Insights on Marketing & Technology

Leverage the full potential of your people and organisation

In a global world of massive complexity, constant changes, and increased diversity in our workplace, workforce and marketplace, the winning organisations are those who enable their people to change behaviour and be inclusive of diversity of perspectives - in an easy way. Most leaders support this. Yet, why don’t the right intentions and efforts lead to greater results? The author Tinna C. Nielsen argues that a rational understanding of the importance of this is far from enough. We need to “outsmart” our brain. The author has pioneered an innovative approach called INCLUSION NUDGES to succeed with this challenge.

  • By: Tinna C. Nielsen
  • Published: 11-06-2015

The unrealistic scenario
Imagine your organisation have been working on developing a product over several years, maybe even a decade. A lot of resources have been invested in this, a lot of effort and a lot of energy. You are now ready to really leverage the potential of this product. This is a product that has the potential of really making a difference for your organisation, in terms of revenue, innovative image, competition, as well as future-proofing your organisation. You don’t position the product. You don’t use marketing resources on promoting it, not even making it visible to your potential customers/consumers. You count on the customers/consumers to notice your product among all the other products available. You believe the potential of this product will unfold by itself. All these coincidences will come together by itself. When that doesn’t happen, you blame it on the product – it didn’t have the potential. We will now invest in developing other products and expect those to make it. But we will neither change the marketing strategy, nor the approach in promoting this product, nor will we change our mindset around this. At the same time we still expect our organisation to grow and be the best in the market. Does this sound realistic? No not at all. This would never happen in marketing and therefor it’s a waste of resources. Then why do we let this happen over and over again in our organisation?

But the crazy reality
When it comes to leveraging the full potential of our people for better performance and making the best of their competencies and talent, not to mention the investment we have made in their development over the years, our systems and behaviour leave it up to coincidence that this will actually happen. When it comes to our talent the scenario above is reality! You might think to yourself right at this moment “that’s nonsense, that doesn’t happen in my organisation!”. If that thought just entered your mind, you are like the majority of people. That kind of reaction is why I started applying behavioural economic and nudging techniques systematically in my work as global head of Inclusion, Diversity & Collaboration in a global organisation. In this line of work the job is to develop organisations that are inclusive of all people - the opposite of exclusion. Through that I knowledge that all people have equal opportunities to advance and contribute with their competencies, where their differences in perspectives are being put into work and leveraged to spark synergies, new ideas, better decisions, and engagement. Most professional people, leaders and employees working in organisations have this intention – at least very few people have the opposite intention. Yet, over and over again the above scenario plays out. And here is the catch – you cannot convince people that they need to change behaviour by making them rationally understand that they are causing this crazy reality. This approach to behavioural change and inclusiveness is like pushing water up hill. Impossible. I was forced to come up with a more innovative approach to get 19.000 employees to act more inclusive. I started experimenting with merging behavioural economics and nudging to the field of organisational development, leadership development, team development, and Inclusion & Diversity. The result is the practical techniques called Inclusion Nudges, and behavioural changes that stick.


The human brain
One of the reasons the above scenario plays out unnoticed in the majority of organisations, is that human thinking is occurring through two interdependent systems, as Daniel Kahneman describes in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. ‘System 1’ is fast, automatic, associative, emotional, irrational, and subconscious, and ‘System 2’ is the slow, controlled, reflective, rational, self-aware/conscious aspect of cognitive processing. As much as we like to believe that we are logical and rational decision makers – we really aren’t. Researchers have estimated that as much as 90% of our thoughts processes occur automatically; thus our behaviour is dominated by our subconscious. And the subconscious system doesn’t always act in accordance with our intentions as the examples below illustrate.

The downside
Unconscious biases are natural, but have major implications for who is perceived as competent. For an example; who’s hired or promoted for a job, how people’s competencies are being utilized, who’s called upon in a team meeting, who gets feedback, who’s contribution is ignored, who gets sponsored and are made visible for the right people at the right time in the right place. The downside of these very natural reactions can be the exclusion of individuals, groups of people, information, and knowledge – resulting in lost opportunities. Extensive research on the unconscious illustrates, as does my own insights from being an internal practitioner, the unfortunate impact of bias on our talent decisions and business decisions. (Source) Yet most of us aren’t aware of it happening or, for that matter, in control of it.

