Driving effective behavior change with Prism

A neat set of frameworks for creating the organizational behavior change you seek

source: affective-advisory.com

So much of the organizational work we do aims to change (or “sustain” as a special use case) certain behaviors in our teams. What’s the point of articulating a strategy if it doesn’t cause our teams to change their default behaviors and take a different set of actions to pursue it? What’s the point of a training or a workshop if the behavior before and after it is exactly the same. 

The team at Affective Advisory developed a pretty neat framework for driving strategic behavior change: 

The D.R.I.V.E Prism for identifying and evaluating effective nudges in practice

The framework builds on the core premise that human behavior is context-dependent and therefore, behavioral interventions have to be tailored to an individual context. Therefore, there are no universal interventions that are effective independent of context. Theoretical concepts need to be adapted into practice using a model-based, evidence-led approach and then tested and validated. 

The overarching framework for applying behavior interventions is outlined under the acronym D.R.I.V.E: 

  • D.efine strategy as a set of preferred target behaviors. 
  • R.esearch actual (current) behaviors and review related contexts relevant to the strategic challenge. 
  • I.dentify, evaluate, and adjust suitable science-based solutions. 
  • V.alidate the selected and tailored interventions across a representative sample. 
  • E.xecute behavioral interventions realizing behavior change at scale. 

Other than the neat acronym, there’s nothing earth-shattering here: define the change you need to make → understand the current situation → select an intervention → do a small pilot to ensure it drives the desired outcome → scale. 

The non-trivial piece comes in the middle of the process. Given the premise, how do we identify and adapt the right interventions that are most likely to drive the desired outcome in this particular context

This is where the prism comes in: 

source: affective-advisory.com

The prism is a three-dimensional taxonomy for categorizing different interventions and selecting the ones most likely to be effective in the specific context. 

Dimension I: Intervention levers

The underlying thesis here is that behavior can be changed by a combination of four different levers: 

  • Contextual triggers
  • (De)Motivators (automatic <-> reflective)
  • Individual capabilities (psychological & physical)
  • Feedback

Different interventions use a different mix of these levers. 

This construct can also be mapped to a similar behavior change model that I covered here providing further support to the taxonomy: contextual triggers → reinforcements mechanisms, motivators → understanding and conviction, individual capabilities → confidence and skill-building, feedback → role-modeling. 

Dimension II: The cognitive level

The levers outlined in dimension I can be designed to influence behavior through two cognitive levels: 

  • System 1 — unconscious, automatic, affective, effortless.
  • System 2 — conscious, deliberate, controlled, effortfull.

Interventions working through system 1 aim to either leverage or mitigate some of its unique attributes, for example: auto-saving documents based on a time trigger. 

Interventions working through system 2 aim to intentionally activate it to correct a system 1 driven behavior, for example: opening a dialogue box reminding users to save their file when they try to close it. 

Dimension III: The intervention level

Here, the taxonomy distinguishes between: 

  • Adding new enablers.
  • Removing existing blockers.

For example, a sign showing your current driving speed adds an enabler to drive the desired behavior. While default options and opt-out remove blockers by eliminating the need for a decision to reach the desired behavior. 

In Sum 

As it stands today D.R.I.V.E and specifically, prism, are useful tools for honing in on potentially effective interventions in a particular context. Especially if a specific intervention has been tried and didn’t work — exploring a different assumption around one of the prism dimensions may help identify a strong candidate intervention quicker. While contexts are inherently different from one another, I wonder if there are contextual patterns that make a certain type of intervention more likely to succeed than others. If that’s the case, a similar contextual taxonomy can be developed and more resilient mapping between contextual patterns and effective interventions can be drawn. 

Driving effective behavior change with Prism

Inclusive organizations change their systems, not just train their people

The Bias Interrupters Model

My ongoing quest to improve organizational equity and inclusion got me to the Center for WorkLife Law’s Bias Interrupters model.

The premise of the model is capture clearly by the team who developed it: 

Bias interrupters are tweaks to basic business systems that interrupt implicit bias in the workplace, often without ever talking about bias.

In many ways, it’s an evidence-based response to the failure of more culture-centric/training-centric approaches to significantly move the needle on eliminating bias in the workplace. 

The Bias Interrupters Model focuses on five core business systems: 

  1. Hiring & Recruiting
  2. Performance Management 
  3. Compensation
  4. Meetings
  5. Assignment

While the first three are capturing most of the current limelight as areas that required heightened attention to bias, conversations around inclusive meetings are still at their infancy and assignments are at the “inclusion frontier” as far as the broader conversation goes. Therefore, I found Bias Interrupters to be one of the most holistic approaches for driving this much needed systemic change.

