The mavericks: Get rogue travellers under control and grow policy compliance

by Jonti Dalal-Small, Head of Behavioural Science

Getting employees to comply with travel policy is one of the biggest challenges most organisations face. Jonti Dalal-Small takes a different approach to policy compliance; here he explains why we should apply psychology to motivate employees to want to comply.

Whether compliance is already at 95% and you want to capture the last few percentage points, or if only 55% of your people comply to your programme, getting people to change their travel-related behaviours and grow policy compliance is often the number one priority for travel category owners.

But for too long we have taken a narrow, outdated and sometimes counter-productive approach to compliance.

Compliance is at root a behaviour change challenge, but this has rarely been stated explicitly.  Instead the conversation has been about do people comply or not and what the cost or other impacts.

A lawyer’s approach is the implicit approach to behaviour change driving attempts to improve compliance. This is all about regulations and bans – telling people what they can and can’t do and what the consequences will be if they don’t comply. Most travel policies have been written from this perspective; most policies are enforced through this narrow lens.

Laws can be highly effective tools for changing behaviour (think of the smoking ban).  They are particularly appropriate when a behaviour has consequences that are high risk. Regulations are also effective at establishing standards. However, the lawyer’s approach is not always appropriate, particularly if regulation is perceived as overly restrictive or intrusive, and if people are likely to respond with defiance or by undermining efforts at compliance.

More and more companies we are working with are seeing the limits to the lawyer’s approach to behaviour change as the guiding approach for travel policies and programmes. Especially given that enforcement is only effective if it is feasible and cost-effective.

We, therefore, provide a radically different – but complementary – approach to behaviour change and policy compliance. This is our behavioural science inspired Smarter working approach.

Behavioural science toolkit

Rather than just write a policy in the abstract, the behavioural science toolkit helps us understanding what is really going on in people’s heads. Fundamentally compliance is about human behaviour so we need ways to help people think and choose better.

The limits the lawyer’s approach to compliance are underscored by an example from a different context. Incredibly, in some studies fewer than 10% of medical professionals comply with signs in hospital bathrooms saying “NOW WASH YOUR HANDS” – even when people know they are being watched! Orders, threats and surveillance don’t work, even when in this case lives are at risk. It is no surprise that stern warnings to comply are met with deaf ears by business travelers.

Handwashing compliance soared to over 90% in one study that used behavioral insights. How? By giving people real-time feedback on the number of people who washed their hands, just like electronic speed signs tell drivers how fast they’re going.  This is why we’re running Smarter Working campaigns that are all about giving the right message, at the right time, to the right person.

Likewise, the response to non-compliance is often to clamp down harder. But we know that taking away people’s agency leads to frustration, resistance and more non-compliance. We look instead to see where we can give people more agency. I’m not saying that employees should choose what is in policy, but finding common ground and offering more personalised choices can be a much better motivator for change and compliance.

The lawyer’s approach is here to stay. It is not that one approach to behaviour change or policy compliance is right or wrong, but different tools can be more or less effective, and appropriate depending on the behaviour change challenge. With policy compliance we’re seeing that we need new insights and tools. The behavioural science approach is particularly useful when, as with many travel programmes, freedom of choice is important, individual preferences vary, and enforcement has come up against the limits of its effectiveness.

Who are your rogue travellers and how to make them comply

For growing policy compliance of rogue travellers it starts with understanding the types of rogue travellers. I’ve identified three types of rogue travellers:

  • Top Guns: These are typically travellers who like to do their own thing because they feel they deserve it and feel satisfaction from beating the system.

  • Stealths: Travellers who act out of policy as they think they fall under the radar and that their actions do not impact the organisation.

  • Innocents: Generally, new employees or people who haven’t been informed.

A need for understanding people and reviewing policies so expectations are aligned and effectively communicated.

If you want to change behaviour of different types of mavericks, we can take a Smarter working approach. At Capita, we apply this approach, combining data, technology and behavioural science, to understand travellers think and choose better to positively influencing and encourage compliance.

For example, for Top Guns we can use data insights and process to inform, for Stealths we can use our technology for nudges and push notifications, and for Innocents we can use all three techniques – using data to hold up a mirror. It’s not about telling these types of ‘mavericks’ to stop or instilling fear, it is about understanding who they are, what is important to them and motivating with pleasure and common ground.

Jonti gave a version of this presentation on 18 September at The Business Travel Conference, London.