What’s the secret sauce to behaviour change apps?

James Clear, in his definitive book Atomic Habits, shows how it’s possible to change bad behaviours into good ones through small, incremental, everyday routines that compound into much larger positive change over time.

The science suggests that every time we change a habit, we execute a repeatable pattern based on an initial prompt or cue, as a call to action to find a reward. This is then followed by:

  • Craving – the motivation to change something to get the reward
  • Response – the action you need to take to claim the reward
  • Accomplishment – the satisfying feeling you get from that change, along with lessons learned that impact whether to do it again

He goes on to outline that there are four essential laws that govern the success of that behaviour change. Applying this to healthy eating brings these steps to life:

  1. Make it obvious – don’t hide fruit in the fridge, put them on display
  2. Make it attractive – start by choosing the fruit you like the most, so you’ll actually want to eat one when you see it
  3. Make it easy – don’t create needless friction by focusing on fruits that are hard to consume – when it comes to peeling then bananas and apples are often easier to eat than oranges and mangos
  4. Make it satisfying – if the fruit you eat fills you up, then you’ll lose that hunger craving and feel healthier as a result

Not all apps are the same

When it comes to sustainability, the core building block that digital apps provide are simple habit choice – providing information, hints and tips to raise the comprehension of the user around what they should be doing. This content can be delivered in a variety of formats and needs to be easy to consume, engaging and informative.

But what most apps ignore is the behavioural trait that, when it comes to taking action, people do not always do what they say. This is known as the intention-action gap and can lead to a false hypothesis that well intentioned pledges translate into direct action. In reality there will be a noticeable drop-off when it comes to results, meaning that most apps will fail to deliver the desired collective outcomes.

This correlates to Clear’s findings – content alone is not sufficient – the key next step is to generate a response from the user in order for action to be taken.

What you should look for in a behaviour change app

The product should be designed around the hypothesis that building new habits can be hard, which requires a structured engagement program. The behavioural science from James Clear and others tells us to change one habit at a time, not a new thing every day and that tiny changes can cumulatively lead to remarkable results. These new habits can be reinforced through awards, community support, hacks, tips & tricks.

Reporting is also key – through a habit tracker that should provide a fun and easy way to ensure the user sticks to their new behaviours, staying accountable without becoming overwhelmed. It should be possible in the app to keep a record, typically updated at the end of each day, where the user marks which new tasks were succeeded with. 

Recognising that some tasks are harder than others to achieve requires coaching – so check to see if the app provides 1:1 support and group messaging with mentors and peers to gain advice (on what to differently to overcome the barriers) and recognition (to reinforce those new behaviours). Social media has normalised likes and positive feedback comments as a way of providing encouragement and support, so these functions should be built-in as well.

How Ailuna was designed to be different

Ailuna is a new generation of behavioural change app that fully applies the science in three innovative ways: 

    1. Through our proprietary behaviour change engine and action development tool – this is unique in the market having been painstakingly built and iterated over a number of years using behavioural/motivational science and usability experts, allied to extensive user feedback. All targeted at solving a pressing and chronic problem for sustainability and HR leaders

       

    2. Type of data capture – what is unique about our data? It’s about user relevancy. The value of employee and customer engagement is that it creates, rewards and benefits from changes in behaviour. The value of Ailuna is that it fulfils the desire of employees, teams and companies to participate in being able ‘do’ something meaningful in important areas – through small, achievable everyday actions in the office or at home.

       

    3. Ease of bespoke set up, rollout and mobilisation – Implementing behavioural change programmes can often be onerous and arduous – it is a real problem. Ailuna has tackled this head on – all the essential tools and functionality are self contained and ready to use in our App. This means HR/Sustainability professionals can build momentum, maximise quick participation and dovetail with existing internal initiatives. We assign a dedicated ‘Engagement Development Manager’ to ensure that your goals are met, your ideas are implemented and your user experience is continuously fun and rewarding.

What this demonstrates is the pedigree of the Ailuna product – within a year of formal launch we have 8,000 users – and enterprise clients who are implementing OKR (Objective and Key Results) based initiatives with positive outcomes to justify the future scaling of their Ailuna for Business platform.

The importance of data

Digital apps are therefore a great way to track an individual in their journey to building new habits, but for a business you need to aggregate data across different teams and sites in order to see the cumulative impact. 

The HSBC Future of Work study identifies that 96% of business leaders understand that getting buy-in from their workforce is essential for building sustainability practices, and that the barriers to overcome are lack of engagement (36%), expertise (32%) or accountability (30%).

So Ailuna for Business uses data to provide enterprises with the accountability on the combined efforts of its employees in becoming more sustainable. There are two factors at play here – the inputs which are the actions taken by cohorts of employees (tracked by the app) and the outputs which are the impact this has on the sustainability objectives and goals of the enterprise.

These outputs are the measurable difference on things like energy usage & CO2 emissions that occur and are reinforced by the actions of engaged employees. What we know to be true is that businesses can’t achieve 100% of the potential output without the collective inputs of employees.

We also have the ability to ingest other forms of data into our system. When it comes to building energy usage reports produced by tools like EnergiRaven, then these can be combined with input data around the employee actions taken.

Reducing energy consumption starts by maintaining an optimal working environment – either at home or in the office – that balances heating, cooling and humidity, whilst empowering employees to avoid throwing energy out of the window. The importance of data is that it provides a benchmark on performance through monthly energy usage and site emission audits. 

Once you have an accurate baseline and real time scorecard data then engaged employees can use it to decide on what actions to take that support company efficiency initiatives. Gamification and rewards can be added to the mix to recognise those teams and sites that make the biggest improvements month on month – for example by finding and repairing leaks as a tangible action.

This combination of engagement and data is based on the premise that you can’t change your culture without first improving knowledge, insight and action and that is what Ailuna for Business can help you achieve.

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