3 heuristics that change decision making

 In Change management

When planning change it’s good to be aware of the role natural biases play.  Those unconscious rules of thumb people have that help them make judgments. In psychology these are called ‘heuristics’; the rules and mental short cuts people use to make decisions. These are well discussed within behavioural economics and were first talked about in Tversky & Kahneman’s research. They influence how people react to change. Here are some examples of biases and the impact they may have on attitudes to change.

Thinking about yourself – your self-serving bias

This heuristic (the self-serving bias) kicks in when thinking about yourself. The rule is people have a tendency to blame external forces if something goes wrong and internal forces if it goes right.

Example: If I pass my driving test I am sure it’s because I am an excellent driver.  If I fail though I am likely to attribute it to some external factor and now it’s not about me. So a failed test will be blamed on factors like the instructor’s eyesight but definitely nothing to do with my driving.  People accept less personal responsibility when things go wrong and more when it goes right.  So if your change effort is easy for them to adopt then its unlikely you’ll get much praise but if they can’t do something you are going to get the blame even if it wasn’t your fault.

Now thinking about others and why they do things

Weirdly this switches around when looking at why we believe others do something; we’re much less charitable in our judgments of others. There is another bias called the Fundamental Attrition Error. When thinking about why someone else does something you are more likely to exaggerate their personal contribution and underestimate the role of external forces.  So if someone beeped his or her car horn at you, human nature is to assume it’s because of some personal state such as they are angry or mean as opposed to a situational thing like they knocked it by accident or you are about to fall down a hole and they are trying to warn you.  Your head just doesn’t go to the situational first for other people – it goes straight to attributing it to the personality explanation.  Of course that personality short cut will be different for people you know, as you’ll also add to that short cut awareness of their personality and what their natural motivations are.The personality of your change brand and what people believe your underlying motivations are will play in to their biases about what you do.

I knew it!

The last one I’ll mention is conformational bias. That people look for things that confirm their view.  So if it’s Friday 13th people will see more things that confirm its an unlucky day than things that contradict it.  They’ll see more black cats but it doesn’t mean someone added a lot more black cats to the world, they are just conditioned with a Friday conformational 13th bias.  For a change effort you want them to start from the right place and looking for the right messages to confirm. To set the right tone and avoid being labeled negatively because as soon as you get a reputation then your audience will look for any evidence to confirm that view.


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