Maritz Mission: Bake Behavioral Theory, Experiments into Engagement Strategies
Maritz’s Chief Behavioral Officer Charlotte Blank seeks to incorporate science into all elements of program design.
When Maritz created the position of Chief Behavioral Officer and hired Charlotte Blank, an executive with about five years of marketing experience in the automotive industry, the company said Blank will “forge the connection between academic theory and applied business practice, elevating the use of field research to propel Maritz’s people solutions and client programs.”
In a recent interview with ESM, Blank says that the emerging field of behavioral science generally supports many of the long held assumptions behind the Maritz approach to motivation, and that science can only help elevate program results. “What we are doing is creating a center of excellence in applied behavior science that can be utilized at the practical level to help organizations create better programs for whatever their goals and audience,” says Blank. “What our soon-to-be-released new website will show is how we apply scientific research to the day-to-day process of designing programs to achieve practical goals, not to create a new business or product line for Maritz.
To help implement the strategy, Blank is building a Maritz Field Research Collaborative of professors “who aren’t consultants but rather who are seeking organizations for which they can conduct experiments they can use for publishable research. The goal is to apply those insights for the benefit of our customers. Science is ingrained into everything we do, so there’s no need to create a separate brand or service. Behavioral science is new to many people; it’s easier to explain what we do when the science supports our proposition: We’re a people-oriented company that helps clients influence positive behavior.”
Blank was originally hired to run the Maritz Institute, but she decided to drop the name. “There’s no need to confuse the marketplace with separate brands. We want to make science part of everything we do,” she explains.
Behavioral Science Gaining Ground
The field of applied behavioral science and economics, Blank admits, is new, “but there is a movement growing around it. I still consider this early stage, but feel a sense of urgency because the pace is picking up. It’s a funny paradox at Maritz: we’re such an old company with a tremendous tenure, and yet we’re leading the way in this application of behavioral science to day-to-day problem solving and goal achievement.”
The low-hanging fruit, she says, is the opportunity to properly substantiate many of the principles of engagement that have been assumptions until recently. “We help clients do experiments by setting up controls, so that we can see what happens with different approaches. All our technology platforms are designed to run A/B experiments, so we can tweak program design along the way to see what happens. As more clients embrace experimentation, we will get more useful data, which will further drive the movement and help the industry.”
Blank believes the application of behavioral science leads to greater creativity, “as you can come up with an idea and see what happens in a limited group,” and then roll it out. “The more we can be strategic partners and thought leaders, the better solutions we can provide. We can charge for design, strategy and analytics when we focus on achieving business results rather than adhering to operational metrics. It’s not just about running a survey, sending people on a trip, we have to address the why. “It’s all about being intellectual and strategic partners to design programs that achieve measurable goals,” she notes.
What are the main benefits to clients? “A program that works. By taking advantage of the company’s field research collaborative…we further our understanding, the client gets better results and academics obtain real-life data they can use to help us get better results in the future.”
Go Back to Basics
So how does Maritz intend to go to market with this new approach? Blank believes the answer is to go back to basics, not to create any new brand or product line. “Maritz has been a leader in the science of program design for decades,” she says. “There are many people in this company that understand best practices, but what the entire field has lacked is solid scientific ammunition to support what to many organizations appear to be assumptions.”
The plan, she explains, is to “empower our existing businesses. Our training is focusing on how to incorporate behavioral science into the conversation. Our team has always spoken in this vein; we are just giving scientific backup for what they are saying and dialing up the external-facing thought leadership. My background is in marketing and advertising. There is so much brilliant work in this company. My efforts are focused on meeting with clients to help support understanding of the science.”
The idea is not to create standalone commercialized products or sell behavioral consulting, but rather to bolster the company’s expertise with behavioral science, says Blank. “We want to make sure these principles are baked into the framework of what we do.”
Potential applications range from the most strategic organizational objectives to the most elementary. “One company that wanted to promote healthy eating in the workplace found that simply moving the candy several feet back on the counter in the lunch room reduced consumption.” Using a creative approach to addressing human issues based on science, she asserts, can produce practical results when addressing almost any type of objective.
Engagement, says Blank, only matters in the context of a real-world organization, and she believes that experiments are the only way to anticipate outcomes. Maritz’s breadth of full-service solutions will help take clients to a higher level of measurable outcomes, she says, “when organizations discover the ease with which they can conduct actual field experiments to see what happens.”