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Why people do what they do (and don’t do what they don’t do)

How to understand better what motivates people’s behaviour — in organizations and elsewhere — and how this can help us manage behavioural change, in others and in ourselves

People don’t always do the right thing. It sounds like (and arguably is) a truism, but isn’t it a bit baffling? If employees know that they need to file critical paperwork on time, why are they not doing it? If a boss continually proclaims to the importance of meeting 1:1 with her team members at least once per month, why is she barely managing three such meetings in a year? If we know that it would be good for us to snack less and exercise more, how come we still polish off a packet of biscuits every evening and laze on the couch watching Netflix, rather than have an apple after dinner and go for a jog?

Cluster 1: Weighing up

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Cluster 2: Beliefs

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Cluster 3: Context

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Interactions

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Emotions

You may wonder why the term ‘emotion’ has not popped up even once so far. The main reason is that emotion is effectively a critical component in every decision. It is not a differentiator between the three decision-making modes.

What can go wrong?

So now that we have some idea what might motivate our own and others’ behaviour, we can begin to consider how come we may be doing the wrong thing. Let’s look at some examples.

Conclusion

Is this the final word in behavioural analysis? No — the story is ongoing. But over nearly a decade that I have been using and fine-tuning this approach, I have found that in almost all cases, it helps diagnose sometimes puzzling organizational dysfunction and reveal motives that were otherwise not apparent. Understanding why people — who presumably should know what is the right behaviour is — are doing the wrong thing is a critical step in figuring out how to remedy the issue.

Written by

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius

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