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Want Your New Practice Change to be Irresistible to Clinicians? Take a Lesson from IKEA

What if it were possible to make practice change irresistible to clinicians?

Today, with all of the demands to improve hospital care, clinical leaders are compelled to spend much of their time leading practice change. Their challenge typically lies in accomplishing this feat with already overloaded clinicians.

Imagine making your practice change so appealing your clinicians jump at the chance to implement it despite their busy workloads.

Sounds like a pipe dream, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. We just need to take a lesson from IKEA.

The IKEA Effect

Coined by behavioral scientists (1), the IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that posits that people who contribute in creating something value it more. A lot more.

In an experiment, study participants were willing to pay significantly more for IKEA boxes that required assembly over fully built boxes. It doesn’t seem rational at first glance because, on top of the additional cost for the handmade boxes, the buyers had to invest their own sweat equity. 

The apparent explanation for this is cognitive bias, and studies show that participation creates this bias. In this case, the purchaser’s own labor enhanced their affection for the product. In other words, labor leads to love.

According to the behavioral scientists, there are two main reasons for this:

  • Humans have an innate need to feel successful. When someone puts effort into something, they have to justify their effort to feel successful. The more effort the person invests, the more successful they will feel when it is finished.
  • On a deeper level, people want to feel competent. Contribution leads to experiencing competence. All of it ties to self-determinism, a macro theory of human motivation and personality that concerns people’s inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs.

For clinical leaders, inviting clinicians to take part in creating the practice change overrides the usual aversion to losing something familiar.

Invite Your Clinicians to be “Co-Creators” of Value

Where leaders often get flustered is figuring out how to utilize this approach with some best practices and/or directives that come from up above and appear to already be completely assembled.

Although every new practice should be designed with an allowance for local adaptations, even in the most prescribed cases there is always an opportunity for your team to add a finishing or personal touch. For example, if the policy can’t be adapted, the approach for implementing it usually can be.

Laying a Foundation for Success

When using this approach, it’s crucial to remember these two key points:

  • It’s all about partnership. IKEA doesn’t require consumers to build anything from scratch. Instead, they partner with their customers to “co-create” something of value. In a clinical setting, not only does this create ownership for the practice change, but it also helps to build a great relationship between your organization and your clinicians.
  • Make sure it’s doable. This approach can backfire if you’re not careful. If the task is too complicated for your team and there is a perception that it won’t be successful, affection can turn to hate very quickly. Labor leads to love — but only when labor is successful (1). Thus, when you take this approach, it’s essential to break down the project into manageable steps.
    Taking the time to get these points right plants seeds of affection that will withstand even the most challenging situations for practice change adoption.

When You Work for Something, You Fall in Love with It

It’s in our psychological makeup to be happier when we put forth an effort to obtain something rather than if it just came to us easily. The IKEA Effect shows us that it takes an investment to make something our own.

If you’ve been challenged leading practice change, take a page from IKEA’s playbook and use the very human need for success and self-determinism to your advantage.

  1. Norton, Michael I., Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely. “The IKEA Effect: When Labor Leads to Love.” Journal of Consumer Psychology 22, no. 3 (July 2012): 453–460.  http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/norton%20mochon%20ariely.pdf
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