The nudge as workplace conversation

The nudge has become a part of the business lexicon over the last the years or so. To be clear, this is not good in itself. The business lexicon houses some of the most profound abuses of language we have seen. (Reach out to this list for a comprehensive treatment). I believe nudging should be welcome however. There is something intuitive and human about the idea. It is also a real word with a real meaning. Whilst it perches on scientific foundations, amateurs such as myself can grasp it and consider its usage in our work.

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Nudge or nag?

This summary from McKinsey, “Nudge, don’t nag”, gives some insight into how the HR world might get nudging. The risk for those of us in the people professions is that we believe we are nudging when we are often nagging. The policy preoccupied HR perspective, with its preference for control, low levels of trust and dreaded systems can do some real damage. However, three simple principles can raise the practice and steer us towards a positive impact. Useful nudges offer choice to the nudgee, are easy to make sense of and feel personal.

Nestled under these, I believe, is the help a good nudge offers us in getting something done and knowing we have done it. This is a simple point we often overlook (I have anyway) – work is about getting stuff done. So, nudges should help us do that. We should be guided by the attempts to be useful. I think this is where we need to be careful of notifications and assuming that they are useful nudges. Frequently, they are not, but a lack of empathy can mask that.

I have been working recently with some skilled project managers and operations folks. I like the way they nudge me when my attention to detail drifts. It’s part of a conversation with me and, as a result, it’s personal. They know me, what I should be doing and how to guide me to it. They have also learned what my strengths and weaknesses are. Messaging tools are the channels of these nudging conversations, with the benefits of simplicity, brevity and direct, personal language. Plus, I can turn them off and set myself as absent. I feel some sense of control.

There are design principles here which will be useful for the implementation of automated nudging. If it feels conversational, which includes listening, there is a chance we will judge it as a nudge rather than a nag.

How did we manage before the messaging nudges arrived? Given all this COVID remoteness, I can’t imagine working without them.

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