Bruce Winner: Could You Use “The Science of Getting People to Take Action” in your Training Practice?

25 Oct 2016 1:00 PM | Anonymous

As a trainer, coach, designer, or developer, would you like a new and powerful technique to increase the application of positive behaviors following your training programs? 

Would you like to be able to influence or persuade people to do what is ultimately good for them and the organization; and do so without resorting to coercion, threats, or other negative actions?

These are just two of the positive consequences of “Nudging”, a powerful new science-based approach to getting people to take action. It is being used by the federal government, many British government agencies, and private sector firms worldwide. 

When could a training professional use Nudging? 

Here are just a few areas where it has and can be applied: 

• Increase the application of lessons learned in training, when participants return to the job:

Such as a nudge to get supervisors to use positive coaching skills and questions instead of threats or coercion 

Or a nudge for employees who need to increase their ability to listen, solve problems, and cooperate as a team member, but find difficulty in applying these skills consistently 

There are even nudges to improve customer service behaviors (see references) 

• Boost positive behaviors that benefit employees and employers 

Such as nudges to increase positivity, resilience, and even improved health habits (diet and exercise) 

• Decrease negative habits such as procrastination, angry outbursts, or blaming others 

• Some nudges utilize the power of commitments to boost follow-through on performance goals or to complete company or agency project tasks in a timely manner 

Is it based on genuine science? 

Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in behavioral economics (the science of how people make decisions). His work (and that of many others of course) formed the foundation for what is now known as Nudging. He was the first non-economist to ever win the Nobel for economics, for bringing 40 years of research from the behavioral, social, and cognitive sciences to prove how people really make decisions. This research has now been systemized in a set of findings that can be used by training professionals to change the behavior of those they train or coach. 

Nudging is based on understanding our unconscious biases and using this knowledge (and well-designed nudges) to change behavior. You will find the science of nudging explained in many contemporary books including, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Thaler and Sunstein; SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath; and Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. See the reference section for more on these and other suggested readings. 

Is nudging really feasible…for talent developers? 

1. It is inexpensive – Nudging experiments can be conducted for little or no additional revenue and with a minimum time commitment. 

2. It is a flexible technique (within current efforts or as a stand-alone tool) – Nudging can be incorporated into your pre-training promotional efforts or orientations, or you can seamlessly fuse in into your classroom or online programs, or you can wait to employ it in your post-training application efforts. It can also be used as a stand-alone effort to change or reinforce behaviors that support your organization’s goals and objectives. Many public agencies are using it this way. They have used Nudging programs to increase employee contributions to savings plans, drive down waste of agency resources, and even encourage clients to use the organization’s webpage in lieu of the contact center. 

3. Scalable (Nudges can be easily scaled up if they are effective) – Nudges are ideally designed to be tested with small groups, validated, and then scaled up for larger enterprise-wide initiatives. 

If you think that Nudging might be of use to you or your organization, explore the references in the following section. You will be joining thousands of other forward-thinking, empirically minded, and action-oriented talent developers. 

Upcoming Nudging Workshop – November 14, 2016 

In fact, if you want a two-hour deep dive into Nudging for trainers, consider attending ATD Sacramento’s upcoming two-hour workshop on Monday, November 14. The elongated hands-on workshop is from 11:00 to 1:30 and is offered at the same low price as their regular monthly workshop. The workshop is led by Bruce Winner, Custom Training Manager of the Government Training Academy, LRCCD. 

See the featured workshop here -


Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Thaler and Sunstein This is a good place to start, if you want to take a more in-depth examination or understanding of nudge or choice architecture. Thaler and Sunstein continue to be the go-to consultants and academics (nationally and internationally) in the field of applied behavioral economics. 

Thinking Fast and Slow: Daniel Kahneman Kahneman is the 2002 Nobel Prize winner in economics who, with many others, developed the theory of behavioral economics (BE). The award winning and best-selling book is full of rock solid advice and scholarship, but is a bit of a slog at over 500 pages. 

SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: Chip and Dan Heath - This very approachable book from the Heath brothers describes how to use the many lessons and findings from the social and behavioral sciences to enable change in the organization. Their book offers immediate and practical ways to promote change, but without ever mentioning the words behavioral economics or nudging. 

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions: Dan Ariely - This is another highly readable and approachable book on understanding irrationality (behavioral economics in action). Ariely is a rock star in the field of behavioral economics and has many informative and beneficial YouTube videos on the web. 

Behavioral Science for Business: The Science of Getting People to Take Action: Bri Williams - This is a relatively new book by an Australian author who has built a consultancy using Behavioral Economics as a tool for business. It is a fresh look at applied BE for the private sector. 

Want to Perfect Your Company’s Service? Use Behavioral Science. Harvard Business Review, Chase and Dasu, June 2001 

Bruce Winner, Government Training Academy,, 916.563.3232,

© ATD Sacramento Chapter

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