Category Archives: Behavior Change Theory & Tactics

How To Say “No” Effectively to Leadership

Such a joy to be back IN PERSON for a presentation at the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) annual seminar last week.  It reinforces how important face-to-face communication is in building relationships and cementing our learning.

My colleague John Lyday, APR, Fellow PRSA and I presented on the challenges and strategies needed to say “no” when leadership is heading in the wrong direction.  Some “takeaways” (both from us and our participants) included:

  1. Remember leaders are human too (and that includes our School Board members).  They have egos, and they do not want to appear wrong or be depicted as bullies; they want to please others, etc.  They also have past experiences that influence their decisionmaking.  The key is to really get to know your leadership what makes them tick and motivates them.
  2. Five strategies for saying “no
    • Education – being the expert before the issue arises, teaching leadership about effective communication practices and behavioral/communication theories, strategies
    • Having data – doing research on stakeholders to know them well; also having ability to do dipstick research overnight to help inform any decisionmaking
    • Offering options rather than solutions (caveat: never offer an option that is not good – it is the one they will pick)
    • Create scenarios on what is likely to happen with or without action, with options (including their suggestions).  Be sure to include pros and cons.
    • Know who influences leadership, where they stand on most subjects; and how to most effectively use their influence to help guide leadership when needed
  3. Critical strategies/theories to utilize, educate leadership about:
    • PR Behavioral Model (Jackson/Grunig) 
    • Behavioral Messaging (Grunig)
    • (email either one of us for copies!)
  4. Regularly conduct issue anticipation brainstorming to identify issues that might break and build strategies.  Group into “latent”, “emerging”, “hot” and “fallout” issues to manage discussions.  Here are some issues that were identified by session participants:
    • COVID-19 and its continuing impact on school communications
    • Critical race theory conspiracies that appear to be happening independently but are reportedly being fueled by organized conservative groups
    • Violence being directed at Asian-American families and students
    • Organized opposition to school district efforts to make LGBTQ students feel welcome and safe in school
    • Cyber-security in light of recent malware and ransomware attacks on other sectors
    • … and, of course, those that were old which may become new again, e.g. gun safety, sex education, etc.

For more on these subjects and more, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or email us. We would love to hear from you!

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel & Partner, JJ&W, ssmith@jjwpr.com/603.205.6302

John Lyday, APR, Fellow PRSA, jlydaycommunications.com/309.201.3669 www.lydaycommunications.com

Using the Triggering Event of COVID to Impact Culture Change

Triggering events, whether created for us or by us, can create a fissure in the current behaviors and beliefs of stakeholders. These fissures, if smartly managed, can help transform an organization’s culture.

Even before the trauma of the last year, healthcare was reeling from a bevy of changes and pressures. Nursing shortages, changing business models, cut-throat competition, systemic racism, the disappearance of small, rural hospitals, and more had an already shaky system on the edge.
Staff were dissatisfied and demoralized. This was no longer a profession respected and supported or so it felt.

The upheaval of an event like COVID19, for all its negative outcomes, can be a catalyst if harnessed, to re-imagine and re-create an internal culture that can thrive going forward.

Five COORR steps to take:

1. Catharsis
2. Opportunity
3. Ownership
4. Repair
5. Repeat

Catharsis: Allows employees to express their feelings, pain, ideas. This is the time for leadership to listen, empathize, comfort and express humanness. It is accessed through meaningful and thoughtful listening by way of qualitative and quantitative research.
Opportunity: Opportunities and problems are identified in Catharsis and with an environmental scan to see what in the future may become pressing. These are verified with employees, prioritized.
Ownership: Responsibility for seeing that change happens is assigned at all levels, not just leadership. By spreading responsibility throughout the organization and levels, silos can be torn down and healing can begin.
Repair: Measurable goals and objectives are established, strategies determined, and action is taken. Ongoing measurement tracks successes and need for tweaking actions.
Repeat: Change is not a “one and done” process. Different groups are ready to move at different times. Some need others to take the lead, to make sure change is not dangerous. Sometimes alternative strategies need to be adopted to move those who linger.

