Behavioral Change

Three Ways to Bridge your Employees’ Intention-Action Gap with Internal Communication

When we want to make a change in our lives, it usually starts with an intention. To stop smoking, lose weight, decrease screen time, read more books, spend more time with family: these are probably recognizable examples of behavioral change intentions. And yet … books stay unread, the weight stays on, we keep our families waiting. The explanation may lay in the intention-action gap. Everyone has experienced this gap between intending to show behavior and genuinely showing said behavior, even you and your colleagues. Well-crafted internal communication can help your employees bridge the intention-action gap and drive behavioral change!

What is the intention-action gap?

The intention-action gap, or the intention-behavior gap, describes the failure to convert intentions into action and behavior. In other words: people intend to do the behaviors they are told to do or that they have planned to do but do not always follow through. The intention-action gap is pervasive and has been seen in all sorts of contexts.

bridging the intention action gap

Internal communicators can help employees bridge their intention-action gap with internal communication. These are the things you can pay attention to as an internal communicator:

1. Phrasing information

The way we phrase things can be of influence on our behavior. Neuroscience shows that positive words strengthen areas of the brain’s frontal lobes and promote cognitive function – hearing positive words makes us feel good. People process positive information faster, have broader associations from it and show stronger congruency effects.

Therefore, when we want to change our behavior, we should focus on positive phrasing. Positive phrasing is effective because it is clear, unambiguous, and invites cooperation. It is saying what is rather than what is not. It outlines expectations of what behavior should look like instead of what it should not look like. This helps employees not only to intend to show a certain behavior; it also provides information on what should be done to display said behavior.

For example: ‘Bring your own cup! It’s good for the environment! If you do use disposable cups, make sure to recycle them in the dedicated recycling bins’ instead of ‘Don’t use disposable cups’. This may even raise the question ‘what else am I going to drink my coffee from?’, making it harder to change the behavior into the desired behavior as there is no indication of what the desired behavior is.

reminders and notifications

2. Timing and reminders

Research shows the chances of successful behavioral change increase when a person is regularly reminded of the change they want to make. The same study also states that chances of showing the desired behavior further increased when a person acknowledges said reminder.

So, do you want to help your colleagues bridge the intention-action gap and show behavioral change with internal communication? Reminding them of their intended behavior with a notification on their smartphone or laptop can help them show the desired behavior when they want or need to. Adding an acknowledgment button to a message in, for example, a corporate app will nudge them in the right direction even further; actively acknowledging the reminder of their behavioral change indicates that the participant actually processed the reminder.

The timing of communication can also contribute to your colleagues’ behavior. For example, when employees would choose to print a document, you could display imagery of deforestation. They are likely to at least think twice about whether the document actually should be printed, showing different behavior than they would have if not confronted with the imagery, eventually resulting in consistent behavioral change.

framing information

3. Framing information

Does it make a difference whether you say, ‘the glass is half full,’ or ‘the glass is half empty?’ Technically speaking, you are saying the exact same thing. However, people will not react the same to both expressions: they will perceive ‘the glass is half full’ as more positive than ‘the glass is half empty’. In this example, you are using language and how you phrase that language (or frame it) to draw out a certain reaction from your target audience.

This language technique is called framing, in which you use language to act as a nudge to produce a desired outcome in others. It refers to how the emphasis is placed in a message on either the positive (benefits) or the negative (losses) consequences of adopting a certain behavior. Either can be variously persuasive depending on the value we attribute to the benefits or the losses.

However, if the goal is to motivate, framing statements to avoid losses could be more successful than framing them to achieve gains. Keep this in mind when you phrase your internal communications: If people are made aware of the losses their old behavior will cause, they will be more likely to show the new and desired behavior.

This could be, for example, something as simple as showing a message like ’70 percent of employees already wash their hands properly’ on your digital signage – this means we are advancing the desired behavior; this is good news, why would you not join your colleagues instead of missing out on contributing to that progress? Following this with a call to action like ‘Join them, we need to get to at least 80 by next month!’ will encourage your colleagues even more to start showing the desired behavior, too.

Are you ready to bridge your colleagues’ intention-action gap, or do you want to know what else gets in the way of your organizational change? Download our infographic ‘4 Forces that Make or Break your Organizational Change’ to find out what else you can do to make your organizational change a success. Or get in touch with one of our consultants, they are happy to help you!

Luc Bormans

Luc Bormans, Netpresenter's head of Marketing, is an expert in the field of Marketing Communications. In his spare time Luc likes to cruise around in his Mini Cooper.