Adam Torres and Kurt Nelson discuss how behavioral science can improve leadership.
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Behavior science can improve leadership in many organizations. In this episode, Adam Torres and Kurt Nelson, PhD, Founder & Chief Behavioral Officer at Lantern Group and Co-host of Behavioral Grooves, explore how behavioral science is helping organizations and Kurt’s book, Mission Matters: World’s Leading Entrepreneurs Reveal Their Top Tips To Success (Business Leaders Edition Vol. 10).
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About Kurt Nelson, PhD
Kurt is a sought after speaker and recognized leader in human motivation and behavior change. For over 20 years, Kurt has worked with global companies to apply behavioral science principles to drive change in their organizations. All his work is focused on understanding ways to positively influence how people behave. Kurt lives in Minneapolis, MN, is married and has two, grade school children.
About The Lantern Group
Organizations miss out on growth and revenue opportunities when their employees are not motivated and engaged, their corporate culture isn’t working, or they have too many environmental or social barriers in the way of their employee’s productivity. The numbers are big. 85% of Employees are Disengaged costing $7 Trillion annually worldwide (Source: Gallup). Only 12% of executives believe their company is driving the right culture, but having a strong culture can cut hiring costs as much as 50% (Sources: Deloitte, LinkedIn). $1.8 Trillion is lost each year, in the US alone, due to barriers in productivity, repetitive tasks, and inefficiencies – also known as friction (Source: Newtonix). At The Lantern Group, they solve these issues by creating interventions that drive improved employee behavior. They work with you to design ethically responsible programs that increase employee motivation, improve corporate culture, resolve organizational friction, and inevitably increase your growth and revenue opportunities. They helps you diagnose the problems, design the right interventions, communicate to your team, and train your people to succeed. They are the go-to experts in Behavioral Science Consulting.
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of mission matters. My name is Adam Torres. And if you’d like to apply to be a part of our community, head on over to mission matters. com forward slash community to apply. All right. So today is a very special episode. We’re bringing back Kurt Nelson. I’m so excited to have you back in the show for those that don’t know.
Kurt is the. Founder and chief behavioral officer over at Lantern Group and co host of behavioral grooves. And I’m proud to announce an author and our best selling business leaders book series. Hey, Kurt, first off, just welcome back to the show. Thank you, Adam. Glad to be here. All right, Kurt. So we, we got a whole lot to talk about today.
I mean, a lot, a lot of business owners, executives, entrepreneurs watch and listen to this show and the power of behavioral science to improve leadership. We talk about this. All the time on the show, leadership is the key to everything. So getting your insights on this topic, super invaluable for, for myself, learning as a leader and also for our audience.
But we’ll get this episode started. Kurt, you already know the drill. Like we start them all with what we like to call our mission matters minute. So Kurt, we at mission matters, we amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts. That’s our mission. Kurt, what mission matters to you? Yeah, Adam, I love this question because I think it’s so important for people to understand what their values are.
And, you know, when I think about what the mission that matters to me most is, is really making sure that I’m able to bring to people. Whether that be leaders within organizations, whether it be general public through the podcast that we do, but bring behavioral science insights to them so that they can improve their world and that be business world or their personal lives.
Behavioral science has the power to be able to help us understand ourselves. And by understanding ourselves and others around us, we can make a big improvement across the, across the globe, across our community inside our family, inside our company. So that’s, that’s my mission and I love it. So Kurt, how long have you been on this, on this behavioral science path and like what inspired you to go down it?
Oh my gosh. Too many years to, to, to know 25 plus for sure. And probably even before. for that. If I really think about like what I was studying in school and various different pieces, you know, real, real quick. I bring that I bring up that question because I just want people that are listening and watching like behavioral sciences.
You know, it’s maybe a buzzword. A lot of people are just starting to hear. They’re kind of like not familiar with it. So when you hear from Kurt, just understand like he didn’t just wake up and put together no offense to anybody that does this, but he didn’t wake up and put together a coaching program or just decide one day, Hey, I’m going to read a couple of books and start putting out content like her is an expert in this field.
