How to use data to change behaviors

How to use data to change behaviors

The government's COVID-19 response is a good example of failed leadership from a data perspective. While government officials have access to a huge amount of data to help them make decisions they’ve fundamentally failed to use it to take people on a journey. There’s a huge lesson that businesses can learn from this on how to use data to change behaviors.

What we’ve seen is governments responding to the outbreak at a very simplistic level. All governments, not just ours, have essentially said to people this is what you need to do without any context or roadmap of what's going to happen. They’ve failed to articulate the risks based on the data they were seeing.

In the early stages, the Australian government focused on the number of deaths in Italy, for example. But they didn’t say what the data means to us and what actions the Australian society needed to take as a result. The government failed to use the data they had to contextualize their response. They didn’t say, here are the challenges we have and the things we have to think about. For example, they weren’t prepared to mention the impact on the economy so the media defined it as a health crisis which meant the government couldn’t talk about all the other things that concerned them like the economy, mental health, or domestic violence.

Because the government didn’t take people on that journey, it left everyone to interpret the data and decide when and how to act. This is now driving the government reaction. The decision to loosen restrictions has been driven by the fact that people were already loosening their behavior rather than the data.

If the government had used data and actually said we have an opportunity to get rid of COVID-19 entirely in Australia and here are the things we need to do then we could have had a very different conversation. When we're asking people to do things that are unnatural, like stay at home, then you need to provide a really good rationale and give them a roadmap based on metrics.

Without a roadmap to tell us when we will be successful, people are left to make our own choices about how to behave. Just look at the lack of understanding that people have around what has changed as restrictions loosen.

I think a lot of business leaders do the same thing. They say this is what we're doing without providing any context to the decision making or explaining what drives their behavior. When you do that, all you can muster is very short term behavioral change.

That's the key lesson for business. When you're creating strategies to drive your organization and you don't explain to people why you're taking action and what needs to change, you leave people disenfranchised.

It's very easy for senior management to make broad-based decisions like organizational restructures or changes in strategy without bringing the organization along for the ride. It's a classic change management problem and I think using data as a mechanism for change management is really underrated.

A good example of that right now is the number of organizations that are letting people go with a very simple statement that the environment has changed and revenue will drop. They’re not being specific about what parts of the organization are adding value and why they’re focusing on some activities.

By providing people with the data and the context that is driving your decision making and taking them on a journey, you help them understand what's important for your organization and how their job and actions help drive performance. They then know when they're performing well and can see the impact their behavior has on the organization.

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