Nudge: Subtle Ways to Get What You Want

A “nudge” refers to a subtle prompt, cue, or change in the environment to influence people’s behavior or decision-making. Nudging is intended to gently push individuals towards choices that are beneficial or align with specific goals, while still respecting their autonomy. 

A “No Smoking” sign is an example of a nudge. It reminds people that smoking is unacceptable behavior in that location.  Replacing chips and candy bars in a vending machine with fruit and nut mix is a way to nudge people to make healthier snack choices.  Numerous examples of nudges exist everywhere. But nudges aren’t just limited to individual choices.  Nudges can be used to affect entire teams.  

Most people in leadership roles would attest that authority doesn’t always equate to getting your way.  And in service-driven organizations, leaders often have much less control than generally assumed.  As a result, understanding how to nudge groups and entire organizations is an important leadership skill.

Below are a few ways leaders can incorporate nudging in order to influence their team, organization, or stakeholders:

  1. Establish practices that align with the  goals for the team or organization. For example, the staff selection process can be orchestrated in a way that is more likely to reveal candidates matching the organization’s priorities or culture. 
  1. Provide choices, all of which would achieve the desired result.  This strategy is empowering and motivates stakeholders because they know that they have a voice. In a school setting, a principal could offer staff three options to curb lunchtime behavior problems rather than mandate a solution or leave it up for chance.
  1. Present all the facts.  Often, leaders omit information they believe might not be helpful in a given situation.  However, by respecting others’ ability to make good decisions on their own, leaders build trust that can be leveraged in the form of a recommendation.
  1. Role model desired behaviors and mindsets. For example, if multitasking prevents members of a team from participating fully in meetings, conspicuously doing the opposite is a way to draw attention without calling anyone out.   

Most leaders do these and other things in order to nudge their team or other stakeholders. However, and especially in cases when an authoritative approach would be inappropriate, being deliberate about how and when to nudge can be an effective way to empower others and get things done.

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