So go ahead, Kurt. I just wanted to, that’s why I asked you that question. Well, and thank you, Adam, because one of the things. to with that is when we think about behavioral science, when I think about how people think about it, I mean, I was probably in this work well before behavioral science came as the coin, right?
We’ll talk about it, right? So you know, my background, I have a PhD in industrial organizational psychology, and I bring that Background of with an MBA, but I think what got me really interested was actually during my NBA time. I’d always loved psychology and I’m trying to understand people, but within my MBA program, I took a PhD level course called consumer behavior.
And in that, it was really fascinating to me to understand, like, why, why does changing the price on a, on a. On anything right from 399 to 4, decrease the amount that that gets sold or increase if you do it the reverse. But if you went from 4 to 4 and 1 cent, you know, it doesn’t make any difference. And the number of the things that are sold and anything, and it’s still a penny, right? So the economist in me, the economist that my background is, is saying, wait, this, you know, a penny is a penny. It shouldn’t matter. A dollar is a dollar, but it doesn’t. And we, we operate from very different perspectives. And so trying to understand. Why? What is it that that drives that behavior that we’re doing, I think, was just fascinating to me, and it kind of led me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and ended up getting a Ph.
D. kind of focusing on it. And then my business is all about applying that behavioral science inside organizations. So I want to take a moment and let’s. Let’s get into the book because this will kind of dovetail into the rest of the conversation as well. So the power of behavioral science to improve leadership a lot of different things.
I know that’s your expertise, but a lot of different approaches you could have taken to, to contributing to this bestselling book. Like why this? Why now? Cause I think one of the big things that I’ve seen, and again, we work with a lot of organizations across the But one of the things that I see is, and once leaders understand the power of understanding what drives their employees, what drives their peers and knowing some of those inside kind of baseball things about, human why we make the decisions that we make, why we behave in the ways that we do why we’re motivated or engaged.
Those are really key to being successful. And I know lots of leaders who are fantastic at the numbers, fantastic at the strategy, fantastic at, you know, looking out five years and knowing what is going to kind of anticipate. Getting what’s going to happen or the manufacturing side, whatever that would be, but they might be lacking some of the insights into what drives their employees.
What drives their you know, kind of their peers and making sure that they’re. Working well with them and making sure that as a leader, you understand and can tap into the insights that you get from behavioral science. Those understandings of why people do what they do. That I think is really powerful.
Yeah. And as, as we look at, so I’m looking at, you know, this new paradigm, let’s say in the workforce where, you know, post COVID now, so for everybody that’s watching this just for context, we’re recording this in September of 2023. So, you know, post COVID we’re, we’re in this new paradigm and I know leaders out there are searching for tools.
They’re looking for ways to rethink because there’s no more maybe there never was. But definitely now it’s become very apparent that there’s no one size fits all workforce. So I’m curious, like, how some of this stuff applies to some of the challenges that our leaders out there are going through, like, right now, present day.
Yeah. And Adam, I think what you said to begin with, I think it’s always been there. I think it might be, maybe there’s a Magnifying glass on it now, right? With everything that’s going on. But I think 1 of the big pieces, at least in my world, the world that I live in is really understanding what motivates our employees.
What motivates those people? Because if we don’t have a workforce that’s engaged 1 that. wants to come in and do a good job every day. One that says, Hey, what can I do to move even beyond what you’re just expecting me of? And I think we’ve heard all about quiet quitting. We’ve heard about the lack of engagement with workforce across the globe and all the surveys that are out there.
And by being able to understand What are the what? Peel back that layer. We need to peel back that layer because oftentimes we go, well, if I just pay this person more, or if I put a, you know, a pool table in the break room, you know, that’s going to motivate them. And we know that that isn’t that was early millennial days.
It wasn’t that it was a ping pong table. I remember because I was a. I was that early millennial day and that’s how they used to get you. They, they bring you right out of college. You walk through and you’re like, Oh my gosh, they have ping pong tables, but we never seen anything like that in the workplace before.
