Organizational change management is big business.  Part of changing an organization is to try to change the behaviour of the individual within the organization.  In the past, behavioural change management has focused on real world organizations.  However, with the advent of the digital revolution, more employees work remotely and organizations are becoming increasingly virtual.  To understand how to change behaviour in the virtual world, this blog will examine the factors behind individual behavioural intent, look at how behaviour differs between the real and virtual worlds, and question which change management techniques could be used to support change in the virtual worldvirtual world.
For an individual, the motivation to perform a behaviour is driven by three factors: 

  • The individual attitude towards the behaviour.  Will the performance of the behaviour lead to a positive personal outcome in excess of the effort required to perform that behaviour?
  • The subjective norms of that behaviour.  Will referent groups or individuals approve or disapprove of the behaviour?
  • The perceived behavioural competence to complete that behaviour.  Does the individual have the competence to perform the behaviour, and if so, will they have the confidence and opportunity behave in their chosen way? Are there any obstacles and impediments e.g. skills, experience or equipment, that prevent them in acting?

 All behavioural decisions are made based on these three factors.   As an example, I may want to write an Oscar winning screen-play and think that the effort is worth the reward (attitude toward the behaviour) but my wife and colleagues would disapprove of me giving up work to become a full time writer (subjective norms influencing the behaviour), and in reality I do not think I have the talent to do so (perceived behavioural competence).  Therefore, the intention to write a screen play doesn’t become the behaviour of writing a screen play.
Business Change Methodologies support behavioural change:

  • A change vision could support or undermine an attitude to change dependent on whether it ticks the ‘What’s In It For Me’ (WIIFM) box.
  • Culture change and stakeholder mobilization can support the subjective norm or the development of new subjective norms.
  • Capability development and training supports aspects of the behavioural competence.

The Behavioural model described above was published by the behavioural psychologist I. Ajzen in 1991; since then the virtual world has developed into the everyday.   What are the implications of the virtual world on the use of this model to drive change behaviour?
It could be argued that individual attitude (WIIFM) is likely to be a stronger indicator of action in the virtual world than in the real world, as virtual behaviour can be un-constrained by the subjective norms of referent groups or people.  Most people would never dream of stealing a DVD from HMV as they are constrained by the societal condemnation of theft.  Without the threat of that condemnation (Subjective Norm), they may be more likely to illegally download a movie in the safe privacy of their home.
However, there maybe some circumstances where peer group pressure (subjective norm) is a more powerful driver of behaviour in the virtual world than it is in the real world.  Online communities can have an extreme and intense influence on an individual, and there are cases where people perform behaviours that really don’t tick the WIIFM box – that are against their self interest, but do so because of online peer pressure.
Thirdly, in terms of behavioural competence, the virtual world offers competence building, but also the opportunity and the confidence to perform a behaviour.   The opportunity to steal a credit card in the real world may exist, but the opportunity to steal a million credit cards exists in the virtual world.
So online behaviour can be more extreme, and the factors that drive behavioural intention seem less balanced and less interconnected than in the real world.  So how can we manage change in the virtual world?
Attitude to behaviour may also be tempered through the medium of interaction with the virtual world.  Each avenue to the virtual world could be argued to have different values.  Interactive televisions can hold social values, be relaxing, habitual and safe.  PCs and laptops are associated with work, solitary instruments that may engender mistrust and thus not support the change of attitude.  Mobile telephones and tablets are highly personal, act as time fillers, habitual, tactile, fun and most importantly social.  One way of changing virtual behaviour may have to do with changing the way people access the virtual world.  Adopting a Bring Your Own Devise strategy, may support attitudinal change because of a melding of the social and work life.  It may be better to transmit change using social digital devices rather than through the PC.
As stated, virtual communities can drive behavioural change.  Can we take the principles of stakeholder management and apply them to virtual communities as part of a change management strategy? Could the creation or management of virtual communities influence individuals in business change management?  Is there a way to influence environmental pressure groups or consumer groups in order to deliver change in the business environment?  Is online learning an effective way to beuild perceived behavioural competence, without the opportunity to test that competence in the real world?

To conclude, if you read this blog, why did you do it?  Did you do so because:

  • You thought it would be personally beneficial to do so? (Attitude)
  • You felt you ought to, because a colleague had taken the time to write the blog? (Subjective Norm)
  • Because you could and because it was easy to access online? (Behavioural competence)