Have you ever needed a little nudge to take action — perhaps to work out, to pay your bills, to get your kitchen clean, or to finally get your car inspected? That’s the idea of nudge theory; give people a little encouragement, a little feedback, or a bit of indirect communication to nudge them to accomplish a task.

Sometimes we don’t need a whole mountain of motivation when a little bump will do.


The idea of nudges is simple: use little reminders, simple incentives, and other small bumps to encourage behavior. For example, want to nudge people to eat less? Give them smaller plates. Want employees to increase their 401k participation? Auto enroll them and have them opt out if they don’t want to participate. Want boys to improve their aim in the bathroom? Place a picture of a bee in the bottom of the toilet. Want more people to pay their taxes? Send them a letter saying “Did you know 90% of your neighbors have already paid their taxes?”

Nudges have also been used to decrease smoking, increase organ donation, and to encourage safe driving (ever pass a radar speed sign posting your speed for everyone to see?)

In our stone business, we are using nudges to increase efficiency. For example, years ago, we posted an electronic scoreboard in some of our quarries tallying the number of loads each truck made throughout the day. It gave our associates a visible score of how they were performing, which they competed to beat. The modern version gives each equipment operator real time data on how their equipment is performing, along with daily graphs showing them with their performance. With just a little data, we are seeing improved gains in efficiency and productivity.

To nudge improved leadership, organizations (including our own) are experimenting with short, 1-2 question surveys about how associates are feeling (“From 1-10, how engaged are you in your work this week?”) or quick feedback hits (“Tell me one thing I have done well recently and one thing I can improve?”). Other leadership hacks include posting your personality style where everyone can see it (some of our associates put their styles on their hard hats), to post it note reminders on how to behave (Ask Questions & Listen).

There is plenty of evidence that nudges work—not in every case, and often in small ways—but they do work. They are often quick and inexpensive to implement, and help us make small gains. Over time, small gains add up. Greatness is not always about grand gestures and big leaps into the abyss—often greatness is made up of baby steps, putting one foot in front of the other.

Want to employ nudges in your own organization? Try these steps:
1. Identify what you want to improve a little bit.
2. Pay attention to the nudges that you are already using for ideas. Chances are, they are all around you.
3. Put in place something that is quick and cheap to implement.
4. Experiment over time. See what works.
5. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Want to read more about nudging? Check out Inside the Nudge Unit by David Halpern or the podcast from Freakonomics “Big Returns for Thinking Small.”



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

close slider

    Subscribe to the InnerWill email for inspirational stories and tips on how to build engagement, trust, and success at work and beyond – delivered right to your inbox every Monday morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.