Go, go ahead. I had to, I had to correct that one. But, but I mean, there is an aspect there, so I will say that there is an aspect. There’s an aspect of when we think about, the culture and the environment that you create as a leader. That’s important. And so, you know, having a ping pong table or a pool table in and of itself doesn’t motivate anybody, but creating the culture where there’s community around that ping pong table or that pool table or the keg that has, you know, that you tap on Friday afternoons and doing those kind of things.
Those are important. And it’s really understanding Absolutely. All those underlying drives. So again, as I said, peel back the layers on this because we think we too often think that the levers that we have to pull are we have we have our cash, you know, our paycheck and bonuses. And we have more than that.
Not saying that those aren’t important. Those are vital. Those are vital to making sure that you have an engaged and and. Workforce that really wants to come in and work. I mean, we all have that drive to acquire and to obtain kind of those things. That’s part of the motivational model that we use. It’s acquire and achieve.
But we’re also motivated by other things. We’re motivated by the sense of belonging and bonding. We’re motivated by a feeling of challenge and of learning and comprehending work. We’re also motivated by the sense of purpose. And my is my purpose aligned with the purpose of the organization. And I feeling like I need to stick up and defend this this company.
And those are really key pieces. When we think about making sure as a leader that you’re creating the organization that not only satisfies one or two of those, but all four across those, it’s called the four drive model was developed by Lawrence and Maria. Back in the early 2000s, and it’s a fantastic model of employee engagement and motivation.
So, so as it relates to the behavioral science side of things, you know, a lot, a lot of entrepreneurs that are watching this and I want to, I want to maybe put some like something that they can take action on. Obviously, they’re not, you know, in order to get a. Full program or something. I like to work that takes time, but is there something small or something even in their mindset that they can start thinking about or even implementing now that just at least, at least puts them in the right direction?
Is there a tool or is there something they can do now? Yeah. So, I mean, I will take a step back. And say that every organization is different. Every culture is different. And so any type of, you know, implementation that we do, it’s all custom. It’s always developed on that. There are a few underlying things though.
Adam. So 1 of the things that we always look for is again. How are you structuring those incentives that you have and make sure that you’re structuring those incentives so that they’re not counterproductive to what you’re trying to obtain. And I’ll give you an example. We worked with a company one time who their their strategic mission that they had changed like 2 or 3 years before this was to go to market collaboratively.
They were going to come in. They were going to work together from a Salesforce perspective from an internal perspective. It was all about sharing best practices and working together in order to do that. What they forgot to do was to update their incentives. And so what their incentives were designed where it was like the top person gets, you know, the biggest reward and everybody, you know, kind of behind that as a main kind of component.
And so what did that drive? What kind of behaviors did that drive? Again, it’s not rocket science. That was, so how do you structure those? But I think a real, the other big piece that companies miss out. On is that second piece that I talked about that sense of belonging and bonding. And so, you know, oftentimes I think managers, particularly if there are a certain personality type tend to say, I need to stay distant from my employees.
I need to keep a wall in between. And there’s a certain element that, yeah, you’re not going to necessarily be able to share everything and be best best buds, but you want to make sure that you have a positive relationship. That means. You need to understand who your employees are. They need to understand things about you.
If they feel an affinity towards you. And it’s a genuine 1 and you feel an affinity towards them. They will, they will climb walls for you. It’s 1 of the most powerful things. And so I’m always about team building, whether that be formal team building, whether that be informal team building, the more that you can build in those.
Non work type of elements where you get to know one another on a different level and keep it positive. Keep it, you know, obviously make sure you’re not doing anything really stupid on those, but you know, that, that aspect of it goes so far from an organizational perspective and it’s amazing.
When I mean, I’ve gone into multitudes of different companies and you see companies where people have done that and you see the loyalty and the engagement that their team has versus companies that don’t, it’s just night and day. Yeah. And I like that, especially in the beginning of this, you mentioned that it’s, there’s no one size.
It’s all so in my mind, like there’s this continuum where there’s certain leaders that have implemented more of these things than others. And there’s some, but I feel like there’s always room for that, like room for improvement. So even if an organization has certain things down, maybe they’re lacking in something else.
