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20 Apr 2022

Nudge management: inspiring without constraining

Originating in the behavioral sciences, the “nudge” logic is gradually becoming established in management practices and is making the news. Etienne Bressoud, co-founder and deputy CEO of BVA Nudge Consulting, helps us decipher this valuable tool for business performance and employee well-being.

nudge management

Can you explain what nudge management is? How does it transform the current vision of management?

Etienne Bressoud: The nudge approach consists in thinking about how to organize the environment of individuals to help them move from intention to action. It will not revolutionize everything in the company, but as its name indicates, nudge is a nudge!

To achieve this, nudge relies on behavioral sciences. They are a fabulous tool because they place the human being at the heart of the company’s transformation. The challenge is to create a favorable mental framework and to activate levers of influence on a daily basis to improve the well-being and performance of employees within companies. The nudge allows to instill collective and individual efficiency logics at work. 

What does nudge bring to management thinking?

E. B.: Nudge management, and more broadly the behavioral sciences, provide a concrete response to complement the financial logic that can have its limits, particularly in intellectual or creative environments.

The alternative tools of nudge make sense and are gradually transforming the vision of management. They show us that other levers, based on experience or gratification, exist and, above all, that they are an effective complement to financial logic. Behavioral sciences and nudge allow us to expand the reading grid and the set of possible levers that an HR can activate.

How does it work in practice?

E. B.: Nudge involves analyzing all processes in order to identify individual biases and the social and environmental factors that influence decisions. For example, we worked on gender diversity in the workplace with the BNP Paribas bank to attract more men into the human resources departments. One of the levers we used was to entrust the writing of job offers to men, who are better able to sense what a male candidate is looking for. Moreover, men are sensitive to the “business” component of a position. By changing the name “HR BP” to “HR Business Partner”, we have highlighted the business component, thus making this dimension of the position more explicit. The implementation of these and other nudges has enabled us to increase the proportion of male employees appointed to human resources positions from 18% to 28%.

What are the limits?

E. B.: The limit of nudge lies in its definition: a nudge to move from intention to action. This implies that nudge will be of little use to employees who are rather resistant to change. Personal intention is essential. Nudge remains a lever, it will not reach 100% of the target! Moreover, nudge intervenes on individual behaviors and logic, and cannot, nor should it, replace more “macro” policies.

Is nudge compatible with hybridization and work flexibility? 

E. B.: Absolutely. One of the most recurrent examples of this is the difficulty employees have in setting limits in terms of working hours when they are teleworking. Nudges can be used to encourage healthier behavior in this context. For example, it is very easy to set up a dialogue box when an employee wants to send an email at a late hour, encouraging him to stop his activity. The message can also be to remind the correspondent that he is under no obligation to respond immediately to the email. There are a number of great digital tools that can be used for nudge! The question is to determine which behaviors should be encouraged or restricted by employees when they are in hybrid or flexible mode in an office.

What advice do you have for organizations wishing to move towards this type of management?

E. B.: When we become interested in nudge, it is because we have potentially perceived the limits of what currently exists in the company. The “Dunning-Kruger” effect shows that when you start out in a field, you quickly get the impression that you know everything, wrongly.

Questioning oneself, putting one’s activity into perspective is the first step. Being open to new knowledge and accepting that you don’t know everything is a second. This is the magic, if there is any, of nudge management: this contribution of new knowledge is intended to inspire new ways of intervening to change the behavior of employees and promote transformation in the company.

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