Does Data Drive Behavioral Change?

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member John Frehse. John is a data evangelist, generally advocating for more data democracy in the workplace. Here though, he asks whether data drive behavioral change.

We know that smoking is bad for us and can lead to cancer. So, how is it that there are almost 1,000,000,000 (that is 1 billion!) smokers on the planet? Even when we know the truth, it may not change our behavior. This is largely due to prioritization. We weigh, often unconsciously, the trade-off of changing behavior or staying the same based on what is in it for us. Combine an irrational sense of our own strengths and infallibility, and we often do not change when we should.

A study of American college students found that 88% of them thought they were above average drivers (gasp!). Another study found that 73% of all U.S. drivers felt they were above average. These results are telling both about our irrational confidence in ourselves and probably a lack of understanding about the realities around us.

Irrational misperception can be found in many places.

How about Waze? Do you trust or distrust Waze to get you to your destination faster? There are over 100 million active Waze users globally, so someone is taking notice. We are increasingly flooded, not just with data, but information derived from this data and asked to make decisions, for better or worse. My wife says, “never argue with Waze,” but many have discontinued service over a single bad experience. They think they know better than the crowd sourced decision-making tool.

How does this transfer to labor management and workforce management?

We need to hire and retain skilled workers to make sure our companies are successful. But how much are we willing to do to make sure this happens? The answer is, it depends on the company and the culture. Many organizations are using the same shift schedules in their hourly operations that they used 50 years ago and having a hard time attracting talent. In a growing economy where a shortage of skilled workers is the reality, overtime levels have grown rapidly and hourly workers are feeling burnout. Yes, they like the money, but it has destroyed any semblance of balance for them in their personal life.

Change is emotional and potentially disruptive. Even if the data is there, much like the smokers and legions of folks who think they are exceptional drivers, employers aren’t seeing enough of the reality of what these outdated shifts are doing to make positive changes. Like the smoker lighting up another cigarette, employers are passively doing the same thing and hoping for a different result. Reality just won’t support this behavior over time.

As we are presented with more and more decision-making information, is our behavior really changing or not? Workforce management is an area flooded with data and some companies have acquired the tools to turn that data into useful, actionable information. But what are they doing with it? Is it just too much work to improve labor models and shift schedules? How employers answer that question just may separate the winners from the losers in the long term.

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