hard to do (low ability). You’ll end up on the lower right side of the model. If someone is very highly motivated to quit smoking. It is still very hard to do (low ability). So, you should think about how you could make it easier for this person (higher ability). An answer could be by thinking about baby steps. Making the desired behaviour easier by breaking up the desired behaviour in easier to perform steps.

For example putting a button (trigger) on a stop smoking website to easily order free ‘stop smoking patches’ (easy to do, or higher ability). Someone can quickly start with sticking on these patches. And from there on you can persuade him or her to do something harder (example reducing the number of cigarettes smoked on a day).

In the next sections, we will explain the separate elements of the model in some more depth, starting with triggers.

Fogg on Triggers

A trigger is easily put a cue or call to action that causes someone to perform a certain behaviour. A trigger should be noticeable and actionable. In other words, you should be able to spot the trigger (could be with one of all your senses), and you should know what to do when seeing the trigger. A very known trigger is a traffic light. You see it. We all know we have to stop when the light is turned red. And we know we can drive when the light is green.

Another trigger that probably sets yourself in action multiple times a day is that little red notification on your mobile. You see it, and you know what to do: check your email.

But if someone comes up to you and reaches out his hand to you, that’s a trigger too. You see it, and you know it is meant for you to shake his hand.

What’s important to remember is that if you want to change behaviour, you have to trigger the behaviour. Without a trigger, someone can be very motivated and have the ability to perform the behaviour, but there’s simply no call to action.

BJ Fogg has a beautiful expression; he says that our job as a behavioural designer is ‘to put hot triggers in the path of motivated people.’ Which brings us nicely to the next section: motivation.

 

Fogg on Motivation

There are a lot of theories of motivation out there, most of them explain how motivation is the key concept needed to change attitude, which then leads to behaviour change. What is so interesting about behavioural psychology is that it has unraveled the fact that it works the other way around. People tend to change their attitudes to be consistent with the behaviour they have performed. In other words, if you can trigger certain behaviour, you can change attitudes.

This has everything to do with our brains constantly working hard for us to lower our cognitive overload. And being consistent is one of the mechanisms that help us do that. If you’d like to get some more in-depth insights into the workings of our brain in decision making, make sure to check out our post about system 1 and 2 thinking of Kahneman.

When motivation is high, you can get people to do hard things

But let’s get back to motivation as used in the BJ Fogg model. Motivation in his model is also not about changing attitudes; it is all about changing behaviour. As a person, you can be highly motivated or low motivated. BJ Fogg has identified three core motivators. But the key idea to remember for now is that when motivation is high, you can get people to do hard things. But once motivation drops then people will only do easy things.

Just think about a situation you might have found yourself in. Have you ever had the intention to eat all day healthily? You’re highly motivated to do so. And then it is 4 pm. You start to get hungry. Someone comes in a puts a bowl of potato chips just within your arm’s reach, and your motivation starts to drop. Before you know it you catch yourself eating the chips. It was made so easy; you have performed the behaviour without you even discussing it with your motivation anymore. But the same goes if someone had put a bowl of cucumber slices near you. You would have eaten the cucumber. Nothing to do with your motivation, but with easy to do things.

Start with ability

Dr. Fogg himself recommends to always start with making the desired behaviour easier instead of starting at motivation. Our brain prefers simplicity, which brings us to ability. But do you want to really grasp the concept of motivation? In this post, we tell you all about motivation as researched by BJ Fogg. We use Cialdini’s persuasion principles to boost ability.

Fogg on Ability

To perform the desired behaviour, a person must have the ability to do so. That seems obvious, of course. But designers of persuasive experiences sometimes assume people have more ability than they do.

There are two paths to increasing ability. You can train people, giving them more skills, more ability to do the target behaviour. That’s the hard path. The better path is to make the target behaviour easier to do. BJ Fogg calls this simplicity. In his model, he sometimes replaces ability with simplicity. By focusing on simplicity of the target behaviour, you increase ability. There are six simplicity factors:

1. Time

If a target behaviour requires time and we don’t have time available, then the behaviour is not simple.

2. Money

For people with limited financial resources, a target behaviour that costs money is not simple. That link in the simplicity chain will break easily. For wealthy people, this link in the chain rarely breaks. In fact, some people will simplify their lives by using the money to save time.

3. Physical effort

Behaviours that require physical effort may not be simple.

4. Brain cycles

If performing a target behaviour causes us to think hard, that might not be simple. This is especially true if our minds are consumed with other issues. We all are busy trying to lower our cognitive overload as explained by Kahneman. We generally overestimate how much everyday people want to think.

5. Social deviance

What is meant by social deviance is going against the norm, breaking the rules of society. If a target behaviour requires you to be socially deviant, then that behaviour is no longer simple.

6. Non-routine

People tend to find behaviours simple if they are routine, activities they do over and over again. Also referred to as habits or the autopilot. When people face a behaviour that is not routine, then they may not find it simple. In seeking simplicity, people will often stick to their routine or habits, like buying groceries at the same supermarket, even if it costs more money or time than other options.

300 million button story

One of the most known examples of an ability intervention is the 300 million dollar button story. The story is about Amazon.com. In the early days of the launch of their online shopping platform, they used to have a check-out form that consisted of two fields (email address and password), two buttons (login and register) and one link (forgot password). You would say this is simplicity.

But it turned out this form was preventing customers from buying products. They found out that new customers didn’t want to register right away, and returning customers often forgot their inlog and/or password and gave up after several failed login attempts.

Proceed to check-out

What did they do? They did an ability intervention. They took away the register button and replaced it with a button that said ‘continue’ accompanied with a simple message: “You do not need to create an account to make purchases on our site. Simply click continue to proceed to checkout. To make your future purchases even faster, you can create an account during checkout.” The story goes making the desired behaviour easier simply by changing the button, boosted sales with 45% ($ 300.000.000) in the first year.

 

To sum Fogg up

The BJ Fogg Behavior Model is a very useful model that derives from human psychology and is very recommendable to use for everyone who is involved in human-centered design or persuasive design. If you want to change behaviour three elements have to happen at the same time: motivation, ability, trigger. Also known as B=MAT. Advice is to start at ability. Making the desired behaviour easier to do, or the undesired behaviour harder to do.

We have looked at all three elements of the model; BJ Fogg explains the Behavior Model himself in this 2 and half minute video if you’d like to do a quick recap:

 

Would you like to learn more?

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