logo swish (3).jpgStephan Betz, Ph.D.          1/20/2017

Organizational Change Management Using Persuasion Technology

Table of Content

What works

Choosing what to change

Designing the change process


What works

Many innovative change management processes were designed and implemented over the past 20 years, among them “The Seven Habits” (Start with the End in Mind), “The Fifth Discipline”, “Value Engineering”, and “Just Culture”. All are based upon addressing behavior change in employees. Recently, research findings (Fogg, 2009), (Priyardashi & Duylam, 2013) have identified designs for behavior change that have proven to be far more effective than previous ones (Militello et al., 2016). This paper summarizes the approaches and applies them to the workplace.

Technology of persuasion is based on the principle of behavioral economics, which postulates that individuals prefer concrete, small, well defined and achievable objectives to large, audacious and broadly stated goals (Kahnemann & Tversky, 1979), because the prospect of near-guaranteed success supersedes the hope of betting on a high probability to reach a fuzzy target.

Therefore, new change management designs have adopted small-target designs and rapid improvement cycles that typically start out with a proof of concept and scale up to effect long term change. The following is a summary of the design steps.

Choosing what to change

There is real danger arising from the change management process for many organizations: a comprehensive review of change initiatives reveals a near 70 percent failure rate with economic consequences to the organizations that include bankruptcy and lay-off (Todnem By, 2005). Two critical factors are usually missed in a change initiative: value and leverage (Burnes & Jackson, 2011).

Value seeking: Employees see value in organizational support, procedural justice, and most of all, the characteristics of their jobs producing value for their community (Saks, 2006). Behavior change seeks a tangible reward in the same environment where it originated. Therefore, these values must be felt, seen and heard by employees during their work day.

Leverage: What needs to be changed in an organization is mostly impacted by market conditions and the regulatory environment. Sometimes new leaders also effect change because they bring a different vision to the organization. In both cases, change must be based on an honest and detailed appraisal of the organization’s current state: recently, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a Theory of Change that allows management teams to conduct such appraisals and identify the best leverage point dynamically using the same tool and process for both (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014). Identifying what needs to be changed in an organization must go hand in hand with the evaluation of its state of development within the continuum of its evolving structure:

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The management team decides whether to evolve an “As Is” state of the organization that is currently in the Innovation, Translation or Dissemination phase. The team must recognize that the next step for change lies in moving to the next level in the dynamic continuum, that is to the nearest “box” that lies to the right. That way the dynamic continuum and its momentum of change are preserved.

Designing the change process

Once the team has made its decision, it embarks on designing the small-target persuasion process with rapid-improvement-cycles to effect long term change.

Such a persuasive technology design was originally proposed to include choosing a simple behavior target, a receptive audience, identifying the barrier, laying out clear communications, and using iterative improvement for long term sustainability (Fogg, 2009). Further research suggests to add participatory ownership through a bottom-up approach to elevate buy-in (Daskalova et al., 2014). Today, the most effective design for organizational change management uses both approaches to focus on teaching self-innovation skills through a habit-building capability that utilizes comprehensive persuasive technology (Yamakami, 2013).

In this process, the management team calls together innovation teams that consist of key stakeholders in the organization. Process design uses facilitated meetings where innovation team members are given bounded authority to make small transformative choices that act as drivers of change. Participants define change as a bundle of measurable objectives linked to one tangible target behavior aimed at incremental improvement. The target behavior piggybacks on established workplace behaviors (triggers) and represents a desired value for the workforce. Once target behaviors are defined, the team identifies barriers to realizing the target behavior, which come in one of three categories:


- lack of motivation

- lack of ability, and

- lack of a well-timed trigger to perform the behavior.

Once target behavior and barrier are clearly defined, the change management team chooses the communication channel that best fits the current structure and capability level of the organization. Early adopters of the target behaviors are encouraged to provide rapid feedback to the team to allow for quick adjustments that address barriers. That way, the change process escalates incrementally toward the desired end-state. As the process unveils, workers’ affinity to change increases:

persuasion technology process.jpg

In this process, the management team acts as a learning team (Hoda, Babb & Norbjerg, 2007) and exemplifies the organization’s ability to implement behavior changes. Managers themselves report their progress to the workforce. For this process to be successful, behavioral economics dictates that the management team must provide examples of

As employees change their behaviors, they experience themselves as more self-determined and become more productive. This in turn allows the management team to step back and lead with a high touch approach to enhance the growing health of the organization that leads into the next cycle of innovative change through persuasive technology design (Riedel and Cotao, 2007).


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Daskalova, Nediyana, et al. "Informing Design of Suggestion and Self-Monitoring Tools through Participatory Experience Prototypes." International Conference on Persuasive Technology. Springer International Publishing, 2014.

Fogg, Brain J. "Creating persuasive technologies: an eight-step design process." PERSUASIVE. 2009.

Hoda, Rashina, Jeffry Babb, and Jacob Norbjerg. "Toward learning teams." IEEE software 30.4 (2013): 95-98.

Kahneman, Daniel. and Amos Tversky, “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk”. Econometrica, Vol 47/2 pp. 263-292. 1979.

Militello, Lisa, et al. "Automated behavioral text messaging and face-to-face intervention for parents of overweight or obese preschool children: results from a pilot study." JMIR mHealth and uHealth 4.1 (2016), accessed at the web 1/20/2017.


Priyadarshy, Ashutosh, and Duylam Nguyen-Ngo. "Understanding and Applying Trigger Piggybacking for Persuasive Technologies." AAAI Spring Symposium: Shikakeology. 2013.

Todnem By, Rune. "Organisational change management: A critical review." Journal of change management 5.4 (2005): 369-380.

Riedel, John, and Ralph Colao. "Change is hard: the promise of behavioral economics." American journal of health promotion: AJHP 28.6 (2014): TAHP8.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Leading Change 2.0: Advancing the Behavioral Health of the Nation 2015-2018”. HHS Publication Number (PEP) 14LEADCHANGE2. Rockville, MD, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2014.

Saks, Alan M. "Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement." Journal of managerial psychology 21.7 (2006): 600-619.

Yamakami, Toshihiko. "Self-Innovation Skill-Based Change Management: An Approach Toward Flexible Organizational Management." Cloud and Green Computing (CGC), 2013 Third International Conference on. IEEE, 2013.