As vaccines ramp up (a triggering event of its own), and COVID winds down (hopefully), the window for change is ending from this triggering event. Make use of professionals with communication and organization behavior expertise to be most effective in this effort. Act now and make a difference for your organization.

#MASKUPMA: APPLYING THE BEHAVIOR CHANGE MODEL TO COVID-19

Here in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has launched the #MaskUpMA campaign to raise awareness and stimulate behaviors that will reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our state in the coming months.  His collective efforts to guide the public’s behavior during the pandemic follow the 4-Step Public Behavior Change Model, based on the work of leading public relations behaviorists Jim Grunig, Harold Mendelsohn, Max McCombs & others:

  1.  Coalition Campaign:  This phase focuses on 3 steps: Problem Recognition:  Good news – the vaccines are here!  Bad news: implementation is slower than projected.  Therefore, it is critical to follow COVID-19 protocols to slow the spread as we patiently wait for the phase-by-phase vaccinations to protect us. Problem Personalization:  To date, there have been over 12,000 deaths and 420,000 cases of COVID19 reported in the state of Mass.  A visit to mass.gov will give you access to updated statistics by age, town or city and other demographics – in your preferred language. Constraint Removal:  The #MaskUpMA campaign, which reiterates the simple message “wear a mask to protect yourself and others against the spread of COVID19” includes video testimonials by everyone from Governor Baker to Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster, PSAs and a dedicated section of the Mass.Gov website Mask Up MA! | Mass.gov
  2. Enforcement:  Since Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on March 10, a series of executive orders have been signed which range from limits on indoor (10-person) and outdoor (25-person) gatherings to required face coverings in public places to a “stay at home advisory” between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.  Public establishments violating mask-wearing and social distance protocols have faced hefty fines.
  3. Engineering:  Structural changes have been put into place to discourage behaviors that might lead to spreading COVID19.  These include closing restaurants at 9:30 p.m. to discourage large late-night gatherings, limiting the number of people per table (6) and setting up tables to comply with social-distancing guidelines.  Another example of structural changes: the requirement of temperature checks of patrons when entering certain gyms, dental offices and other places of business.
  4. Social Reinforcement:  11 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks and social distancing have become as familiar as recycling.  One could argue that social reinforcement has almost gone overboard as people engage in “mask shaming” – even when people are walking and riding bikes outdoors and observing social distance protocols.

This model makes sense when applied to just about any issue (see JJ&W blog from July 2017 on “Changing Behaviors on Concussion Treatment Through Chalk Talk) and will undoubtedly serve as the foundation for vaccination, COVID-testing and other behavior-change campaigns.

Summary of JJ&W’s WEbinar for PRSA: External Communication with Stakeholders During Covid-19

What is known about how humans process risk and crisis remind us that not every member of a stakeholder group is at the same point in their understanding, acceptance, processing or action steps.  In fact, most are likely ricocheting daily, if not hourly, between these waypoints as they deal with the mental and emotional toll that the all-consuming change that is COVID19 has taken on their lives.  Today they may feel positive and productive.  Tomorrow they may not.

How we deliver the messages that need to be communicated, the words we use, and the environment in which messages are received must be carefully calibrated to resonate with our stakeholders. They must take into consideration their values and their current emotional state.  They must be clear enough to motivate specific behaviors.

Thus, we move to the lowest common denominators when preparing communication:

  1. Use simpler, more direct language
  2. Elevate empathy
  3. Include doable action steps

Simpler, more direct language   Write at a 7th or 8th grade level (see Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests). Even the most educated have problems processing ideas when things are stressful or there is upheaval. Say what needs to be said in the simplest way possible – short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. 

Elevate empathy   Express shared emotions without telling them how they feel.  “We are all anxious” is different then “We know you are anxious”.

