Behavioral Science In Org Transformation

Using Behavioral Science to Impact Org Transformation

How to Win at Organizational Change Management in 2022  

Every sizeable organizational transformation includes a series of moments that are prime opportunities to engage and inspire your employees around the change.

In our first blog in this series, we introduced the Change Cohort Program approach. It is a powerful tool for strategizing and planning reorganizations that necessitate role shifts, management reorganizations, operational or technology process transformations, or enterprise-wide skill and capability initiatives.

This blog uncovers how you can successfully combine the Program’s stakeholder and communications structure with a highly engaging employee behavioral change approach—to shape communications to help move the humans in your organization through every change moment with less friction, increased productivity, and faster results. Propeller was invited to present at this year’s ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) Global Connect on the same topic.

The stakes are high  

In a 2021 Harvard Business Review article, their published research into 128 corporate reorganizations between 2016 and 2020 revealed:

Only 22% of companies successfully transformed from both a financial and reputational perspective - Harvard Business Review

In complex reorganizations, success often hinges on the degree to which you successfully influence understanding, agreement, and inspiration at every level and change moment. In other words, employee buy-in. If you consider that most of your employees are not engaged in your early strategy and planning process—and unaware of what’s coming—you can see how communicating thoughtfully with their needs at the center can tip the scales quickly in your favor. 

Human after all

We’ve all been there; that moment we learn about a big change that impacts us directly. Depending on the message and the messenger, we can feel any number of strong emotions.  

The key to successfully moving people through a significant change starts with being focused on managing their expectations and emotions throughout the process. Going in, the assumption needs to be that your employees may be confused, anxious, overwhelmed, and uncertain at any point. The change you hope to make is not a transaction that can be activated and wrapped up; instead, view it as a journey. There will always be setbacks and pushbacks in key organizational transformations

How can behavioral science influence key change moments?

For decades, behavioral theory has examined the effects that psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors can have on the actions we take and the decisions we make. E-commerce and consumer-driven marketers have relied on these tried-and-true psychological drivers to help them craft messaging to influence positive consumer responses for decades.

We can apply these same behavioral science concepts within our change management strategy during reorganizations. 

One such behavioral science concept that will come into play during major change transformations is heuristics. Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts our brains use to make decisions. Engaging them saves time and cognitive energy but can also lead to flawed decision-making. Naturally, people (and their brains) are going to lean on these shortcuts to process the large changes that are occurring. But if you understand why people are behaving the way they are, you can use heuristics to your advantage, enabling your people to walk down the path that best enables the change.

Heuristics for managing change

While there are numerous heuristics that could be applied, we are going to go review six examples that can be helpful during reorganizations.

Endowed Progress Heuristic Upward Trend Graph Graphic

Endowed Progress

The endowed progress effect is the idea that if you provide some type of artificial advancement toward a goal, a person will be more motivated to complete the goal. For example, people are more likely to complete a journey or finish a task when they are given an artificial head start. This often can be paired with one’s autonomy bias.

Autonomy Bias Heuristic Fist Graphic

Autonomy Bias

People have a deep-seated need to control their situations. When the existence of choice is present, people feel they are in control and report higher satisfaction. Autonomy bias can be utilized as a tool for motivating employees to be engaged with change by knowing when and how to award autonomy.

Foot in the Door Heuristic Door Graphic

Foot in the door

The foot in the door technique is a compliance tactic that assumes agreeing to a small request increases the likelihood of agreeing to a second, larger request. A little buy-in can be the important beginning to a larger buy-in later. This is similar to and often used with another heuristic called the IKEA Effect.

Ikea Effect Heuristic Maze Graphic

IKEA Effect

In a nod to its namesake, the IKEA effect is a cognitive bias where people value an object more if they make or assemble it themselves. People value what they create. If you want employees engaged in the change, allow them to play some role in the design and development of the solutions.

Priming Bias Heuristic Magnify Glass Warning Graphic

Priming bias

Our decisions are shaped by recollections of things just seen or heard. During large, systemic change, the last thing said often can be the most relevant and true information.

Authority Bias Bullhorn Graphic

Authority bias

We have a strong tendency to comply with those in charge. Extremely relevant in hierarchical organizations, this comes namely into play when considering how messaging and storytelling are executed.

How to apply powerful behavioral tools to your reorganization rollout

While every reorganization is different in its constitution, origin, and goals (full reorg, partial reorg, acquisitions, layoffs), there are six moments in the change journey for most reorganizations that you need to prepare for: 

  1. Announcement
  2. Team Discussions and All-Hands
  3. Rumor Mill
  4. Timeline Announcement
  5. Conversations
  6. Activation

To apply a thorough lens and help your people at each juncture of the change journey, a best practice behavioral strategy framework can be very effective. It allows you to think through the risks, your desired outcomes, and which heuristic could be utilized.

Let’s walk through three change moments and how you could apply heuristics to achieve your desired outcomes. Download our blank template and walk through the six key change moments to plan for risks and what heuristics you could utilize to achieve your desired outcomes.

Change Moment

What is the Change Risk?

What is the desired outcome?

Heuristics that may help?

What does this heuristic look like in action?


Folks feel blindsided; lessens productivity; uncertain impact

Build awareness; provide next steps; build the case for change

1. Endowed Progress

2. Foot in the door

1. Include a connection to the strategic roadmap

2. Attend an All-Hands / Q&A next week!

Rumor Mill

The lack of detailed information causes employees to guess the results

Rumors never gain momentum and, when they do, are directly addressed

1. Priming

2. Authority

1. Be more current than the latest rumor by trickling comms. Address head-on

2. Have the sponsor of change address the heaviest, most damaging rumors


The excitement of the re-org passes, and now new realities settle in

Employee excitement/ engagement and program sentiment improve


1 & 2 IKEA Effect and Autonomy Bias

1 & 2. Involve team throughout (and especially afterward) in the creation of ways of working, teaming, and cutover activities


Successfully Leading People Through Change

Change is hard. During an organizational transformation, you’re asking your people to learn, process, and engage with a lot of change. In our first blog, we examined how the use of a Change Cohort Program can provide much-needed structure when communicating and leading people through changes. When you marry that structure with these key behavioral science concepts during critical change moments, you can help guide your people successfully through the changes.

Propeller Consulting partners with companies before a reorganization, during, and following implementation. This includes end-to-end support throughout the stages of a transformation – design, talent strategy, and activation – while helping enable the reorganization through effective project management, people analytics, and change management

Reach out to us today and let us know how we can help you meet your reorganization goals.