Moving From Intent to Action: Identifying the Right Nudge Opportunity


As January turns to February, we often become very aware of the gap between our Intentions and our Actions.  After all, this is when many of our New Year’s Resolutions fade away, falling victim to our firmly established habits. Of course, the same thing also happens in business. Employees understand the benefit of changing their behavior, but they somehow don’t get round to actually doing so.  Many organizations grasp the enormous power of Behavioral Science, yet they don’t know where to start. 

With that challenge in mind, here are three keys to identifying the right opportunity:

  • Start by Defining the Behavioral Change

Nudging is not about “educating” people, nor changing their beliefs. Instead, it is focused on impacting what they actually do. Thus, the best starting point is to identify a group of people and their specific behavior that you’d like to change. Often, this is something that customers (or employees) are notdoing regularly today, which you would like them to adopt.

For example, many people continue to do their banking at physical branches and a “desired behavioral change” might be for them to “convert” to digital banking.


  • Look for Intent to Change

Behavioral change is always easier if people already have an incoming intent to do so.  That’s why the most promising opportunities lie in helping them turning this Intent into Action.   Fortunately, there’s no shortage of these situations, which often including healthier living, sustainability and personal finances, among many others.  In these cases, there is no need to educate or persuade people.  Instead, you need to uncover what actually prevents them from changing their behavior.  These “micro-barriers” are often entrenched habits, to which they “default” due to ease and familiarity.  By helping people recognize and circumvent these barriers, you can help them create new habits and more consistently act upon their positive intentions.

In some cases, such as donating to charity or visiting a museum, a person’s “intent” may be more latent than active. Yet Nudges can still be quite effective, if there is an underlying desire to be activated. 


  • Find “Win-Win” Situations

The true magic of Behavioral Science comes at the intersection of what’s good for the individual and the organization.  These “win-win” situations are actually quite common, once you start looking for them.

For example, encouraging hotel visitors to re-use towels is arguably a “win-win-win” situation, which is a positive for the visitor (enhanced self-image), for the hotel (less cleaning) and for the environment.  

By pursuing mutual benefit, companies can often forge stronger relationships with both their customers and their employees. Organizations that embrace these principles are the most likely to apply Behavioral Science both ethically and effectively. They will not only will they discover a superior approach to marketing and management. They will also adopt a more rewarding way of running their businesses, grounded in behavioral change that delivers mutual advantage.