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Doable action steps:  Suggest something they can do as a result of your communication.  “Make a donation”, “call a friend”, “read on our website” are all actionable ideas.  With no call to action, your messaging is just a big “so what”. For example,  COVID19 communication now has plenty of “calls to action”, including:  “maintain a 6-feet-apart social distance when out in public”; “wash your hands for 20 seconds” and “stay at home unless you are an essential worker or you have to get gas, groceries or pharmacy items.”

In addition, don’t make stakeholders work to find your messaging or create additional “new” vehicles to communicate.  That is just another stress on them.  Use the channels they are comfortable with, used to using, and trust.

Finally, monitor the environment for ongoing changes that might make your communication insensitive if not offensive.  This requires being flexible on how you choose to communicate and constantly monitoring the environment for potential message conflicts.

For instance, the cruise lines for too long continued to run ads and send mailing that promoting trips.  The hotel industry was slow on the uptake as well. Some smaller organizations, perhaps being nimbler or more empathetic, switch gears faster e.g. Planet Fitness suspended monthly fees right away and ramped up their online platform to encourage continued activity.  Compare that with Boston Health Club (see good reading on that one see Robin Schell’s last blog)! 

Stay well!

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Counsel & Partner, Jackson Jackson & Wagner

Strategic PR Planning Is Critical To An Organization’s Success

If your first thought when presented with a public relations problem or opportunity is to brainstorm tactics – e.g. “let’s do a newsletter” “send a tweet”, “post on Facebook”, “hold a meeting” — then you are planning, but not strategically.

If your first thoughts are: “how does this opportunity fit with our overall goals?”, “what behaviors do we need from our priority stakeholders?”, “what are the underlying psychological or structural barriers in the way of achieving those behaviors?” , “what communication/behavioral theories or case studies could support or guide our decisions?” … then you are being strategic.

I explain to PRSA Strategic Planning workshop attendees that they probably are strategic thinkers already. However, it’s often easier to default to tactics that are in our comfort zone and can be quickly implemented. The problem is that just executing tactics without strategic direction could end up being a waste of our time and our organization’s resources. In today’s environment, public relations practitioners are being held accountable to the bottom line … we need to be able to justify our actions to senior management and provide measurable results, just as legal, finance and other departments do..

The strategic planning process consists of five distinct areas of work: 1) Establishing Direction, 2) Gathering/Conducting Research, 3) Objective Setting by Priority Publics, 4) Determining Strategy, Tactics, Evaluation, 5) Setting Timeline, Budget and Staffing. Once the plan has been determined, we need to stay flexible, knowing the environment we are operating in could change; a “triggering event” could impact the effectiveness of our strategy; or research could show that our priority audiences are not responding to our key messages.

Before we even begin the implementation of our plan, we must have a clear idea of what success will look like …for example: our internal audience will buy-in to and support our process; senior management will lead by example; our budgets and person power will increase; we will achieve the behaviors we set out to change or reinforce; and we will become an integral part of the leadership team charged with achieving the organization’s overall goals.

I’ll be presenting a half-day version of the day-long workshop at PRSA’s International Conference in Austin, TX on October 7. Join me!
For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com

Patrick Jackson and The Start of Modern Behavioral Public Relations

Pat Jackson, JJ&W’s founder, was a behaviorist.  Plain and simple.  He taught those of us fortunate enough to work with him over the years to learn to be behaviorists, too.

Behavior change is hard – ask anyone who has tried to go on a diet, stop smoking or change a dominant personality trait – so Pat taught us to look for triggering events that could be a hook into behavior change, and to engineer behavior reinforcement into existing behavior patterns.  Most of us, for example, go to the dentist twice a year – and for those who aren’t good about flossing as a regular part of their oral hygiene, those dentist visits become “triggering events” to “cram floss” – usually the 2 weeks prior to the visit, and definitely the two weeks after the visit, when the dentist’s lectures and scary-looking gingivitis posters are top of mind.  But it is what happens in between those visits to reinforce flossing behavior that is the key to going from “cram flossing” to flossing that is part of your regular oral hygiene routine.