Like, am I missing this? Or is that, is that the way to kind of frame it? That’s exactly the way to frame it. And so we do a lot of work around the four drive model with companies and organizations. And one of the things that will go in and do is we’ll, we’ll do an initial assessment to say, as an organization, not and every individual has a different motivational profile, but as across the organization, you can kind of see how well Those different, those four drives are being satisfied.
And when you look at that, you see different companies have different levels across those four. And what you want to do as a leader is you want to make sure that you’re raising up those by the ones that you’re, you’re doing worst in right. That you, you make those so that you bring that up. And so any individual organization is going to look different based on that, based upon the profile of the people that work there about what you’ve been doing, the leadership style that you have.
Talk to me about behavioral grooves. So for everybody that’s been watching this show for a long time, you know, I love supporting and promoting other podcasters. I mean, I still say podcasting best people in the world, great community. Everybody supports each other. I definitely want everybody that’s watching or listening to this head on over, check out behavioral grooves, hit that subscribe button love for our audiences to mix.
But tell me about the, tell me about the show. Yeah, so Behavioral Grooves is put on by my co host Tim Houlihan and myself. We’ve been doing it for, since 2017, so going into our 6th year, I believe. Congrats, by the way, like how many podcasts, I don’t have a stat on this, but I know most of them don’t make it past 5 years, so congrats.
It’s a huge accomplishment. Yeah. So 380 or so episodes out there. Woo. You’re a vet. Yeah. And not, not as many as you, you have a lot more. Ah, I don’t have a day job. This is my day job. It’s fine. You’re, you’re helping people . Yeah. I’m just talking to ’em. . Yeah. What Behavioral Grooves is, is Behavioral Grooves.
We interview practitioners and academics around how do you apply behavioral science in work and life. So we will talk with people from Nobel laureates talking about how their insights into why we do what we do and the research behind some of that, everything from, you know, loss aversion, this idea that, hey, we, we value, or we, we feel the pain of a loss twice as much as the equivalent gain and what that means.
And how do you, how do you tap into that as a, as a leader? And to motivate yourself or to make sure that you’re not making dumb decisions to people like Lighty Kotz, who is talking about subtract and this idea that as humans, what we tend to do is we always try to add things on. And I mean, great insight that he got was he was playing with his little kid and they had this bridge of made out of Legos, you know, and 1 bridge piece was, was higher than the other.
And so what did Lighty do? Lighty was going to find the piece to fit on and his, his couple year old kid just took the bottom off and, you know, leveled it up by taking a Lego piece away. And, you know, his research shows we don’t do that. We don’t think that way. And so helping people understand how to, how to.
Take things off of your plate and how to reduce things and various different things to habits and to so a whole bunch of anything that has to do with human behavior. We cover it. We talk about it and we talk about how do you take those insights, take those lessons and apply them. Or we actually talk to people who have applied them.
And then we talk about the research that’s behind why that works. So, Kurt, I’m going to ask you my favorite question to ask podcasters, which is super mean, especially for somebody with a catalog as big as yours, favorite episode. It’s like, it’s like asking you, Hey, between all your kids, which one’s your favorite favorite or memorable, something like that.
Okay. Cause we don’t want all your guests fighting with each other. What comes to mind when I say that I told you as a mean question. , you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re making me, you’re making me. I had to make you sweat a little. You’re a podcaster. You can handle it. . No. So I will say this, Annie Duke was one of our first guests early on probably the biggest name that we had at the very beginning.
And Annie Duke. For those who don’t know, female poker player who won the world championship of poker but also has gone on to do a lot of work in decision sciences and wrote one of my all time favorite books called thinking in bets. And we ended up having a fantastic, just really deep.
Meaningful conversation with her that led to a friendship that led to her being on the show again. She’s been on 4 times now. So she’s, I think our top number of person who’s been on there. We helped her with writing her 1 of her other books and kind of giving some, some initial feedback and got to talk with her about that.
But. Hey, she’s brilliant. She’s just a brilliant person and she’s just so much fun. And so that always sticks with me. It’s kind of that first love. And so, yeah, that was, that was that that’s who I’m sold. I am number one. I’m so number one, I got to pick up this book. What would you say it was called again?
