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"Switch How to Change Things When Change is Hard" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath Business Book Review
Business friends the Heath Brothers released their new book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard,” (Broadway, 2010), in February. The authors deal with changes at individual, organizational and societal levels. Change involves the emotional and rational side of the brain. The Heath brothers identify the dominant emotional element as the Elephant. The rational, decision-making component is secondary and sits atop the Elephant as the Horseman. When there is conflict between the two, the Knight is essentially the underdog. To make lasting change, the Elephant and the Horseman must come together. Also important is having clear direction. The following is an example from each of the nine principles included in the triad to achieve lasting change. It’s worth noting that the change framework benefits anyone without a large amount of authority or resources.
DIRECT RIDER-Analytical, rational thinking.
Find the bright spots. In 1990, an international organization that helps children in need accepted an invitation from the Vietnamese government to reduce malnutrition. They won six months to make a difference. The short time frame denied ending poverty, purifying water and building sanitation systems to address hunger. Organizers traveled to a rural village and met with mothers. Despite widespread malnutrition, some children were thriving. Why? The team asked bright spots-successful efforts worth emulating. They found that mothers with bright spots fed their children four times a day (easier on children’s digestive systems), versus the standard two. Another finding among some was that mothers with bright spots added shrimp and crab to their children’s meals. Cooking classes started with bright spot moms teaching other moms how to prepare healthy meals for their kids. Mothers already had the emotional component (Elephant) – natural concern for their children. They needed direction (Rider) not motivation. Six months later, 65 percent of the village’s children were eating better and staying that way.
Script the critical moves. Doctors studied a case history of a patient with chronic arthritic hip pain. Their options were to perform drastic hip replacement surgery or administer a single unproven medication. They chose medicine 47 percent over having hip surgery. Another group of doctors studied a similar case history two unproven drugs presented as choices. Here only 28 percent of doctors chose one of the prescriptions. The rest chose hip surgery. The results of the study are displayed decision paralysis. Many choices tax the Knight’s strength; and it will always return to the status quo. Change creates uncertainty and ambiguity. Any successful change requires translating vague goals into concrete behaviors. Script critical moves (not every move, but key moves). In the above studies, the critical directive to “Use invasive options only as a last resort” would have resulted in more physicians choosing the drug option. Clarity dissolves the Knight’s resistance.
Point to Destination. In the mid-1980s, the research department of a prominent investment firm ranked an embarrassing fifteenth in its ability to generate income for banks. The top executives recruited a new executive who became both GM and coach. He announced that he expected analysts to initiate at least 125 customer conversations per month. He promoted a team environment; requiring analysts to cite the work of colleagues at least twice during presentations. He also stated that the firm would crack the Top 5 of the premier investment magazine. He not only scripted the critical moves (make 125 phone calls, cite the work of colleagues); he also created one destination card – a vivid picture of the short-term future that shows what might be possible. In three short years, the firm jumped from fifteenth place to first place. When you describe a compelling destination, you reduce the Knight’s ability to get lost in analysis paralysis.
MOTIVATE THE ELEPHANT-Emotional, Instinctive.
Find the Feeling. In the late 1970s, one state’s Department of Youth Services (DYS), an agency that focuses on delinquent children; overhauled its operations. Nonprofits, including group homes and halfway houses, replaced youth prisons. The head of accounting for DYS ran his division with an iron fist, earning the title Attila Accountant. Expense reports submitted with a single error, such as a date omission or miscalculated subtotal were returned to the offending nonprofit for corrections. The organizations operated on a limited budget and delayed payments jeopardized their ability to serve children. Frustrated, Attila’s colleagues invited him on a field trip to visit several participating nonprofits. He witnessed firsthand their operational and financial challenges; and returned to the office a changed man. He was still authoritative, but less scrupulous about filing expense reports, allowing nonprofits to receive their payments more quickly.
Shrink the difference. A local car wash ran a promotion using loyalty cards. One group of customers received an 8-stamp card, earning a free car wash as it filled up. Another group of customers received a 10-stamp card, with 2 stamps already completed, putting them 20 percent toward their goal. A few months later, only 19 percent of 8-stamp customers had earned a free wash, versus 34 percent of the starting group, who also earned their free wash sooner. The authors say that people find it more motivating to be partially finished with a long-term goal than to be at the starting gate of a shorter-term goal. How can you bring family, colleagues, community, etc. together? to achieve a long-term goal by emphasizing what has already been accomplished toward its completion? To motivate an uninspired elephant, reduce change.
Grow your people. In 1977 the Saint Lucia parrot faced extinction. The natives of the island underestimated the bird, some even ate it as a delicacy. There was no clear economic case for saving the parrot. Conservationists knew that an analytical case for protecting the bird would fail. Instead, they applied an emotional appeal. Their goal was to convince Saint Lucian that they were the kind of people who would protect their own. They wanted St. Lucians to swell with pride in their exclusive island species. The Saint Lucia Parrot campaign included t-shirts, bumper stickers and locally recorded songs about the parrot. The animal became part of the national identity of the locals. In 2008, conservationists noted that no St. Lucian had been caught hunting the parrot in fifteen years, reviving the species from extinction.
PATH FORMULA-Give clear direction.
Press Environment. The airline industry adheres to the “sterile cabin” rule. Anytime an airplane is below 10,000 feet, whether climbing or descending (the most accident-prone times), no conversation other than flying is allowed. At 11,000 feet the crew can talk freely. An IT group adopted the sterile cubicle principle to advance an important software development project. They aimed to reduce new product development time from three years to nine months. They established “quiet hours” on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings before noon. It gave coders a sterile cubicle, allowing them to focus on complex pieces of code without being interrupted. Ultimately, the group reached its nine-month development goal. What seems like a people problem is often one sITUATION challenge. People have a systematic tendency to ignore the situational forces that shape other people’s behavior. Simple route changes can produce dramatic behavioral changes.
Build habits. One of the subtle ways our environment affects us is by reinforcing (or inhibiting) our habits. Habits are important because they are the autopilot of behavior. They allow good deeds to happen “for free” without taxing the Knight’s self-control, which is exhausting. To change yourself or others, you must change your habits. The formation of a habit involves both environmental and mental influences. “Action triggers” are effective in motivating action. They pre-charge a decision and are most useful in difficult situations when the Knight’s self-control is strained. Action triggers create “instant habits.”
Rally the Herd. A hotel manager tested a new sign in the hotel bathrooms. It simply said “most hotel guests reuse towels at least once during their stay”. Guests who received the sign were 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels. They received signals from the herd. In uncertain situations, we all look to others for suggestions on how to behave. Situations of change often involve ambiguity along with their inherent unfamiliarity. To change things, you need to pay attention to social signals. They can either warrant an attempt at change or condemn it. Lead an elephant down an unfamiliar road and it will likely follow the herd.
The authors acknowledge that change is not always easy. When change works, it tends to follow a pattern. People will change with clear direction, abundant motivation and a supportive environment. The Knight, Elephant and Path must line up in support of the key. Visit the authors at http://www.heathbrothers.com.
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