The mode I use is very simple. I have encapsulated it into a meme: ‘intention and outcome’.
Data is data. What you do with it, however, requires an intention (why you are saying what you are saying) and an outcome (what you are trying to trigger).
Let’s say that 35% of employees do X:
‘Only 35% of employees do X’ has one clear ‘intention and outcome’: we are not doing very well; we need to step up our efforts.
‘35% of employees already do X’ means we are advancing, this is good news, would you not join that crowd?
In both cases the facts are the same: 35% of employees do X.
The strength of the ‘intention and outcome’ is even greater if you abandon the numbers in favour of:
Just about a third of employees do X
Already a third of employees do X.
It’s astonishing how, by and large, corporate language ignores the true power of the nudging frame and uses ‘cold numbers’ leaving the receiver complete freedom in interpretation.
I don’t buy the usual charge of ‘manipulation’ occasionally attributed to my ‘intention and outcome’ model. As business leader or social change agent, for example, I am not neutral. If I am in a hospital and want to boost the ‘wash your hands’ behaviour, I do care about what the data is going to trigger.
If I started from a very low baseline of people doing it, ‘already a third of health care workers wash their hands’, intends to signal progress. Even better if it’s followed by ‘join them, we need to get to at least half by next month’.
If I started from a baseline of people dismissing the call to action or simply assuming (wrongly ) that this is common practice, ‘only a third of health care workers wash their hands’, means not really, it’s not the norm; we have a long way to go, don’t be complacent.
Along all those scenarios, the facts have not changed: 35%
From Internal/corporate communications to ‘change programmes’ of some sort, framing exercising and testing should be mandatory. And, by the way, you can dress it up with a lot of elegant Cognitive Sciences theory behind it, to sound scientific. Or you could just ask yourself ‘intention and outcome’ next to any statement.
Dr Leandro Herrero is the CEO and Chief Organization Architect of The Chalfont Project , an international firm of organizational architects. He is the pioneer of Viral ChangeTM, a people Mobilizing Platform, a methodology that delivers large scale behavioural and cultural change in organizations, which creates lasting capacity for changeability.
Dr Herrero is also an Executive Fellow at the Centre for the Future of Organization, Drucker School of Management. An international speaker, Dr Herrero is available for virtual speaking engagements  and can be reached at: The Chalfont Project .