Thinking in bets, thinking in bets. It’s one of the best books out there about how we think and how to improve our decision making. And again, she brings in wonderful stories about her time as a poker player and the lessons learned and applying that. In a decision you know, kind of studying how decisions are made, this idea that if we, we think in bets, but if we can do that better our decision making improves.
Oh, that’s awesome. Well, there goes, add that to the list of that growing reading list. I have there and I’m in, that sounds like something I need and definitely value as well. So that’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that, that tool and that resource. I want to, with some of the time that we have left here, I do want to talk a little bit more about the lantern group.
And really you mentioned, you know, working with companies and things like that, like, like give me a little bit more on that. Like, how do people engage? What kind of things can they expect? Like, how do they work with you and your team? Yeah, so we do a couple different things on one end. We are an internal communication agency.
So we bring the behavioral science lens to internal communication, everything from communicating people’s incentive plans, their pay, all that motivation and engagement piece that we bring in to you know, messages from the president or the CEO. And again, applying, how are you framing these messages doing all that?
And so we do a lot of work around that, whether that be. Video, whether that be PowerPoint presentations, whether that be helping write speeches or a variety of other pieces on that, we do a lot of that. On the other side, we do consulting and training. And so we work with organizations again to bring this behavioral science insight into their work.
So, whether that be again around developing your incentive compensation philosophy, so that you understand all of those components that are going into engage and motivate your employees. I Or whether that be leadership training, we’re doing some really cool work with a company right now that is being bought by a much larger kind of, so a 4 billion companies being by bought by a 70 million company.
And we are working with the leadership team on the transition period and the, the idea that and I give the leader fantastic kudos for recognizing she recognized that this is a period of uncertainty. There’s that, that transition period before they get approval to actually merge. And it lends itself into weird behaviors by employees and lack of motivation and, and all of this aspects around that.
So she wanted us to come in and work with her leadership team in order to thrive. So we’re, we put together a program that’s called thriving through transition. Where we’re working with the leadership team on a monthly basis, coming out and doing a half day workshop with them, everything from decision making.
So bringing in a lot of the insights from Annie Duke and her work on how to improve their decision making during this time, how to manage change, how to communicate, You’re maximizing the communication that you’re, you’re giving to all of your employees, as well as then you know, managing stress and having building resilience up.
And so we’re doing all of those types of things as we’re working with them. And then that expanded out to all right, working with the leadership team. But now with all of the people managers within the organization and then doing actually keynotes out to the entire organization, so they all can talk the same language that they all have some of the same insights because all of it’s important as they’re moving.
Forward through this period of uncertainty and chaos. Yeah. And, and now you mentioned, I mean, these are, this is a company in the billions. Do you work this? That’s obviously enterprise level working on MNA, like a big deal there. Do you, do you also work with middle markets, small business? Like give us a flavor for that.
Yeah, so I mean, most of our most of our work is within larger organizations, but we do do a fair amount of work with medium sized companies. Again, the threshold is really the number of employees, right? If you’re going to be under 50 employees, probably not the right people to be coming to. But if you’re, you know, a few 100 to 1000, you know, we probably can come in and really help in making sure that your Tapping into all of the power that those employees have again.
If I think about behavioral science, it’s about leveraging the innate ability and motivation and engagement that people have. It’s just allowing that to be set free to be able to, as a leader, as an organization, put the programs and processes in place in order to let that happen across across the organization.
So you’re to me, you’re, you’re the behavioral science guy. Like that’s how I think of you. I obviously you have formal titles, other things like that, but I’m curious from your perspective, like, you know, 2023 current business climate, like what are the things that you’re thinking about? Yeah. So what I’m thinking about is again, given the current climate and the Issues with, you know, fear of, like, what’s going to happen with inflation and moving forward.
How do you keep employees engaged? How do you keep them motivated to stay kind of focused on the, the what’s needed at hand? What what they need to do today, but also kind of keeping that vision for the future going forward. And I think that’s a really key. Yeah. It’s an interesting kind of slope that people are on.