The Bias Interrupters approach advocates for an iterative process consisting of:

  1. Establishing relevant metrics.
  2. Implementing evidence-based bias-interruption interventions.
  3. Assessing the impact the interventions had on the metrics and using the insights to inform the next iteration of the cycle.

Change to each of the five business systems listed above is supported by a recommended set of metrics to track, and a list of evidence-based standalone interventions. The idea here is that not all interventions have to be implemented at the same time, and different organizations can choose different paths to getting to bias-resistant business systems. For example, one organization may start tackling performance management by explicitly separating evaluating performance from evaluating potential, another may start by offering alternatives to self-promotion, and a third may tackle both of them at the same iteration. 

Furthermore, Bias Interrupters supports the systemic change needed in those systems on three different levels: 

Each level is supported by a toolkit including guides, worksheets, checklists, talking points and other relevant training materials. 

Different organizations take different stances on social justice issues and that can sometimes muddy the water around core DEI initiatives. The beauty of the Bias Interrupters program is that it’s completely agnostic to that stance, as if focuses on systemic bias which has no upside. It offers a blueprint for a way to run these core business systems that is flat out better than the alternative. 

Inclusive organizations change their systems, not just train their people

Changing the world with Heat AND Light

A balanced approach to social change


On a recent MindGym webinar on The Future of Inclusion, I had a big a-ha moment, when they introduced their model of persuasion for changing behavior based on the work of Prof. Dolly Chugh.

Chugh’s model defines two approaches for pursuing social change: light and heat.  

Pursuing change through light-based means, puts the comfort of the target audience as a high priority. It aims to meet people where they are, recognizing that making people too uncomfortable will cause them to resist your message. It takes the time to educate, using factual, descriptive language, and a framing that focuses on our shared humanity. 

Pursuing change through heat-based means is specifically designed to make the target audience uncomfortable and to force acknowledgment of the problems and the need for change. It confronts the issue straight on, recognizing the subtlety may lead to a complacent response. It uses more emotive, visceral language and doesn’t shy from actions like protest and civil disobedience. 

One of Chugh’s most important insights from her research was that:

When historians study social-justice movements, they find that movements that only have heat or only have light tend to not make as much progress. Successful movements have both a more moderate and a more radical flank, if you will.

When I reflected on my own change strategy through this lens I noticed that I’m leaning more heavily towards the light-based approach. This also explained why I viewed heat-based strategies as less effective and, in some cases, moving us backward, even when we were all striving for the same social outcome. 

Shifting my perspective from looking at those strategies as an either-or choice to a both-and polarity, allowed me to recognize the importance of a combined strategy: too much light and not enough heat leads to complacency. Too much heat and not enough light leads to backlash and resistance. Effective social change requires a healthy mix of both. 

Changing the world with Heat AND Light

Choosing the right remote talent strategy for your business

It’s definitely NOT a one-size-fits-all


Building on my personal experience leading distributed organizations, and my deliberate study of highly-remote organizations over the past six months, two key factors informed my approach to strategy development outlined below.

First, this challenge is shared by many organizations. Therefore, having your business come up with a solution from scratch will just repeat old mistakes that others have already made and learned from. Instead, I chose to synthesize their experience and lessons learned focusing on identifying the contextual elements that impact the outcome, so the approach can be adapted to fit an organization’s unique context.

Second, I view organizations as complex systems with emergent properties, where the relationship between cause and effect is not fully known/understood. Therefore, while an initial, directional approach is essential, the plan needs to include scaffolding for learning as we go: creating the space and the method to observe the impact of changes as they are made, and the willingness to adapt both direction and plan based on what is learned.

Step 1: Align on the “why?”

A remote talent strategy offers a diverse set of benefits[1] and challenges[2]. For example, at the organizational level, it offers access to a broader candidate pool but requires deeper intentionality in designing and scaffolding how work gets done. At the individual level, it offers more flexibility in schedule management but requires stronger communication and organization skills to get work done. Your business may have already experienced some of these, as Stripe had through its remote engineering hub[3]. Different organizations choose to pursue a remote work strategy for a host of reasons, placing varying premiums on the benefits they want to capture and the challenges they need to mitigate. This variability leads to choosing different remote talent strategies. Therefore, Your business’ starting point needs to be articulating its specific “why?” — scoring these key benefits and challenges and creating clear criteria to evaluate alternative remote talent strategies.

