This blog post, provided by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center and written by Dr. Terry Flynn and Tim Li, is based on a research paper by Phillip Ebert and Wolfgang Freibichler. 

Key Findings

  • A traditional approach to productivity, like streamlined processes through strict rules, may not be the best approach for managing workers in the knowledge economy.
  • “Nudges” are options as to how choices are presented that may influence selection. Nudges are typically small interventions that are more cost-effective and scalable to fit the needs of different organizations.
  • Nudges can be used to improving productivity by optimizing both intuitive and rational thinking. Examples including changing default options to allow for intuitive decisions that better support the organization’s goal, such as default selection of 401k retirement plans. Scheduling shorter meetings and less intrusive notifications can help knowledge workers have more time and use it more effectively.

Implications for Public Relations

Organizations should consider incorporating nudge management when looking to improve the productivity of knowledge workers. This management style uses nudges which are interventions that optimize intuition and unconscious behaviour by changing the way choices are presented. Logical and rational information processing is central to any industry that works with information and technology, but many decisions are made using mental shortcuts and instinct. Nudges can shape the organizational environment and contexts, so that automatic processes contribute to productivity. Some examples include changing the default setting for how long meetings are scheduled or how intrusive digital notifications are to promote more productive working time.

Managing knowledge worker productivity provides unique challenges for organizations. While streamlining operations using rules may be effective in some industries, it isn’t always appropriate for knowledge workers where innovation and flexibility are important aspects of productivity.

Cognitive research suggests two main methods for processing information and making decisions. Heuristic processing relies on mental shortcuts and is therefore fast, reflective, and efficient, but can lead to cognitive biases. Central processing on the other hand is rational and logical, which is central to work in the knowledge economy, but is mentally draining. Most management strategies tend to focus on optimizing central processing, but neglect to recognize that people often act on heuristic processing. Organizations can utilize insights from behavioural sciences to create ideal conditions for intuitive decisions that contribute to their productivity goals, such as optimizing cost and capital efficiencies, and fostering innovation.

“Nudges” are changes to how choices are presented and perceived that may influence behaviour and selection. Instead of implementing strict rules and procedures, organizations can shape the work environment using nudges to support decision making and foster productivity.

This review of nudge management discusses various examples of leveraging or mitigating cognitive bias for productivity.

Changing defaults is a powerful form of nudging as people usually accept defaults to avoid the cognitive effort of careful evaluation. Not all time spent in meetings are productive, in part due to the information bias, a tendency to seek information in excess. Setting a shorter default meeting length can save time and reduce redundant and unproductive information sharing. Changes to the default settings of notifications like email and messaging to be less intrusive can support focus on more important tasks.

Knowledge sharing and collaboration is often critical for innovation. By designing office spaces to support conversation, knowledge workers are more likely to naturally engage with other. Kitchens and dining spaces can be placed between different departments to encourage interaction between workers with diverse ideas and perspectives.

Nudges can also operate on social norms, our desire to fit in with others. By encouraging open communication about individual plans and intentions, people are less likely to overestimate the time needed for a task, setting up success through more achievable goals.

Blog post compiled by Dr. Terry Flynn and Tim Li. 

Ebert, Phillip, & Freibichler, Wolfgang. (2017). Nudge management: applying behavioural science to increase knowledge worker productivity. Journal of Organization Design, 6(1), 4.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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