New survey shows majority of businesses are taking behaviour change seriously but there are still misaligned priorities and a lack of top level engagement
Motivating behaviour change is an issue that’s been at the forefront of the sustainability agenda, but it’s not always clear exactly how it should be defined. What behaviours are people trying to change? What strategies are being used? And how seriously is the issue being taken by business?
A new survey published by my organisation, Corporate Culture, sought to explore these questions and evaluate how different organisations are responding to and acting on the behaviour change agenda. The research was carried out online between March and May this year, and attracted responses from 328 public, private and third sector organisations. We’ve pulled out some of the topline findings.
A clear definition
While 10% of respondents saw behaviour change as primarily about “nudging” people, the majority defined it as much more complex and far-reaching effort. Of the respondents, 63% agreed with the definition of behaviour change as “an evidence-based process that uses psychology, behavioural science and audience insight to change how people act.”
There was strong consensus on the importance of behaviour change, with 94% of respondents agreeing that behaviour change is important for their organisation. And the majority is acting, too. Three-quarters of respondents said they are already taking behaviour change action or planning to do so. In terms of priority audiences, respondents target most of their behaviour change action at their customers (54%) followed closely by their employees (46%). This is perhaps not too surprising as these are the sectors over which a company perhaps feels it has more control.
When it comes to suppliers, however, only 26% of behaviour change activity was targeted in their direction. Commenting on these statistics, Jennie Price, CEO of Sport England, said it was a missed opportunity: “I was surprised to see behavioural change in the supply chain being given a low priority – for large organisations, this is an opportunity to change behaviour quickly and often profoundly. Supermarkets proved this years ago in relation to sustainable packaging – who will be next?”
Three top motivators
When it comes to the thinking behind action on behaviour change, the private sector’s three top motivators for action were to secure competitive advantage (48%), to build stronger relationships (47%) and to create sustainable marketplaces (33%). That businesses are primarily motivated by the hope of gaining a competitive edge through behaviour change, suggests a belief that behaviour change has a tangible value to the company. On the more negative side, it could also suggest that companies are developing behaviour change initiatives in isolation from one another rather than collaborating or consulting for real, sector-wide change.
Mismatch on issues and action
The research showed there was seldom an alignment between important external issues affecting an organisaton and behaviour change priorities. For example, raw material scarcity is seen to be one of the least important external issues (32%) but action on waste is one of the top areas of behaviour change (around 70%). Economic uncertainty topped the external issues but action on saving for the future and “managing my finances” were bottom of the list of priority behaviours. While more alignment might be expected between sustainable business priorities and behaviour change priorities, it is still early days in the development of behaviour change thinking.
CEOs own the issue but don’t have “the knowledge”
CEOs and MDs are seen as owning the behaviour change programme (39% compared to 8% when it comes to CSR/sustainability directors and marketing directors) and yet their knowledge of behaviour change is less refined. They see it as more about communications or nudging than about an evidence-based process using insight to define strategies.
Public sector leads the way
It’s clear that in many ways, the public sector is often ahead of the private sector in achieving real change. Campaigns like WRAP’s RecycleNow or Love Food Hate Waste use a variety of strategies to achieve change including communications, research, public policy, grassroots engagement and action on infrastructure. The private sector currently tends to use a narrower range of strategies. The results also suggest that the private sector tends not to measure impact. Indeed, almost a fifth of private companies do not measure effectiveness at all compared to just 5% in the public sector.
Clear responsibilities for government and business
In terms of responsibility, the government was seen to have the lead role in engaging consumers on the need to live more sustainably (66%), while the role of business was to make it easy to act (55%). Third-sector organisations, even among themselves, struggled to identify their role in influencing change.