← Back to BLOG

The gap between intention and action

The gap between intention and action

When employees get in the way of continuous improvement

Continuous improvement is key to a healthy business. However, often such improvement involves changing employee behavior. Unfortunately, "change" and humans often don't mix well. Motivating a change in employee behavior is difficult--and sometimes feels impossible. It's hard enough to motivate change in ourselves, let alone others!

In our pursuit of continuous improvement at navitend, we are always looking for ways to improve our customer experience and internal operations. Needless to say, we deal with this issue a lot (just like everyone else).

Some common suggested behavior changes are related to

 - To-do completion (a hard one for us currently)
 - Adherence to process or the company standard operating procedures (SOP)
 - Adoption of new technology
 - Training for skills development

I hope this article will give you a few quality suggestions on how to improve employee behavior using a few lessons from the field of behavioral economics.

What behavioral economics can teach us about the gap between intention and action

Behavioral economics teaches,

As long as a suggested behavior is rational, we should assume that individuals want to do the behavior. The thing stopping them is not a lack of desire or intention for that behavior. Rather, there are other factors impeding individual behavior.

This is all at once rather obvious. If there is good reason to change how one acts, individuals will want to make that behavior change. But often the individuals' desire for the change is not enough on its own. This is called the "intention-action divide."

However, compare this thinking to the typical business "incentives" programs. These programs assume that if your employee's actions are not changing, then that means the employee does not have enough motivation to do that action. The answer, then, according to these programs is incentivizing with

 - Monetary rewards for changed behavior, or even
- Punishment for lack of changed behavior.

These programs assume that with enough incentive, individuals will follow the suggested behavior. This thinking is flawed. While desire is necessary, it is insufficient. Behavioral economics suggests that the biggest reason for the "intention-action divide" is limited attention. This is because humans have to split their attention among many important things, both personal and professional. Just like everything else, attention has scarcity.

If incentives are not enough...

Then what is? Those consistently late to-dos can't just be the new reality. Do you need to accept that everyone will not adopt your new technology investment? And will no one ever pursue the new professional skills that they need to?

At risk of sounding like a broken record, behavioral economics can help us here again. It suggests a useful (and low-cost) tool for helping individuals do the suggested behavior.

Reminders are a proven effective tool

Reminders sound amateur. After all, if employees really wanted to "be good employees," they wouldn't need reminders to use your updated company SOP. But again--that's not the issue--the issue is limited attention. Reminders bring employees' attention back to what is important.

These reminders can look very different depending on what they are for. There is no right answer for the frequency of reminders, but make sure that they are not so frequent they become irrelevant or so infrequent that they are ineffective.

While not all reminders should be automated, many can be automated within your technology environment. This can look like a weekly email with upcoming to-dos, a pop-up reminder in your CRM environment to refer to an updated process, or--a familiar one here--a security warning on emails from unknown senders. The Microsoft 365 productivity suite is particularly powerful in enabling this type of automation.

Be on the lookout for upcoming content from us to apply this reminder concept in the Microsoft environment.

A warning against incentives without reminders

All of this is not to say that incentive programs cannot be successful. While incentive program models are notorious for over-promising ("get 200%+ from your employees"), there are ways to make effective incentive programs.

However, putting the incentives in place and explaining it once to employees is not enough. The key is this: employees must know exactly what behavior is expected of them and how that is tied to the incentive. A regular reminder of exactly what the expected behavior is and why that behavior is incentivized fixes employees' attention on the intended outcome. Employees' attention is limited, so focus on what is important.

I hope you learned something useful and enjoyed this application of behavioral economics as much as I did. Feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions.

Aidan Ableson
(973) 448-0070

Contact us at 973.448.0070


  • "Our company is more efficient and has grown as a result of navitend’s work. navitend helped us get to the next level."

    Greg Niccolai / Madison Insurance
  • "navitend has been a great IT partner for our company.  Their helpdesk response time is the best I have experienced in my 30 year career.  navitend has helped me to have great IT services without the need to have a full time, in house, technician at significant savings to our company."

    Bob Bradley, President, Bradley Graphics
  • "I appreciate that they didn’t just build the application. They made it better by bringing ideas to the table that not only made for a better user experience, but also kept the development costs down."

    Andy Lynch / North Star Marketing
  • "We've dedicated our lives to growing our retail and ecommerce business and it's a relief to have found a company like navitend who treats our business likes it's their own. navitend's personal approach to project management and problem solving are top-notch."

    Stamatis, Co-owner Twisted Lily, Fragrance Boutique and Apothecary
  • "Thanks so much again for taking care of everything in such an expedient manner. It's a pleasure to work with navitend and its staff as always!"

    Lawrence Wolfin / Textol Systems, Inc.
  • "I look forward to working with you again in the future. Once again, thanks to your organization for your prompt response."

    Luke Wolters / Luke Wolters Tax Consultants
  • “Navitend’s expertise helped our firm over the past year to effectively elevate our I.T. game, powering our website into a highly interactive tool. Well done to Frank and his team!”  

    Chuck Steege, CFP®, CEP, President, SFG Wealth Planning Services, Inc.
  • "Thanks so much!  You are a class act!  
    You and your team have really done an excellent job on this!"

    Steve Van Ooteghem, The C12 Group in Houston, Texas
  • navitend’s approach to customer service is greatly appreciated here.  Ensuring that we are well protected from a technology standpoint provides us with peace of mind to continue our day to day operations and that they are looking out for our company's best interest.