How to measure behaviour change

Jerome Parisse-Brassens

One of the most difficult and interesting questions that we at Walking the Talk get asked by our clients is how to measure behaviour change.

How to measure behaviour change

Tracking activity

The most common way of doing this is what happens when you use a device such as the Fitbit. The device helps you track, for example, how many steps you take every day. By measuring your steps, you are keeping track of how often and how much you walk, and if it is increasing or not. The simple fact of measuring the behaviour reinforces it, and it helps improve it.


A similar example is my phone tracking the  time I go to bed and how many hours I sleep every night. By analyzing the data and realising I go to bed far too late, I am able to change my behaviour.


Devices such as Fitbit and our smartphones offer a simple way of measuring physical activity, and because the change is measured by a device, you can be sure it is a true reflection of reality.


Things become a little more complicated when you want to track behaviour rather than activity, especially in the work environment. There are two main “views” of behaviour change that can be measured: self-view, and others’ view.


Self-view of behaviour change


This means surveying people and asking them to evaluate their own behaviour. This can be done using simple pulse survey tools and you can survey the whole population or a sample. An example question is, “I do what I say I will do”, or “I systematically share new information with interested stakeholders”, measured on a sliding scale.


By conducting the pulse on a regular basis, you will be measuring the change in behaviour. This method is simple but presents issues. How can you be sure that people are self-evaluating honestly? Is anything in the environment influencing their self-perception? And if they have a feeling that the self-assessment is linked to performance management, the results will be skewed.


This is why this method is best used in conjunction with feedback from others. The difference between self-assessment and how others perceive your behaviour is telling, and it can validate or invalidate how you perceive your own behaviour. So how do you measure others’ view?


Others’ view of behaviour change


This method is the most reliable way of measuring behaviour change in organisations. Surveys with employees, customers, the community or other stakeholders can measure how they see the values and behaviour of the organisation. Awards and publically recognised league tables are a good indication too.


However, the most commonly used tool is a pulse survey such as a 360 degree feedback tool, in which a small number of behaviours are assessed by the individual, their reports, their peers and their manager.


To be a valid measure of the change, only the view of others (reports or peers for example) should be taken into consideration – not the self-view. Many of our clients build a culture index based on “others’ view” of their target behaviours. There are several ways of calculating this index: the first one is a straight average of the scores for all behaviours and all staff; the second one is an NPS-type calculation in which you subtract the percentage of those who disagree to the percentage of those who agree they are seeing the behaviour.


You can choose to calculate this index for the whole population, or by cohort. A good leading indicator of behaviour change is to measure the index over time for the leadership population. If behaviour is changing in leaders, their reports and levels below will eventually follow because of the shadow they cast. This can help you steer the business towards the tipping point for change.


The most important key success factor in measuring change is to choose behaviours that are observable and measurable. For example, instead of “I respect others”, choose “I listen without interrupting”, or “I always ask a question before stating my opinion”. This is because others need to see the behaviour unequivocally to be able to give reliable feedback.


To produce the business outcomes you are looking for, target behaviours must be applied consistently, over time. This is what truly makes cultural change effective and sustainable.


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