We’re about to embark on a campaign to educate and change behaviors around an important health problem — Lyme disease.  There is a need to educate both children  and parent, about Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses so they can take steps to prevent it … and when prevention isn’t possible, to identify and treat it early to minimize long-term effects.

Data is leading us to target kids between the ages of 5 and 15 – particularly those with greater exposure to ticks, such as those kids in outdoor camp programs.  This is a fantastic opportunity to partner with local not-for-profits who serve children and their families organizations for the one-two punch of effectiveness, to reach the parents so they can reinforce the behaviors we are teaching.  These behaviors include, on the simplest of levels, how to conduct a check for ticks – and if a tick is found, how to remove it and what to do with it afterwards.  If we think like strategic communicators about the best time to check for ticks, it’s when you’re naked – so tips that can be posted in the bathroom – and even more specifically, the shower stall —  make sense.

In fact, Pat was a big proponent of using the bathrooms to communicate messages, and I had to laugh when I went out to eat one of my favorite restaurants in Amesbury, Mass and saw the poster advertising the fact that the restaurant is now open for lunch, right on the bathroom door.  Educating those most apt to come to lunch — a current customer.  Very effective!

Whether you are spreading news about new restaurant hours or how to prevent Lyme disease, two cardinal rules prevail:

  1.  Learn about your target audience and the best place to reach them with your message
  2. Think about the natural ways to reinforce behavior change until it becomes a force of habit … kind of like recycling is with many today.

Yes, Pat was a  behaviorist, whether he was in a boardroom or a bathroom.  He often closed his speeches by talking about how the directions posted near the hand dryers in the bathrooms should have read:  1.  Push button to turn on dryer.  2.  Place hands under dryer.  3.  Rub hands vigorously under dryer.  4.  Wipe hands on pants!  Because 9 times out of 10, that’s what we all do.

Want to learn more about Pat Jackson and his approach to behavior change?  Check him out at www.patrickjacksonpr.com.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior counsel and partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm. For more information about JJ&W, visit their website at www.jjwpr.com or email Robin at rschell@jjwpr.com.

Designing Recognition Programs That Motivate Behavior

Whether you’re in charge of designing a rewards and recognition for your organization, or putting an awards program together for your industry, the question to ask yourself is: what behaviors are we trying to motivate? Teamwork? Employee retention? An above-and-beyond work ethic? Awareness? And the million dollar question: Is our current recognition program doing the job?

A few years back, JJ&W was conducting an internal communication study for an airline client. One of the objectives was to get feedback from employees on how they felt about the client’s recognition program. Amazingly, one anecdote came up consistently in the 25 focus groups we conducted. It concerned one of the airline’s toughest financial years. At the holidays, the CEO sent a letter recognizing everyone’s hard work, along with two cookies, to each employee. Here’s what we heard from employees: “If you want to motivate us, don’t give us two $3 cookies in a $6 box…bring in lunch for our crew when we’ve been working 24/7 during a tough weather stretch!” If you don’t know how employees want to be recognized and rewarded …ask! A little research can go a long way in helping you to design an effective recognition program. Note: as a result of the research JJ&W conducted, the recognition program was revamped to include both individual and team awards, given that teamwork at an airline is a must-have behavioral goal. After all, we all want those pilots, gate agents and baggage handlers working together to deliver customer delight!

