Change in organizational structures, adaptation of new technologies and operation strategy is relatively easier compared to making people embracing new structures, technologies and following new strategy. Employees are the most important factor behind success of any change initiative.

To get people ready for having change, it is necessary to have understanding of why human behaviour changes and what motivates them to adopt change. These questions are answered by behaviour change theories and models. These models guide us what are the factors which influence human behaviour and what causes changes in human behaviour.

Among many behaviour change model, Nudge theory is the most contemporary and the relevant to the change management. This theory offers ways and techniques which leader and management you can use to understand people and engage them for implementing change.

Let’s find out what Nudge theory entails:

What is Nudge Theory?

Nudge theory was originally developed 21st century by American behavioural economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein and they presented this theory is the renowned book ‘Nudge – Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness which was published in 2008.

 A nudge refers to principle that small action can influence on the choice of people or the way people behave. It focuses on engaging people by knowing that how people make choices or make decisions.

The Nudge theory encourages indirect techniques to influence the behaviour instead of giving direct instructions. For example, instead of saying that monitoring of diabetes is essential, availability and accessibility of glucometer can be improved which will positively influence human behaviour. Similarly, asking people to join a gym or play a sports in office, create conditions that people start using stairs. 

How can Nudge Theory be helpful in Leading Change in an Organization?

As the Nudge theory central idea is to indirectly influence individuals without taking freedom of choice. It discourages any change in behaviour of employees through following strict orders and directions. It is about giving choices and through providing enabling environment and encouragement there will be change in behaviour of employees.

It is not an easy process and it starts with analysing the current behaviour of employees and what are the desired changes in their behaviour.  Following are the three actions which are necessary to leading change in organization.

Perception Nudges

These are actions which play around perceptions of organisational behaviour. Individual have different perception of the different situation. So, it is important to have an understanding of employees’ perception of the desired change. This will also give an idea that what are impediments to change and how these can be overcome by influencing perception of employees.

Motivation Nudges

These are actions which are needed to make employees care about a change. There are many forms of motivational nudges and organization can take example of other individual example to show the others that it is the best behaviour and it fits to the idea of change.

Ability and Simplicity Nudges

When change is hard and complex and employees feel it is difficult to adopt changes then simple nudges are needed by organization. These simple and tiny actions will improve employees’ ability to adopt to change.

Key Steps of Nudging for Implementing Change

Defining Change

It is like knowing your destination. If the desired change is clearly defined and articulated among the employees than it is more likely that it will be successfully achieved.

Stakeholder Analysis

It is also necessary to have analysis of how change will be perceived by all stakeholders and how the expected change is going to affect all of these stakeholders. This analysis will provide with change leaders more clarity and better strategy to implement change. 


Making a rational plan to implement a change is also a part of nudging process. It will also help in identifying what resource will be needed and when these resources will be required to execute the change.

Inclusive Decision Making

It is also essential part of nudging process that those who matter most and those who are affected by the desired change should be involved in decision making process.

Receptive to Feedback

Listening to feedback is a powerful nudging technique. Whether the feedback is coming from employees or it is from customers, it is important to be open about feedback and learn from it.

Remove Bottlenecks

The road of change is full of thorns. The role of change leaders and management is to remove bottlenecks on the way to change. By doing this, change leaders will get support from the employees and all other important stakeholders.


Patience is needed to implement change. The change leaders need to keep morale of team high and keep moving consistently. Teams should not show complacency on initial wins and real goal should be remain in focus till it is achieved.

Take Home Points

  • Nudge Theory explains how to influence human behaviour in a subtle way to enforce change.
  • It is about taking small actions which indirectly human behaviour towards change. It calls for influencing choice without taking power of choice from individuals.
  •  There are different nudges which can be taken at organization level: a) perception nudge; b) motivation nudge; and c) ability and simplicity nudge.
  • There are various nudging techniques but popular are seven steps: a) define change; b) analysing stakeholders; c) work plan and timelines; d) inclusive decision making; e) receptive to feedback; f) removing bottlenecks; and g) consistency.