Step 2: Converge on the desired end-state

Remote talent strategies lie on a spectrum between “fully co-located in a single office” and “work from anywhere” where the extreme ends are the best option only for a minority of organizations. Strategies in between those extremes differ from one another primarily in how much they constrain the location from which work can be done, and how much they constrain the time-of-day in which work should be done synchronously. Quora[4], for example, opted to keep its office, allow employees to work from any country in which they can be legally employed, but defined 9am to 3pm PT as “coordination hours” where most employees will be expected to be available for meetings and impromptu communication, regardless of where they are located. Market research[5] identified additional points along the spectrum that can serve as anchors for different remote talent strategies. Flexibility in location and synchronicity has a varying impact on specific roles based on their unique attributes: providing on-site client interaction, accessing specialized equipment or facilities, the need for supervision and regulatory oversight, reliance on collaboration and interaction, and focus on innovation. Therefore, your business needs to conduct a role-by-role impact assessment of each candidate strategy. Coupled with the weighted criteria defined in Step 1, it will have sufficient insight to converge on the right end-state and determine whether a single end-state can fit across the entire company or bifurcation by role type is required.

Source: BCG analysis

Step 3: Define success and how to measure it

Defining success targets and how they will be measured will heavily influence the way organizational changes will be rolled out to support the strategy.

Success should be looked at through two key lenses: work, reflected in a set of business KPIs, and workforce, reflected in a set of employee-reported data. The specific benefits your business wants to capture and key drawbacks it wants to mitigate with its remote work strategy will determine the selection of specific KPIs and data. Since this strategy heavily impacts the way employees interact and collaborate, those standard success metrics should be complemented with Organizational Network Analysis[6] metrics collected both actively and passively.

Ideally, changes will be rolled out as randomized, controlled tests that will allow your business to isolate the impact of the strategy and distinguish between correlation and causation. Pragmatically, in some cases your business will have to move backward from that ideal, thoughtfully making trade-offs between reducing success attribution and increasing roll-out feasibility.

Step 4: Perform gap analysis and formulate a plan

With a clear end-state and approach to measurement defined, your business can now perform a gap analysis between the present state and the desired end-state to determine the pace by which it can move forward. The analysis explores the same two lenses of success: work and workforce.

Work — effectively working remotely requires deliberately changing the way work in the organization gets done across several dimensions[7]:

  • Routines, tools and capability building
  • Cyber and internal data security
  • Coaching and development
  • Productivity and performance management
  • Senior leadership and culture
  • Recruiting and onboarding
Source: BCG analysis

Workforce — effectively working remotely requires deliberately preparing the workforce to work remotely across several dimensions:

  • Motivation
  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Other needs (childcare, physical space, etc.)

Understanding the current gaps and ways to address them will enable your business to set a realistic pace for the change. Understanding the variability in current gaps will inform whether a uniform pace or multiple paces will likely yield a better outcome.

Step 5: Do → Sense → Adapt. Repeat.

Once the plans for closing the gaps identified in Step 4 are set in motion, on-going measurement of the success metrics defined in Step 3 will inform progress and drive continuous adaptation of both the strategy and the plan to implement it.

Putting it all together

For those of you who share my preference for visuals and illustrations, the following diagram summarizes how all the steps fit together: 


  1. All-Remote Benefits
  2. All-Remote Drawbacks
  3. Stripe’s remote engineering hub, one year in
  4. Remote First at Quora — The Quora Blog
  5. How companies can make remote working a success
  6. Organizational network analysis — gain insight, drive smart
  7. Remote Work Works — Where Do We Go from Here?
Choosing the right remote talent strategy for your business

True wellness (at work)

Physical, emotional, social, cognitive, spiritual, environmental

Photo by Aleksandr Ledogorov on Unsplash

I’m going to keep it short and sweet this week. 

Wellness is the collective label used in many companies as an umbrella term for projects and initiatives aimed at improving the lives of their employees. It often manifests itself as a set of perks including but not limited to: gym stipends, meditation/yoga classes, healthy snacks in the kitchen, ergonomic workstations, etc. 

But ask an employee or even an HR practitioner about their company’s vision for wellness, and you’ll get something between a blank stare and a fumbling response. 

In the age of pandemic, wellness is perhaps more important than ever, and yet many of the programs mentioned above stop making sense while working from home and doing your best to socially distance. 

In comes Brad Stulberg with a pre-pandemic piece that rings event truer today: 

We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.

Stulberg lays out a six-point evidence-based wellness manifesto: 

  1. Physical: Move your body and don’t eat crap — but don’t diet either
  2. Emotional: Don’t hide your feelings, get help when you need it
  3. Social: It’s not all about productivity; relationships matter, too
  4. Cognitive: Follow your interests, do deep-focused work
  5. Spiritual: Cultivate purpose, be open to awe
  6. Environmental: Care for your space

This short manifesto seems like a perfect “north star” for corporate wellness programs —  mapping a specific program, training or experience to a particular element in the manifesto. 

True wellness (at work)