Heath Brothers, business experts, released their new book, titled “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Tough” (Broadway, 2010), in February. The authors address change at the individual, organizational, and societal level. Change involves the emotional and rational side of the brain. The Heath brothers identify the overwhelming emotional element as the elephant. The rational decision-making component is secondary and sits on the Elephant as the Rider. When there is a conflict between the two, the rider is inherently the loser. To achieve lasting change, the elephant and the rider must come together. It is also key to have a clear direction. Below is an example of each of the nine principles contained within the triad for long-term change. Notably, the change framework benefits anyone without a great deal of authority or resources.
LEAD THE RIDER: analytical and 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 timeline denied an end to poverty, water purification, and the construction of sanitation systems to address hunger. The organizers traveled to a rural town and met with the mothers. Despite widespread malnutrition, some children were thriving. Why? The team searched bright spots-successful efforts worth emulating. They found that bright spot moms fed their children four times a day (easier on the children’s digestive system), vs. the two standard. Another finding among several was that bright-spot moms added shrimp and crab from rice paddies to their children’s meals. The cooking classes originated with brilliant moms teaching other mothers how to prepare healthy meals for their children. 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 children in the village were better nourished and stayed that way.
Script of critical movements. Doctors studied the history of a patient with chronic arthritic hip pain. His options were to perform drastic hip replacement surgery or to administer a single unproven drug. They chose the drug 47 percent vs. doing hip surgery. Another group of physicians studied a similar case history with two Unproven drugs are presented as an option. Here, only 28 percent of doctors write one of the prescriptions. The rest selected hip surgery. The results of the study are shown decision paralysis. Too many options test the strength of the Rider; And it will always return to the status quo. Change creates uncertainty and ambiguity. Any successful change requires the translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors. Write down the critical moves (not all moves, but key moves). In previous studies, the fundamental directive to “Use invasive options only as a last resort” would have resulted in more physicians choosing the drug option. Clarity dissolves the resistance of the Rider.
Point out the destination. In the mid-1980s, the research department of a popular investment firm was a pitiful 15th in its ability to generate income for banks. The top executives recruited a new leader who became a general manager and coach. He announced that he expected analysts to initiate at least 125 conversations with clients a month. He promoted a team environment; requiring analysts to cite the work of their colleagues at least twice during presentations. He also stated that the company would break the Top 5 of the leading investment magazine. Not only did he write the critical moves (make 125 calls, cite the work of his colleagues); also created a destination postcard a vivid picture of the short term future showing what could be possible. In three short years, the firm jumped from fifteenth to first place. When you describe an attractive destination, you diminish the cyclist’s ability to lose himself in the paralysis of analysis.
MOTIVATE THE ELEPHANT-Emotional, Instinctive.
Find the feeling. In the late 1970s, a state Department of Youth Services (DYS), an agency that focuses on delinquent children; reviewed their operations. Non-profit organizations, including group houses and transitional houses, replaced youth prisons. DYS ‘chief accountant ruled his division with an iron fist and earned the title of Attila the Accountant. Expense reports submitted with a single error, such as a date omission or a miscalculated subtotal, were returned to the offending nonprofit for correction. The organizations operated on a tight budget and late payments jeopardized their ability to serve children. Frustrated, Attila’s colleagues invited him on a field trip to visit some participating nonprofits. He witnessed first-hand its operational and financial challenges; and returned to the office a changed man. He was still authoritative, but less fussy about expense reporting submissions, allowing nonprofits to receive their payments faster.
Reduce change. A local car wash ran a loyalty card promotion. A group of customers received an 8 stamp card, winning a free car wash once it was filled. Another set of customers received a 10-stamp card, with 2 stamps already completed, moving them 20 percent toward their goal. Several months later, only 19 percent of 8 label customers had won a free car wash, vs. 34 percent of the advantage group, who also won their fastest free car wash. The authors state that people find it more motivating to partially finish with a long-term goal than to be on the exit door of a shorter one. How could you bring your family, co-workers, community, etc. together? achieve a long-term goal highlighting what has already been accomplished to completion? To motivate an uninspired elephant, slow down.
Grow your people. In 1977, the St. 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 to protect the bird would fail. Instead, they implemented an emotional appeal. His goal was to convince the people of Santa Lucia that they were the kind of people who protected their own. They wanted the people of Santa Lucia to be proud of their unique island species. The St. 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 natives. In 2008, conservationists noted that no St. Lucian had been caught shooting the parrot in fifteen years, resurrecting the species from extinction.
SHAPE THE WAY – Provide a clear direction.
Modify the environment. The airline industry is governed by the “sterile cabin” rule. As long as an aircraft is below 10,000 feet, either climbing or descending (the times most prone to accidents), no non-flight related conversation is allowed. At 11,000 feet, the crew can speak freely. An IT group adopted the clean box principle to advance a major software development project. Their goal was to reduce the development time for new products from three years to nine months. They established “quiet hours” on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings before noon. It gave the encoders a sterile booth, allowing them to focus on complex bits of code without being interrupted. In the end, the group achieved its nine-month development goal. What seems like a people problem is often a situational challenge. People have a systematic tendency to ignore the situational forces that shape other people’s behavior. Simple road adjustments can produce dramatic behavior changes.
Develop habits. One of the subtle ways our environment influences us is by reinforcing (or deterring) our habits. Habits are important because they are an automatic pilot of behavior. They allow good deeds to happen “for free” without testing the Rider’s self-control, which is comprehensive. To change yourself or others you need to change your habits. The formation of a habit involves both environmental and mental influences. “Action triggers” are effective in motivating action. They preload a decision and are most useful in difficult situations when the rider’s self-control suffers. Action triggers create “instant habits.”
Gather the herd. A hotel manager tested a new sign in the hotel bathrooms. It simply said that “most hotel guests reuse their towels at least once during their stay.” Guests who received the sign were 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels. They took cues from the pack. In ambiguous situations, we all look to each other for clues about how to behave. Change situations often involve ambiguity along with their inherent unfamiliarity. To turn things around, you need to pay attention to social cues. They can guarantee a change effort or condemn it. Lead an elephant down an unfamiliar path and it is likely to 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, broad motivation, and a supportive environment. The rider, the elephant, and the trail must line up to support the switch. Visit the authors at http://www.heathbrothers.com.