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What Science Says About Changing Habits Can Boost Your User Adoption

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Two metal gears to demonstrate change versus old habits

If you’re about to roll out new communications technology, you may be interested in learning more about how the basal ganglia works.

The basal ganglia is part of the brain, and a brief foray into neuroscience will explain why it has the potential to help you increase user adoption.

The Power of Habit

Simply put, the basal ganglia plays a role in emotion, memory and pattern recognition. Charles Duhigg, author of the best-selling book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, says 40% to 45% of what we do every day is habit. It’s the basal ganglia that takes over when we perform these automated routines.

How does this apply to organizations – and to technology rollouts, in particular? First, research shows that organizational routines have a greater influence on success than strategic decisions, Duhigg told Harvard Business Review. By examining the habits in our organizations, we can identify which routines need to be changed so that user adoption rates increase.

It also helps to understand how habits are formed and how they can be changed. According to Duhigg, scientists have discovered that there are three parts to a habit: the cue, the routine and the reward. Once this loop becomes automatic and the basal ganglia takes over, the brain doesn’t need to work as hard.

Although habits are entrenched by nature, it is possible to change them. One way is to completely break the pattern. In an interview with Fresh Air, Duhigg said vacations are the best way to break old habits because they change all the usual cues.

Another way to form a new habit is to introduce cues that aren’t too distant from the old ones. As Stefan Thomke points out in HBR, it’s easier to introduce new tools when they are “integrated into systems and routines that are already in place.”

On a practical level, how can you incorporate such findings into their communications technology rollout plan? Below are three simple ways to turn this understanding of brain function into actionable results.

Change the Cues

To ensure faster adoption, organizational leaders should focus on the cues of current behaviors. Duhigg cites an example from the aluminum company, Alcoa. When former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill joined the business as its CEO, he focused on creating a new habit around worker safety. To do so, he changed a cue: He insisted that every time an employee was injured, the unit vice president had to write a report within 24 hours.

Executives can use this same approach to foster new collaboration habits. For example, they can mandate that all weekly team meetings should be conducted by video conference, rather than audio.

Link Goals to Habits

High-performing teams share several traits. One is a common and clear understanding of team goals and how the group contributes to organizational success. As you roll out your new communications technology, be sure employees understand how the new tools can help them achieve their team objectives. For example, your plan could include training customer service agents about how web chat can improve first-call resolution rates and the role that first-call resolution metrics will play in the performance review process.

Reward Desired Behaviors

Managers can also motivate change by offering rewards to employees who achieve their goals. These rewards can be money, peer recognition or even small tokens of appreciation. Just remember: There must be some incentive to complete the habit loop.

What’s notable about habits is that changing them doesn’t require radical intervention. A few subtle tweaks can make the difference between high user adoption and a failed project.

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