27 June 2013

Cut Costs with Paper & Ink - Behavioral Intervention Case Study

At company White a decision is made to cut down costs. One area that will be subject to cost cutting is office supplies. The office manager, Mrs. Boer, is not particularly happy with this decision, but agrees to implement it. She identifies two types of expenses that can be cut down, namely ink / toner for the printers and photocopying machines and printing paper.  

Mrs. Boer thinks of ways in which to convince her colleagues to save ink and paper. She considers writing a memo to the entire staff, telling them that in order to avoid difficulties the firm has to decrease the costs. In order to achieve this goal everyone has to make a small effort and do the following:

When printing or photocopying documents people should print in black and white since colored ink is more expensive than black one. They should also save paper by printing on both sides.

Mrs. Boer realizes that there is a good chance that her colleagues will not comply to the new requirements. She goes to the personnel management department and discusses the possibility of applying penalties for not conforming to these instructions. Finally it is agreed that some small penalties can be applied for repeated misbehavior, namely not printing in black and white and printing both sides.

Before sending the memo and making the changes to the internal code of conduct, Mrs. Boer hears about behavioral and decision sciences. She is a bit reluctant, but decides to get the advice of a specialist in these fields. Mrs. Boer contacts a behavioral specialist. She wants to get a second opinion. Naturally she wouldn’t mind if the outside view would match her approach.

The Brief Analysis from the Behavioral Perspective  

The behavioral and decision sciences specialist looks at the problem at hand and considers the following.

First, most of the times when people are printing or photocopying documents they are under time pressure or simply have other things on their minds. Making photocopies or printing is an auxiliary activity and usually it is done on auto-pilot. This implies that there is a good chance that people will simply not consider to push some extra buttons to make the printing be on both sides and in black and white.

Second, although the reason for applying these new rules on printing, namely cutting costs, is perfectly legitimate, it is not necessarily a goal that many people would be happy to strive for, accepting in the process some minor inconveniences in their work activity.

Third, trying to make people more attentive, to pay more attention when printing or making photocopies is not necessarily a good idea because this would take a piece of their brain power. It is without doubt that brain power should be preserved for the tasks that are truly important for their job performance.

The Behavioral Solution

The specialist in behavioral and decision sciences comes up with the following recommendations.

First, the goal of decreasing the consumption of paper and ink (toner) should be framed as a The White Company Going Green endeavor. Many people are more willing to pursue such a goal than they would be willing to join an effort to cut costs.

Second and most important, instead of asking people to be careful with the use of ink or toner and paper, a better solution would be to simply change the default settings of all printers and photocopying machines to print in black and white and to print on both sides. This approach is better suited to the state of mind which people have when printing and making photocopies, namely auto-pilot. Moreover, the burden of changing the setting of a printer or of a copying machine each time she or he makes uses them is eliminated.

Third, a memo will be sent by e-mail announcing the eco-friendly endeavor of saving paper and ink. In the same memo should be announced that if someone actually, really needs to print on one side or in color can still do so, by temporary changing the settings of the printers and copying machines.

The Behavioral Solution is Better

The behavioral solution has the following advantages:

First, the behavioral solution is non-intrusive since it does not add to the mental burden employees have already in a day’s work. This is advantageous because it allows people to use their cognitive resources for the truly relevant tasks a person has to solve each day.  

Second, the behavioral solution achieves the desired results with minimal costs and minimal inconveniences. The costs of applying the behavioral solution are very low. Changing the default settings of printers and photocopying machines can be done by an employee of the company, while writing and sending an electronic memo involve very little effort. Moreover, the inconvenience and discomfort of making new rules, establishing and enforcing penalties are avoided completely.

Third, the behavioral approach reframes the cost cutting endeavor into an environmental one, thus giving people a noble purpose and making the change more acceptable.

Can it be so simple?

The answer is simply: Yes! By making a minor change – resetting the default settings of the machines – can have a huge influence on human behavior. By reframing a very pragmatic goal – cutting costs – into a nobler or at least more socially acceptable one, people are more willing to accept changes and, if it is the case, minor inconveniences. Moreover, the behavioral solution still allows for free-choice, thus who really needs to print in color or on only one side can do so.

Do not apply this solution in companies or departments that actually need to print in color such as graphical design or advertising.  :)

NOTE: This case study is entirely fictional, though many companies and organizations would benefit by applying its propositions.

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