What does height have to do with competencies?
Would you think that a person’s height would influence your perception of their competencies? Research findings illustrate, for example, how height has an impact on who’s selected to senior leadership positions. 62% of male CEOs in the U.S. are more than 1.85m tall, compared to only 14% of the general population of men. It’s not because the selection committee rationally argue, “the tall leaders are the most competent,” because they are tall. The tendency to select a taller candidate is strongly influenced by implicit associations bias, between height and leadership = authority, visibility and strong presence. (Source) Similar studies have been done in Sweden with similar results.

Does accent matter?
Researchers have also found that accent plays a key role in who we believe and whose information we process. Our brain resonates better with the information given to us if the speaker has the same accent as our own. Unconsciously, we find them more credible. (Source) In general we believe more in ‘similar others’ than those who are different from us. We are ‘tribe people’, and feel safer with people from our own tribe, which can be defined by similarities of any kind. And just to add to the challenge, all organisations have implicit norms (unspoken, unwritten ‘rules’) for how you are supposed to behave, communicate, look and perform to instinctively be perceived as competent and trustworthy. This norm is defined by many components, such as the sector you work in, the society, culture, political discourse, and global norms. (Source) The more our employees/leaders match this norm the more likely it is that their competencies and potential is being leveraged, that they are being promoted, and listened to. The result is that most organisations are missing out on a lot of potential.

Now, you might be thinking, “how on earth should I change that when it happens unconsciously and is out of my control?” This is where Inclusion Nudges comes into the picture.


An INCLUSION NUDGE is a behavioural intervention that will mitigate unconscious associations, like those described above. Inclusion Nudges help the brain make more objective decisions about people and business, and promote more inclusive behaviours. These practical interventions are designed based on the principles of behavioural economics and nudging, such as no incentives nor punishment (The term and framework of Inclusion Nudges is developed in joined collaboration by Tinna C. Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski, another thought leader with decades of experience as internal global Head of Inclusion & Diversity in multinationals). We use different types of Inclusion Nudges to motivate and make it easy to act inclusive. Here are just a few examples.

“Feel the need” Inclusion Nudge
Behavioural interventions that motivate inclusive behaviour by making the brain’s unconscious system feel the need for change rather than having only a rational understanding of the need for change. Often taking the form of eye-openers or “aha-moments”, they are designed to show or illustrate rather than tell people how biased they are and show the consequences of the status quo.

Marketing of all talent
As I mentioned with the unrealistic scenario about not making our products visible through marketing efforts, this is the reality in our organisations when it comes to our people. Often we don’t make a strategic effort to make them visible– and since not all people are visible the ‘right way’ with the right people, at the right time’ we leave it up to coincidence. What we need is more sponsorship of our people in our organisations. Sponsorship is when a senior colleague advocates for you; help make you visible and noticed for your performance and potential by other senior leaders. But this can be very difficult to get buy-in for because this is one of those hidden excluding barriers that aren’t recognized as a problem. An example of a ‘Feel the need’ Inclusion Nudges, that is effective for creating commitment to address this issue, is a simple interactive intervention designed by Lisa Kepinski. It’s a simple PowerPoint slide showing photos of all the employees (130 people) from the ‘high potential’ pool or senior level. The executive leader in this global organisation, who appoint the leaders to this level, was asked at a meeting how many of these people they knew, the executives called out many names and could have gone on longer. Then came the next slide, which faded out the male photos, leaving only the women. Asked again, ”How many of these people do you know?” it turned out they knew only a small number. Based on this Inclusion Nudges the leaders realizes the problem of women not being as visible for their performance and potential the same way as men (their own tribe) and now ‘felt’ the need to have a formal sponsorship program implemented that would make sure all people would benefit from sponsorship (=‘marketing’) of their potential and performance, and thus avoid loss of talent.

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Tinna C Nielsen

Tinna C. Nielsen
Tinna is an anthropologist and behavioural economist by heart and profession. Since 2010 she has worked as Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Collaboration for Arla Foods. For the past 14 years, her passion has been to promote behavioural, cultural and systemic changes for inclusiveness. For this purpose she founded the socio-economic organisation MOVE THE ELEPHANT FOR INCLUSIVENESS in 2013 and in 2015. Inclusion Nudges has been recognised by influential organisations such as the United Nations, Hot Spot Movement (Future of Work Consortium, Lynda Gratton), The Conference Board, World Economic Forum, as an innovative approach with great potential of making more of the human potential in our organisations, communities, and societies.

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