A few tips on designing a strategic rewards and recognition program:

1. Evaluate your program…is it driving your behavioral goals? The Yankee Chapter of PRSA gives an award, originally known as the Yankee Award, but renamed for JJ&W’s founder and now called the Patrick Jackson Award. The Chapter asks its members to nominate professionals who are not in the public relations field but who successfully use public relations principles to benefit their organization and society, while demonstrating a track record of building public relationships that earn trust. Last year, Van Mcleod, former NH Commissioner of the Arts, won the award posthumously and joined a list of NH heavy hitters including Governor Walter Peterson, Bishop Gene Robinson and former NH Charitable Foundation president Lew Feldstein. The whole idea behind the award is to educate those outside our profession about what PR is and what it looks like when it is done well. The award has been in place since the 90’s, and rather than just keep giving the award, there is a committee in place to evaluate its effectiveness – are we getting the behavioral outcomes we want? Are we educating NH’s senior leaders about the value of PR by giving this award?

2. Consider filling a niche that doesn’t exist. Think about scholarships – there are many schools with awards for financial need and sky-high GPAs. When my high school scholarship committee got together to design the criteria for our class scholarship, we decided to go for a new niche and reward the “slow starter that finished strong”. When we are screening applications, we’re looking for the person who turned the corner in the latter half of their high school career, balancing GPA with work, outside interests and public service.

3. Design an industry award that gives back to the profession in some way. At our 35th anniversary (over 30 years ago!), Jackson Jackson & Wagner established the JJ&W Behavioral Science prize with a donation of $35,000 to the PRSA Foundation. The intent was to honor an individual behavioral science researcher whose scholarly work enhances the understanding of the concepts and theories that contribute to the effectiveness of the public relations practitioner. Since JJ&W’s focus is behavior change, this research is an important foundation to the work we do for clients. Pat Jackson coined this type of giving “enlightened self-interest” — you do good for others but it reflects positively on your organization as well. The winner is honored at PRSA International Conference, with the idea they will conduct a professional development session based on their work, so conference attendees can all benefit. Note: the award is not given every year; just when the awards committee finds a deserving candidate.

Similarly, PRSA established the Silver Anvil awards back in 1945 to recognize the best public relations campaigns in our industry – these are all catalogued on PRSA’s website, www.prsa.org, for the benefit of all members. Last year, NASA was recognized with the Best of Silver Anvil awards for their “Year in Space: Communicating NASA’s Historic One-Year Mission from Space to Ground” program. Click here to view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iTaEyl1Mcg

A final thought: if you’re on the receiving end of a prestigious award or recognition, don’t stop at issuing a press release to announce it – go direct to the audiences that matter most. When I earned my APR back in 1991, JJ&W notified our clients directly, and I got some wonderful hand-written notes of congratulations from fellow PR practitioners and friends acknowledging this accomplishment. As a measure of how much those meant to me … I still have them in my possession today, all these years later.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior counsel and partner for Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm. For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com.

Helmetless Practices: How Behavior Change Strategy Is Paying Off For The UNH Football Team

Because JJ&W has counseled the Brain Injury Association of NH for a number of years, we’ve gotten very familiar with the concussion issue – it has certainly been in the spotlight with triggering events like the death of Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers and more recently, the movie “Concussion”.

Of course, any social problem involving behavior change is of interest to us…but I was particularly fascinated by the approach UNH Kinesiology Professor Erik Swartz took with “Helmetless Tackling Training” or HUTT, pilot-tested on the UNH football team.  Swartz, using the “Head Health Challenge II” research grant funded by the NFL, Under Armour and General Electric, worked with the UNH football coaching staff to incorporate a tackling drill, with half of the players wearing helmet… the other half, not.

Head impact sensors worn by all the players collected data on the impacts.  The question:  would removing helmets cause players to adjust their tackling technique and build muscle memory that would result in a safer tackling technique and fewer head injuries going forward?

The results from the 2014 football season:  a decrease in head impacts of almost 30% among those who participated in the helmetless drills – in practices and games where helmets are worn. In the words of Schwartz:  “this is the first study out there to really focus on changing behavior to mitigate risk rather than finding ways to accommodate it.”

Breakthrough thinking, and the next steps will be developing appropriate training for players at the high school level and below – those audiences, and their behaviors, need to be studied and carefully considered first.

Many lessons to be learned for public relations practitioners as they design behavior-change programs for their clients!

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com