Fostering better group norms at Commbank

In 2014, Commbank took the initiative to look at how behavioural science could help deliver productivity gains.

The challenge they faced was that leaders were making decisions based entirely on gut instinct rather data.  This led to fluctuations between having excessive production capacity (i.e. too many people) and under-capacity (i.e. not enough people to cope with volume of work leading to bad service levels).  Despite considerable investment in data and technology, Commbank’s realisation was that it is the mindset and behaviour leaders that needed to change.


 – Strong user engagement:  1 in 8 people re-watched the story voluntarily.  One manager asked:  “When is the next episode coming out?”

 – Data enabled managers to pinpoint where the issue is i.e. which part of the network needs improvement

 – Customised and integrated:  the tool was branded with Commbank images, we used Commbank’s nomenclature and objects, and it was featured on Commbank intranet site.  
Lessons learnt: 
1. Starting at the top and trickling it down works better:  like so many change management initiatives, despite prolific communication, the initiative wasn’t embraced by the middle-level managers.  We learnt that a trickle down approach delivers better results:  get top management to try the tool first, then get the managers below them to use it, then the next level down and so forth.  We have applied this learning in all implementations since 2014.

2. “Social” forces work, gamification undermines change.  Our experience in working with large teams tells us that the greatest gains in productivity happens when we affect change in the bottom 80% of the workforce.   The early version of the tool had great success in terms of usage, but we believe little effect on behaviour change in the bottom 80%.  Here’s the evidence:  top 20% performers “re-watched” the episode (to learn from their mistakes and perfect their score), whilst the bottom 80% of performers rarely rewatched a story.  One explanation for this is that the bottom performers felt “judged”:  the early version of the tool provided feedback to the users by giving them a score and ranking their performance against peers.  Nobody likes to be judged.  Gamification worked against us.

Over the past two years, we have been testing a set of ideas to be more effective – the greatest learning is to leverage social forces.  For example:  as part of a programme, we get teams to get together on a weekly basis to discuss the scenarios.  The focus is less on individual performance, and more about sharing ideas and fostering better group norms.



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