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Try These Behavioral Science Strategies For Managing Team Behavior

This article was based on episode 93 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get a free e-book version of Culture Is Everything Book when you become a member at

Behavioral science is the study of why we do what we do. Traditionally behavioral science is applied to individual behaviors or product usage. But we can use the same insights on behavior to enhance workplace practices, relationships and overall outcomes. Whether you need to improve employee engagement or encourage team members to work in new ways, the ability to effectively influence people's behavior allows you to more quickly achieve your objectives.

Matt Wallaert is a passionate behavioral scientist who believes that behavior change is the outcome of all that we build. His practice is wide-ranging and involves utilizing behavioral psychology to spur desired actions. He is one of the first behavioral scientists to leave academia and work inside an industry. Matt has given hundreds of talks on the science of behavioral change at the UN, SXSW, and beyond. He is currently the healthcare industry’s first Chief Behavioral Officer at Clover Health, a Medicare Advantage plan which endorses changing the model of insurance by changing behavior. He is the author of, Start At the End: How To Build Products That Create Change.


While there are no guarantees, making desired behaviors easier and less desired behaviors harder, increases the likelihood you’ll get the outcome you’re looking for. In Matt’s language, he refers to the two opposing forces that influence behavior and drive change:

  • Promoting pressures encourage users to take a desired action.

  • Inhibiting pressures discourage users from taking a desired action.

For example, if you believe that having broad knowledge beyond your immediate role is important to individual success, you could encourage your team members to spend time learning on a wide variety of topics. To increase the chances they’ll do this, you could utilize promoting and inhibiting pressures.

Promoting pressures might include scheduling an hour each week for someone to teach a topic to the team or holding a monthly book group and make attendance mandatory.

Removal of inhibiting pressures may include finding experts to present on topics, providing presentation preparation assistance if the presenter is a team member, or purchasing a copy of the book for each person.

A manager’s job is to create promoting pressures and remove inhibiting pressures so that desirable behaviors are more likely to occur.


In his book Start At The End, Matt defines a behavioral statement as “an articulation of the world we are trying to create, written from an explicitly behavioral perspective.” By defining the behavioral statement, you can design the promoting and inhibiting pressures to guide people towards that specific behavior.

Matt uses Uber as an example:

  1. The behavior they are trying to promote: Uber is promoting the behavior of riding in an Uber.

  2. The target population whose behavior they are trying to change: Uber’s target population is the most broad, and includes everyone who is old enough to take a car service.

  3. The motivation behind the behavior they would like to encourage: Uber’s population has one motivation, which is getting from point A to point B.

  4. Any limitations or preconditions for the targeted behavior: Uber requires that people have a smartphone equipped with a mobile internet connection and an electronic form of payment. When they first launched, they also required that you be in an urban environment.

  5. A definition of the data by which they will measure whether or not the behavior they want to promote is taking place: For Uber, the metric was the number of rides per month.

The behavioral statement in one sentence: When people want to get from point A to point B, and they have a smartphone with internet connectivity and an electronic payment option, and they live in an urban environment, then they will take an Uber, as measured by the number of rides.

As a manager, you can create a behavioral statement for your team members that guide how you want them to act. In addition, they can create behavioral statements that define the work they do. This type of behavioral statement describes what a specific role encompasses and what is expected from that individual team member.

When you write a behavioral statement for your team’s work, you are crafting the parameters or boundaries of what the team is responsible for. This establishes a protective zone, enabling you to push back on work requests that are outside the boundaries of your team’s responsibilities.


In addition to behavioral statements, well-run businesses and teams utilize metrics to guide decisions and behaviors. There are a variety of metrics you can employ, each of which has their specific purpose:

  • Macro metrics measure the organization’s success. They create a foundation for the alignment of company and team goals so that teams understand how they impact the enterprise.

  • Outcome metrics, both quantitative and qualitative, define success at the individual and team level. They create transparency between managers and team members about how their performance is being measured.

  • Process metrics measure activity, such as number of calls made or lines of code written. These metrics are often used in conjunction with outcome metrics to determine why certain outcomes are achieved (or not).

  • Project metrics track specific, critical factors of a project. These may include budget, progress vs planned timeline, etc.

Clear metrics also enable you to establish standardized processes. While it may seem constricting, a well-designed standardized process opens up opportunities for autonomy and creativity that would otherwise not be accessible. It frees team members from expending energy on continually reinventing or adjusting to shifting processes. In turn, that allows them to focus their efforts on the content of their jobs.

As a manager, your job is to remove the things that are stealing your team's mental energy and make it easy to do what’s right. Use a combination of behavioral statements, appropriate metrics, the use of promoting pressures, and removal of inhibiting pressures, to create an environment designed for success.


Twitter: @mattwallaert

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This article was based on episode 93 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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