Opinion: If it’s good enough for the President of US, it’s good enough for you

by External10 Nov 2015
Supporting the legislation of gay marriage, taking on the climate change fight and now shining a spotlight on the value of Behavioural Science, the President of the United States Barack Obama is taking on three important issues as part of his legacy.

President Obama recently made it mandatory for government agencies to recruit experts to provide behavioural science insights in decision-making practice and engagement of the American people.

Not only did he make it mandatory, but he issued that it must be put into action from 45 days after his Executive Order on 15 September 2015. So what is Behavioural Science, why does it matter and why is President Obama making this decision a priority as his legacy?

Behavioural Science is the process of measuring and predicting human behaviour using objective research and data. This profession is growing so much that it has been recorded that Industrial and Organisational Psychologists, as a chosen profession, is expected to grow by 26 per cent over the next three years, according to the US Department of Labor.  

President Obama’s executive order follows extensive research and findings, which was carried out by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Social and Behavioural Sciences Team (SBST).

The SBST team was developed in 2014 and is a group of experts in applied Behavioural Science that translate findings and methods into improvements in Federal policies and programs for the benefit of the American people.

As detailed in SBST’s report in September, the efforts of the team are already paying dividends and saying taxpayer dollars. More service members are saving for retirement, more students are going to college and better managing their student loans, more veterans are taking advantage of education and career counselling benefits, more small farmers are gaining access to credit, and more families are securing health insurance coverage.

The outcomes led to President Obama formalising SBST and issuing an executive order to direct Federal agencies to use behavioural science when writing future policies and programs.

President Obama clearly agrees that Behavioural Science is a critical lever for the US Government to deliver better value and efficiencies for their customers – the 320 million + US citizens.

This begs the question that if the President of one of the world’s leading economies and one of the largest government workforces can make this innovative step in engaging with taxpayers to better connect with available policies and programs, why can’t other organisations of all sizes?

Why organisations should use Behavioural Science to improve performance?
Traditionally, organisations have felt that accurately predicting and influencing people’s behaviour, productivity and engagement as a ‘dark art’ guided by factors such as intuition, charisma and luck. 

Whereas in reality, it’s completely the opposite and applies data-led decision making based on science and fact.

Behavioural Science is increasingly helping organisations to measure, predict and optimise the effectiveness of their employees and internal and external stakeholders.

Understanding the behaviour of customers, clients, staff and future staff is becoming critical for businesses and organisations to survive in an increasingly competitive and volatile world and better connect with their internal and external customers. 

Drawing on my experience, I have witnessed firsthand how Behavioural Science can accurately improve many facets of organisational performance.

Now, savvy organisations can identify more effective management practices through a better understanding of what people do, and the elements that influence human choices and actions.

So how does it work?
Behavioural Science can be used in many ways in an organisation, but the approach is usually the same.
  1. Issue: A business issue is identified (e.g. decreasing revenue) by the organisation
  2. Measurement: Identify and measure possible factors that may be linked to this business outcome (e.g. employee capability levels, organisational systems and processes)
  3. Analysis: The data is analysed to identify which factors are objectively linked to the business issue (e.g. big data and predictive analytics)
  4. Intervention: Once the factors that predict this business outcome are identified, interventions are put in place to improve business outcomes (e.g. training, assessment, coaching)
  5. Business Impact: Once the interventions have been put in place, business outcomes continue to be measured to ensure sustained business outcome improvements are realised (e.g. return on investment)
How can your organisation use Behavioural Science?
One area we are seeing firsthand is the increase in organisations using Behavioural Science to measure the effectiveness of their HR management practices. 

Traditionally, some business leaders have seen HR as a cost centre with, at best, an indirect link to business outcomes. Innovative HR leaders are now embracing the challenge of changing this perspective with Behavioural Science. Typically, this is done initially for key HR practices such as:
  • Recruitment:  Measuring the effectiveness of recruitment practices in predicting employee performance
  • Engagement: Measuring the impact of employee engagement on business performance (e.g. profitability, share price of service quality)
  • Leadership: Measuring the impact of leadership programs on the productivity and effectiveness of the participants
  • Sales:  Measuring the effectiveness of sales assessments and training programs to lift individual and organisational sales performance
  • Surveys: Measuring the impact of talent diagnostics such as 360-degree and engagement surveys on employee performance ratings.
What are the results?
Increasingly, Behavioural Scientists are able to deliver an objective, measurable and impressive impact on business performance. 

By way of example, we recently implemented an assessment process to identify the right people to work in the sales team for a well-known global organisation. 

By implementing this solution, we were able to improve the average sales, per employee, by approximately $70,000 per annum across a team of 600+ sales professionals in Australia. 

As such, by not using this solution there was effectively losing in unrealised business outcomes $42 Million AUD per year. Through the insights provided by Behavioural Science, the client was able to realise the ideal personality traits they needed in their future sales people.

So what now?
As supported by President Obama and shown by the work of the SBST team, it’s clear the insights provided by Behavioural Science are substantial and can no longer be termed the ‘dark arts’.

The reality is that Behavioural Science is increasingly the key to help lift performance and output of your people and organisation.

The days of using guesswork to get the best out of your people are over. 

Your competitors are fast realising the benefits of this growing industry, just like Obama!

About the author
David Munro is National Manager of Client Solutions at Davidson Consulting & HR Solutions. He is an experienced Organisational Psychologist and HR Executive. David has a passion and deep expertise in helping organisations to measure and optimise the talent of their people. He uses this focus on measurement to help organisations to measure, quantify and improve the impact of HR on lifting workplace performance. David's core focus is psychometric assessment, recruitment and selection, leadership, 360 degree surveys, performance management, succession management and executive coaching.