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How behavioural nudges (and Marie Kondo) can help your digital transformation

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18th November 2020

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Abbie Crome

Digital transformation takes a variety of people, personalities and behavioural nudges to make it happen.

Mala Balakrishnan and Shankar Sundarrajan wrote a blog post called ‘What Sparks Joy for You?’, which considers the application of Marie Kondo’s tidying concept to complex banking transformation. I fell into the spirit of Konmari in 2019 after watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I bought one of her books. I tidied my sock drawer, learned how to fold shirts properly, and my suitcase has never looked more handsomely arranged (though it hasn’t been used since February). My partner said: “This show was made for you. You and Marie are kindred spirits.”

I understood what he meant. I’m already a tidy person and I organise things obsessively. Yet, Marie Kondo showed me how to take things to new, more effective levels. And this would be my epilogue to Mala’s and Shankar’s excellent blog post.

Their post advocates the process of taking what you already know, applying new techniques and taking your business to new levels. If you’re a bank, it’s about simplifying your digital transformation, simplifying your user journeys, and simplifying everything! It’s also about committing to change, reimagining new scenarios, decluttering strategy and experiencing the joy in doing so.

The authors’ caveat to applying the positive spirit of Konmari to business transformation is that it’s difficult. Joy is a vague precept when you’re trying to make everyone happy (shareholders, customers, yourself, and so on). And being different is a subjective proposition; what different means to you may not be very different to your colleagues. And while the notion of managing a challenging transition by applying sock drawer techniques is exciting, how do we go about starting the process?

Cultural business solutions via distant fields

A 2014 article by Harvard Business Review outlined the benefits of finding solutions to problems via cross-pollination. The idea is that you find analogous fields that share common structures to your own, in order to find solutions that more appropriately match your challenges. The article also recommends that, “managers search not just for close analogies to the problem at hand but also go farther, to more distant fields, as long as there remain similarities based on deep-structure analogies.” Seek out people and processes that will contribute to a glut of behavioural nudges that make transformation happen.

And this is where I think the search for “cultural fit” when recruiting new people fails under scrutiny. Many HR managers strive to hire people who match company values, and applicants look for companies that match their own sense of personality and reflect personal beliefs. This is great if you want everyone to be the same, think the same, work the same, innovate the same, and so on. But we’re different, aren’t we? Isn’t the best scenario one in which we don’t hire people based on whether they’ll join us for Friday drinks? Hire the introvert instead, who wants to go home early on Friday and hang out with her dog. Or hire the person who can tidy a sock drawer better than you.

In a WSJ article from 2019: “What most interviewers are looking for and acting on is more of an intuitive sense of, ‘Would I get along with this person?’ and that often isn’t very reliable.” (Kirsta Anderson, global head of culture transformation in London for Korn Ferry.)

Alternatively, if you’re a well-organised company with highly organised people, recruit someone who doesn’t tidy their room. Look for people with different perspectives who will, like Marie Kondo, show you new ways to approach each small step you make towards business transformation. Let someone else share their own version of common sense to see what joy comes out of it!

Be consistent

But a tidy sock drawer is only tidy if it remains so in six weeks’ time. In other words, embracing a new way of applying techniques to old frameworks is only successful if you keep it up. Persist. Don’t swallow the new techniques and purge yourself of them when times are tough or when you feel lazy. These are the most opportune times to change!

Joy will manifestly alter the way your organisation embraces innovation and change, because it will be the defining goal of everything everyone does. It’s the core value I would recruit for, because it’s vague and subjective, and will attract different people who have different ways of looking at things. An organisation that walks a path towards finding the joy in the changes that make things better for customers, colleagues, shareholders and personal development is a better one. And the behavioural nudges we give one another will make it happen.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

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