People process information in different ways ©  Tara Moore/Getty Images
People process information in different ways © Tara Moore/Getty Images

Three lessons for CPOs using behavioural science

23 April 2021

A one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer when communicating change to employees, according to the procurement boss at Rolls-Royce. 

David Loseby, group CPO at Rolls-Royce, told SM behavioural science principles can be crucial for effective change management, especially in the context of digital transformation.

“You need to recognise that it's not about the technology, it's about the people. If you're going to be successful, you absolutely need to consider people first and the technology second,” he said. 

The engineering company began its digital transformation using Ivalua software in 2020. With the advent of the pandemic and teams spread throughout several countries, it was critical to consider what the value of the project would be.

“It struck me very early on that what had been conceptualised in the business case [for the transformation] was very traditional change methodology. There’s nothing sinister or wrong with that, but I realised taking that approach, even pre pandemic, was suboptimal,” he said. 

“The value and the benefit of a new way of working is about getting effective, and substantive adoption of that new way of working.”

Throughout the process of change, it was important to strike the right balance between compliance and creating a “frictionless experience” for end users, suppliers and stakeholders, Loseby said.

Loseby shared his experiences of how behavioural science can be used for change management:

1. One size fits all doesn’t work

Loseby said: “Don't assume that everybody thinks, acts, and digests information exactly the same way because they don't. The reality is that we may speak common languages but we don't all think the same. Some of the differences in our thinking may be very subtly different, in other cases they may be quite markedly different.

“You have to plan something that, within the bounds of pragmatism, enables you to connect with different audiences almost simultaneously. One size fits all is not the answer,” Loseby said.

Different people carrying out different tasks in the organisation will require the information played to them in different ways, Loseby said. 

“You have to recognise that different groups will connect with the way in which different messages are delivered. This is fundamental to the whole 'choice architecture' and cognitive framing, so the way in which you frame the message, the way in which you deliver it, the language that you use, and the context that you set it in, is incredibly important,” he said.

2. Be aware of cognitive loads

Loseby said it is important to note that people are highly “cognitively loaded”. 

“What we mean by that is if you think about the capacity and the number of things that an individual might think about in ordinary times, it can be quite saturated. But recently there have been additional attributes, like, 'Am I going to catch Covid?' or, 'Do I still have a job?’ The cognitive load on people has increased significantly over this period of time and disrupted their routine,” he said. 

If you are undergoing a large project or changing the way you work and want somebody to do something differently, you have to replay that message every four to six weeks in order to maintain the focus on what is important, Loseby said. 

“It's not because people are not doing their job or they're not paying attention. It's just a natural function as human beings that we need this top-up of information. We've got all got this cognitive load and you need to compensate for that,” he said. 

3. Take your time

“It's interesting when you talk to people and say, 'How much do you know about this digital platform?' The chances are most people will tell you that they do understand it and it's all fine,” Loseby said. 

“Realistically you should understand that as a signal for saying, 'I don't really understand that as much as I think I should do, but actually I can't really tell you because you're too senior'.”

One of the lessons learned at Rolls-Royce was to not assume from the outset that people knew exactly what the new way of working looked like. Loseby said it was important to spend time with every single person to articulate and disseminate a better understanding of what the new world looked like.

“As leaders, we have to make sure that we bring everybody up to speed and up to at least a minimum level of comprehension and understanding. It comes back to the simple idiom of setting the expectations. My expectation is your new world would look like this, you'll work in this way and we'll use these tools. If we don't do that, then we're setting ourselves and our teams up to fail and that's not a good recipe.” he said.

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