Using persuasion science in practice

Understanding the perceptions and motivations of people in the workplace can be applied to many aspects of management, at the individual, team and organisational level. Collecting, analysing and interpreting behavioural insights allows us to consider different viewpoints and potential barriers to successful change. Therefore, the use of psychological models can arm us with additional evidence-based management strategies.

A recent scan of the literature conducted by Spoonful of Sugar has shown multiple gaps in the synthesis, scrutiny and reporting of management science and management psychology. We aimed to investigate the evidence for and benefits of applying psychology-based theories in a broad range of management disciplines including human resources, gratuity, and employee performance. Despite the essential role of management in day-to-day business, there were few reports evidencing practice in relation to psychology-based or theoretical models, which proved it difficult to draw conclusions. The lack of case-studies or analyses were supplemented by opinion articles, which can provide a false-impression of what defines and ensures good practice. This contributes to a second problem: we are unable to truly evaluate hypotheses in management and organisation science without sound evidence, so best practice remains unclear. For example, in managerial psychology, the relevance and utility of Herzberg’s two-factor theory (1959) is still debated, despite widespread application. This theory suggests that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are influenced by independent and separate factors. Much criticism about its original methodology and limited context remain1,2,3. The power of academia and research in management can address these issues and provide clarity on best practice.

The absence of high quality research in management psychology and science can be detrimental to the educational, academic and practical applications. We need higher quality and more evidence to evaluate hypotheses and to truly understand how we can objectively measure and enhance the way we manage people, processes and organisations. Given the robust scientific methods we can now access and the technological advances in data collection, surveying and analysis, we are well-placed to understand the impact of science and psychology on management.

What’s your experience of using behavioural science in management? Now is your chance to contribute to the knowledge and science behind management –being able to capture people’s voices and experiences can help advance this field. Spoonful of Sugar are calling for research papers and case studies as part of the conference track ‘Using Persuasion Science in Practice’ at EURAM 2018, deadline 10 January 2018. Please contact or for more information.

1 Herzberg, Frederick; Mausner, Bernard; Snyderman, Barbara B. (1959). The Motivation to Work (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley.

2 Bassett‐Jones, N. and Lloyd, G. C. (2005) Does Herzberg’s motivation theory have staying power? Journal of Management Development, Vol. 24 Issue: 10, pp.929-943

3 Malik, M. E., and Naeem B. (2013) Towards Understanding Controversy on Herzberg Theory of Motivation. World Applied Sciences Journal 24 (8): 1031-1036, 2013

When instability breeds inability: Applying adherence tools with an unpredictable client group.

Adherence tools are often employed to improve our understanding of the practical and perceptual barriers which stand between patients and their medication regimes. Substance misusers are a notoriously difficult-to-treat client group. There is continued debate around whether drug addiction can be classified as an illness. For the purpose of this blog, let’s assume addiction to be an illness. Could applying a Perceptions and Practicalities Approach (PAPA™) help to improve our understanding of why adherence to prescribed heroin substitutes breaks down among this client group?

PAPA™ provides a conceptual framework that explains non-adherence based on the overlapping categories of intentional and un-intentional non-adherence. Unintentional non-adherence can result from barriers, beyond the control of the individual, inhibiting the individual’s ability to adhere. Practical barriers could include, but are not limited to, homelessness, unemployment, and thus a lack of/ no financial stability. Intentional non-adherence relates to perceptions which shape an individual’s motivation to adhere. Motivation among this client group generally fluctuates, and other self-perceptions tend to exacerbate this issue. A lack of self-efficacy in one’s own ability to maintain abstinence, a lack of self-worth, and the self-disabling belief that one is undeserving of a better quality of life, are all potential perceptual barriers faced by this client group.

Considering the resources necessary to achieve and maintain recovery; many individuals released into the community have little ‘recovery capital’ to draw upon. They transition from behind bars, back into a life of chaos and instability. This is where adherence breaks down. It could be argued that the individuals’ ability, or inability, to adhere is the crux of the problem. Efforts to rehabilitate substance misusing offenders typically focus on perceptual factors including motivation, but seldom attempt to address the practical barriers that stand between individuals’ and adherence.

Implementing aspects of PAPA™ into interventions for this client group, to ensure a focus on motivation and ability, could lead to more sustainable outcomes. If instability breeds inability then, without tackling the perceptual and practical barriers among this client group, could any rehabilitative effort be truly successful?

Smart Science – using design principles to inform scientific posters

When it comes to communicating science, there’s a lot to think about. Design is an important and often overlooked aspect —many researchers focus most of their efforts on content.

But design deserves at least equal, if not more, attention. Fortunately for scientists, design is a science and can be learned. Get more scientific with your design — it’ll help you get a message across.

Posters are a popular way to showcase new research to the scientific community. The use of intelligent design principals is vital to maximise the impact of your poster. Here’s some advice for making better posters.

Text and tables

This is where most of what you want to say will be displayed, the right design and layout here is vital.

  • A large block of text is not inviting to anyone
  • Each section of text should be clear and concise, focusing on a single area.
  • Five to six lines of text with 25-30 characters per line is generally best. Use bullet points to break up sections and highlight important points.
  • A large font (minimum 24-point size) is important so that the text can be read from at least one metre away.
  • Poster text should be organised in columns — this helps your eyes move less as you read.
  • There should be a good balance of text, diagrams, tables and graphics. Avoid large blank areas.
  • Tables and figures with colours are more engaging and exciting to look at and are often a clear and easy way to show complex information. (But be careful with what colours you use.)
  • Black text on a white background is often the easiest to read.

Colour is important and should be considered carefully. Opposite colours tend to make a bold — if potentially clashing — statement and are therefore more likely to catch the eye of a passing delegate. But use your best judgement on making something look good first and striking second. Studies of Event Related Potentials (a measure of neural activity related to cognitive and sensory processes) have shown that higher attention is paid to yellow- and green-based colours.

Light at a conference is important to consider. Although glossy laminate may look better, opting for a matt lamination ensures everyone will be able to see it regardless of how much light you have. Many conferences or universities have set guidelines as to the layout and size of posters. This is always an important thing to consider: a rectangle in a sea of square posters stands out for the wrong reasons.

What happens when you’ve grabbed someone’s attention? In terms of information content, a study comparing the effectiveness of different methods of health education found that found that more specific topics were preferred over broad coverage, suggesting that it is better to pick a small area of research to focus on rather than attempting to cover an expansive topic.

Surveys have shown one to one discussions are more valuable, with 55.4% of conference delegates preferring individual discussions with authors about the posters rather than moderated presentations. This is the most important chance to discuss your research as it gives you the opportunity to discuss things that have not been included in the main body of the poster and gives you opportunities to answer questions.

Posters may not currently be the most valued way of showcasing results, but with the help of intelligent design, posters can be revolutionised! Posters are and will remain a vital part of scientific conferences. So next time you have a poster to design, consider the use of science to guide you.