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Blue Planet 2 has highlighted the devastating impact of plastic on sea creatures, fish and birds.

Fortunately, action is being taken in the UK: the Chancellor is considering a tax on single-use plastics such as takeaway boxes and other packaging and last month saw the second anniversary of the 5p charge for a single use plastic bag. The charge has been hugely successful and is a useful reminder to managers that small interventions or nudges can have a huge impact – even on what can seem like a huge and intractable problem, like marine pollution.

Figures for the full 2 years are not yet available but in July, we learnt the following:

  • Since the introduction of the charge the number of plastic bags found on UK beaches has dropped by over 40%.
  • Before the 5p charge 7.6 billion plastic bags were issued in England each year. By July this year, this figure had reduced to just over half a billion
  • This is equivalent to a saving of 40,801 tons of plastic
  • The number of single use plastic bags used has reduced by 85%

Therese Coffey, Environment Minister, said, “It shows small actions can make the biggest difference.”

This information provides a revealing insight into human psychology, where the smallest intervention, such as a nominal charge of 5p, can have a monumental impact on behaviour change.

It has made us consider the small interventions managers could adopt to improve performance and productivity. These may be penalties for the behaviour you don’t want repeated or reward for those you do.  Some thoughts are:


The financial cost of people arriving late for meetings are vast. Calculate the costs of five senior employees waiting for ten minutes for the final meeting participant to arrive. Almost one full man hour. Multiply this by the number of meetings people attend each week/each month/each year and you will break out in a sweat. Try one of the following:

  • Start the meeting on time. Do not play catch up when the latecomer arrives
  • Have a charity box in each meeting room and make a charge of £1 for each minute late
  • Have the coffee and biscuits at say 9:00 for a 9:10 start, then clear them away (this makes coffee/biscuits a reward) and gets small talk done in 10 minutes
  • Allow the early arrivals to add AOB/Agree the agenda order
  • Make a note of the time/manpower cost of the late arrival and make an internal cross-charge
  • Note who arrives on time, every time, and reward him or her with a half hour early finish on Friday

Timesheets and expenses

  • A legal firm has recently imposed the sanction of blocking access to your pc if you have not submitted your timesheet on time. This can be unblocked only after a discussion with the Managing Partner.
  • Other firms have introduced monthly prize-draws for those who do submit them on time
  • Many firms refuse to refund expenses that are submitted more than two months’ late

Giving spontaneous regular feedback to encourage the behaviour you want

  • “You handled that complaint really effectively. She just wanted to be listened to and you gave her the time to speak.”
  • “You are late for the second time this week. We start at 9.00am and I expect you to be at your desk working by then.”
  • “Thank you for staying late to get that finished. It has really helped.”
  • “You sounded irritated throughout the meeting. I felt it made the atmosphere a little confrontational.”

Tackle underperformance

  • Don’t ignore performance issues. Just do it.

Performance appraisals

  • Don’t sanction bonuses or salary reviews unless performance appraisals have been completed and returned

Naturally, this will have to be considered in line with the culture and values of your organisation as well as business needs. Buy-in is more likely to be secured with consultation with employee representatives and agreement from staff. It is also dependent upon the appetite of managers to enforce this consistently.

We would love to hear ideas that others are using. Please comment below.




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