Episode two: Define the behavioural objective
What is a behavioural objective?
You can think about the behavioural objective as the desired behaviour change you are trying to achieve.
The problem space
A behavioural objective can refer to specific human-centred challenges where the current behaviour is harmful, unhealthy, or unsustainable to the organisation, its staff or its clients.
The performance space
A behavioural objective can also be derived from important behaviour-driven performance metrics that can be continually improved upon to achieve higher levels of success for individuals and organisations.
Both spaces offer a valuable starting point for finding impactful behaviour to focus on. What is necessary here is that you clearly state why the behaviour is important and what the impact of shifting the behaviour will be. In doing this, it should become clear that the behaviour you have chosen is the correct one.
Moving from analysis to objective setting
Once you have decided on the target behaviour, the next step is to consolidate the analysis into a clearly defined behavioural objective. If, for example, you have decided that the problem is that young clients do not save enough, then your objective will describe your desire to increase the amount that young clients are saving through certain channels.
Narrowing the objective
Once the general behavioural objective has been defined, the next step is to divide the objective into more specific and measurable outcomes which will allow for higher levels of focus and the development of targeted solutions.
However, when unpacking the specific outcome measures, it is important not to introduce assumptions. There must always be a direct, assumption-free relationship between the general behavioural objective and the specific behavioural outcome measures. A great approach for breaking down the objective is 'backcasting', where the desired objective is broken down into all the specific actions that contribute to achieving the overarching objective.
Setting a good behavioural objective is important if a project is to be successful. Below are the key questions to ask in ensuring that the objective is set correctly.
Is the behavioural objective defined as a change in action?
A trivial, yet critical aspect, of setting a good behavioural objective is that the focus should be on actionable behaviour change, as opposed to changes in awareness, knowledge, or attitude.
Is the behavioural objective free of any assumptions relating to causes or solutions?
It is important to make sure that there are no assumptions of causes or solutions implied in the definition of the behavioural objective.
Is the behavioural objective a very specific action within a certain context?
It is important to ensure that the behavioural objective is as precise as possible. The objective should focus on a very specific behaviour and, if possible, within a certain context (i.e. be narrowly defined).
Can the behavioural objective be easily understood by all parties involved in the process?
Practitioners will need to continuously refer back to behavioural objectives throughout the project. With this mind, it is crucial that the behavioural objective is clear in order to create the confidence that all team members have the exact same understanding of what they are trying to achieve.
Are we able to accurately measure the impact that an intervention will have on the target behaviour?
In order to test the effectiveness of an intervention in achieving the behavioural objective, we need to be able to accurately measure its effect on behaviour in a clear and statistically unbiased way.
An exercise for filtering assumptions
By placing attention on changing a specific behaviour as opposed to assumed proxies for that behaviour like awareness or attitude, we start with a clear and accurate understanding of what needs to be done to achieve success. This is important because commonly suggested communication objectives, such as "get users to understand the value of our product/service" can be achieved without any of those users actually acquiring the product. In other words, according to the defined objective, an intervention would be seen as successful, but because of the possibility of an incorrect assumption (an increased understanding of the product's value will lead to product acquisition), it was not actually successful from a behavioural perspective.
A tool for staying focused
When working on big, complicated projects with many different stakeholders occupying different functions, it is very easy to drift off track and away from the outcome that needs to be achieved. A good behavioural objective can act as a compass or guiding light that stakeholders should frequently use to ensure that they are staying on course. This is especially important during the solution design stage where original, elegant and attractive, yet ineffective, ideas can capture the team’s attention if the behavioural objective is not top of mind.
Allows for a broad range of solutions
Although the behavioural objective sets up guard rails to keep team members focused, at the same time, it also creates an openness for a broader range of potential solutions. This is because, when individuals are asked to come up with solutions, they typically gravitate towards their locus of control. Marketers and advertisers might jump to big awareness campaigns or clever adverts. Policymakers do the same with programmes as do economists with incentives and penalties. By shifting stakeholder attention from familiar outputs to behavioural outcomes, we move away from restrictive thinking to a broader solution space where all types of interventions are fair game.