And as a leader, I think it’s one of the hardest things that you have to do. And it’s one of the things that we don’t think about a lot as leaders. We often kind of just go well, they know what they need to do. They should be engaged, but we have to work at it. We have to continually make sure that as leaders that we’re making those right choices, they’re making the right choices.
Doing the right things in order to make sure that your employees are engaged to make sure that your people are really motivated and driving to the finish line that you need them to finish to. So it’s great. Well, I got to say, Kirk, really appreciate you coming back in the strong. Thrilled to have published some of your work and to continue to promote your work, your brand.
Of course, Behavioral Grooves. If everybody listening hasn’t yet subscribed, definitely go do that. We’re going to put all of that in the show notes too so that people can just click on the links and head right on over. But that being said, I mean, what’s next? What’s next for you? What’s next for Lantern Group?
Yeah, so we’re actually doing we’re building out a whole series of tools. It’s starting with guided journal. So if anybody leader or just an employee wants to achieve their goals better that they can get this, it’s called brain shift is the first journal. It’s a 13, So a quarter where we bring behavioral science into a really easy to use daily journal, where I am writing down, Hey, here are my keystone goals that I want to achieve this quarter.
And then every week we give a behavioral science insight. And then every day we have specific prompts that bring you back to what do I need to do today in order to achieve that keystone goal. How, what am I grateful for? Again, all the science side of things in order to make sure that you’re achieving those goals, driving those goals, and then, you know, staying on target with that.
And in addition to the journal, we also have elements of like, how do you make better goals? So we have a little side kind of document that you can get. That’s a goal shift. And then you can, you know, understanding goals. We have decision shift again. Taking some of those insights from better decisions.
We are just launching volume two of the brain shift journal. We’ll have a leadership journal coming out again, looking at leaders and how do you as a leader, if you’re a first time leader or you’re a leader, who’s been, you know, leading people for a while, but it’s a daily journal to help you become a better leader and to make sure that you’re always focusing in on driving the right behaviors and doing the right things as a.
As a person, as a leader within an organization. So that’s where we’re super excited about the possibilities of, of this whole area. And it’s really, really cool to have that coming out really soon. So, so it’s kind of like a personal trainer for your brain. Yeah. Like I’m going to steal that. Can I take that?
I’m going to put it, man, I’m your branding guy. Come on. Of course you do. It’s a personal trainer for your brain. That’s what you just described, except, except they’re not coming in your house you know, smelling up the place with their sweat. If you really want to get visceral with it, that’s what you say.
Yeah. No, I love that. And that, that, because I think you, you really kind of captured it. What we’re doing is we’re giving you a way to shift your brain, to shift that. behavior that you’re doing to make yourself more productive, more likely to achieve your goals, more likely to be a better leader. And you’re just yeah, it’s, it’s giving you that, that insight that a personal trainer would be there and holding your hand every day to do that.
So it’s amazing. So if somebody’s watching this and they want to connect and they want to follow up to learn more about lantern group or, or your, your other content or the. programs. I mean, what’s the best way for them to do that? Yeah, so probably the best is linked in. So it’s Kirk W. Nelson and I’m up there and your lantern group would also be, you can Google that.
But the the website for behavioral grooves is also another great place. So that’s just www. behavioralgrooves. com. Lantern group. com is another one. So any of those probably the best way is LinkedIn. That’s what I’m out on most. Fantastic. And we’ll put all that in the show notes that our audience can just click on the links and head right on over.
And speaking of the audience, if this is your first time listening to a mission matters episode, Or engaging with the platform. We’re all about bringing on business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, and enterprises, and having them share their mission, the reason behind their mission, you know, why do they do what they do, like what gets them excited to get up out of bed in the morning to go out into the world and to make a difference, if that’s the type of content that sounds interesting or fun or exciting to you, we welcome you hit.
That subscribe button. We have many more mission based individuals coming up on the line and we don’t want you to miss a thing. Kurt again, as always a pleasure. Thank you so much for, for coming back on the show and appreciate you. Of course, being in our book and in carrying the message. So thank you, Adam.
Thank you for what you do. And thank you again for having me. Appreciate it.