A Fresh Approach to Problem Solving

December 2, 2023

Who doesn’t like a story about magic beans?

In the 15 months my colleagues and I have posted blogs to this site, can you believe there have been no blog posts about magic beans? Me neither! Most of our blog posts present relevant and timely information about HR or Marketing or we offer suggestions on how to overcome personal or professional obstacles. Today, I’m sharing how you can use BEANs to improve outcomes by changing your or your team’s behavior.

This is not an essay on Lean Six Sigma, TQM, Theory of Constraints, or other Business Process Management methods. Instead, this post looks at process improvement from a behavioral approach. People would prefer to do the right thing, but managers have designed processes and workflows that are doomed to underperform from the start.

If you are familiar with the Nudge theory, popularized by Thaler’s and Sunstein’s book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, the BEANs I describe here will be familiar. If you aren’t familiar with the book, give it a read. The book explains how active engineering of the choices we make can lead to better outcomes.

Back to BEANs… The textbook definition of a BEAN is that it is a catalyst for change made up of 4 parts:

  • Behavior
  • Enablers – Tools that make it easier to do something,
  • Artifacts – Things that you can see and touch that support the behavior.
  • Nudges – Indirect suggestions that promote change.


BEANs start with ideas and concepts, but they require a physical aspect. Here are some examples:

  1. A mnemonic device/object, like the rubber band on your wrist to remind you to call your brother on his birthday, is a BEAN.
  2. Amazon’s ‘Memo from the Future’ is a BEAN
  3. Bridgewater’s “open door” policy supports their culture of transparency and is a BEAN.
  4. Thaler’s book described an example of an intelligent form design process whereby an online form had the ‘opt-in’ option already pre-selected so that most users selected the best option by just pressing ‘OK’. Intelligent form design is a BEAN.


I learned about BEANs from Scott Anthony’s HBR article, Breaking Down Barriers to Innovation and his book, Eat, Sleep, Innovate. This short video is a good summary of his ideas. His context for describing BEANs focuses on improving innovation in organizations. After you learn about BEANs, you will see his method for creating BEANs could be useful for many personal and team behavior issues.

BEANs are created by teams or individuals by:

  1. Specifying the desired outcome or change in behavior desired,
  2. Identifying the blockers or barriers to changing the behavior, and
  3. Brainstorming the interventions that would change the behavior.


BEANs can be used with a wide range of personal or professional use cases:

  1. Weight loss strategies (all sorts of calorie counting devices and apps),
  2. Encouraging daily homework completion (fixed time slot, supportive worksite, and daily rewards),
  3. ‘Return to office’ campaigns (clear instructions about the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday schedule paired with incentives for perfect attendance), and
  4. Product development updates (hands on prototyping and free samples).


Each of these ‘things’ done to support the goal (weight loss, return to the office, homework completion or broad employee involvement in innovation) are BEANs. But BEANs are NOT just for one dimensional problems. Sometimes the BEAN can be effective in multi-step business processes.

Here is an example. This BEAN was used in the recruiting office of a regional bank.

National Bank of Atlantis (NBA) had a centralized team doing in-person interviews for hiring regional retail branch personnel. Turnover at these retail bank entry level positions was normally high, but especially high during and after Covid, so hiring demand was very high. The recruiting office was staffed with 6-12 recruiters, each of whom were supposed to be scheduled for 8-10 in-person screens every day. Given the high demand for hiring, the frequency of no-shows from job candidates and chronic recruiter absenteeism, the scheduling team’s total production failed to keep up even when daily screens were running at 12 a day per recruiter. This screening bottleneck was measured regularly and the average wait time for candidate screens went from 4 to 13 days. These longer wait times created even more interview no-shows, creating a cycle of fewer hires and still more turnover. As more positions in retail branches went unfilled, the field office customer satisfaction scores came in low and kept heading lower.

Finally, the NBA field operations team met with recruiting leadership to address the problem. In addition to hiring more recruiters for screening, the managers used the BEAN design methods to create an immediate process improvement:

  • What behavior needs changing,
  • What blocks the change, and
  • Come up with a remedy to the blocker.


In addition to the shortage of recruiters, NBA managers saw that positions were not being filled strategically. Some field offices with 15% vacancies were consistently getting new hires while other field offices with 25% vacancies often did not get new hires for weeks. New hires needed to be placed more strategically.

The second step in creating the BEAN was to identify why new hires were not being placed strategically. NBA managers did the research and saw that new hires were being sent to the field office based on a first-in first-out (FIFO) queue. Essentially, the oldest open position was being filled before the open position at the field office with the greatest need. The lack of prioritization between the open positions was the barrier to changing the behavior.

So, now with the problematic behavior identified (new hires not deployed strategically) and the blocker identified (FIFO processing), the intervention needed to be created. The recruiting team came up with the BEAN by initiating a daily ‘stand-up’ meeting with recruiting and field office leaders. The meeting was held at the end of the day to allocate the candidates that passed screening that day. Previously, candidates had been assigned to the oldest position. This simple change had immediate impact. Field offices with the highest vacancies got relief the fastest and, as an important side benefit, field and recruiting leaders improved their collaboration. The ‘stand-up’ meeting and additional recruiters combined to bring field office rosters closer to their budgeted staffing levels and, over time, the customer service scores improved.

A simple stand-up meeting with the right people at the right time was the tool and artifact that nudged the team into an improved process – classic BEAN!

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Step 1: What is the problem? Step 2: What are the blockers? Step 3: Create the intervention. But a couple of words of caution: BEANs offer solutions only when the barriers and interventions are not overly complex. Bad managers, substance abuse, workplace theft are just three problems that are not solved by BEANs. The BEAN method has a limited range. Complexity in blockers or barriers and designing effective interventions for complicated individual or group behaviors will often require a broader set of process improvement methods or change management tools.

The ‘right tool for the job’ comes to mind when thinking about BEANs and process improvements. Traditional process improvement methods sometimes overly complicate a team’s initiative. While the BEAN won’t solve many types of problems, there are still plenty of issues/challenges/problems that BEANS can address.

Don’t miss the opportunity to use BEANs to help your team improve processes or solve problems. If your firm is looking for process improvement in your Marketing and HR teams, contact Lana Johnson, CEO at Elevation Talent Group. We’ve met dozens of HR and Marketing leaders who could lead this kind of effort on a project basis or as a permanent part of your team.

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