"Switch" and Sustainability
I’ve just finished reading the wonderful book Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip & Dan Heath. It’s one of those books that takes a topic which, for most people, is something of an amorphous soup of ideas, refines it down to the essentials, adds in a couple of fresh perspectives, and packages the lot in a simple framework that makes it much easier to apply. In sustainability, change management is the difference between success and failure. As an engineer I hate to say it, but technology is the easy bit.
The Heath brothers use a great analogy for people and/or organisations – a rider guiding an elephant along a path. The rider is the rational, data crunching part of our brains, the elephant is the emotional parts of our brains (which we don’t like admitting is stronger than the rider), and the path is our situation/environment. The book gives the following menu of options for effective change:
Direct the rider:
- Follow the bright spots – see what’s working and copy it (more effective than focussing on problems);
- Script the critical moves – make very specific instructions where necessary;
- Point to the destination – define the desired endpoint.
Motivate the elephant:
- Find the feeling – make people connect emotionally with the topic (knowing isn’t enough);
- Shrink the change – break it into easily digestible chunks;
- Grow your people – instil a ‘growth mindset’ where people always want to do better.
Shape the Path:
- Tweak the environment – make it easy to do the right thing, harder to do the wrong thing;
- Build habits – habitual behaviour is ‘free’;
- Rally the herd – behaviour is contagious.
The Heaths illustrate their points with a huge number of case studies, but none of the in depth examples include sustainability (apart from a comment that climate change campaigners shouldn’t talk in terms of parts per million carbon dioxide if they want to succeed). So I thought I would look at some of the change management tools I have found successful and see how they map against this framework.
1. Strategies, management systems, action plans etc
These are all ‘rider’ type solutions, ignoring the elephant, which is why organisations find it hard to embed them into the organisational culture. Systems and technologies may be installed, but are unused and people tend to follow their old habits. At best, some of the ‘shape the path’ principles may be included in the action plans and sheer force of will from management might just make them habitual over time. Don’t get me wrong, these elements are essential for the rider and the path, but for them to succeed the elephant needs attention.
2. Switch it off campaigns
Such simplistic instructions are for the rider – scripting the moves – and you simply have to hope they feed through to the elephant. The best example I have seen, Northern Foods’ colour labelling of machines (red = leave on, green = switch off if left on, amber = ask supervisor), tweaks the situation to encourage and facilitate good behaviour and to a certain extent ‘shrinks the change’. If you get the message right, then the instruction can touch a deeper nerve – my friends at GPM Network developed a staff campaign for a charity which revolved around messages like “Switching off this PC every night is the equivalent to an £XX donation to our projects”.
3. Involving staff in generating solutions
This is where the elephant gets some serious attention. People love being part of something exciting (the feeling) and encourages people to grow and the problem to shrink as it is better understood. Pride in a solution will mean it is more likely to be used properly. Done properly in groups this approach will rally the herd as teams see their ideas take fruit and put pressure on peers to make them succeed.
4. Staff competitions
Again an elephant type solution. People love competing – or we wouldn’t pay footballers gazillions a day to run up and down a piece of grass after a ball – so competition taps into our emotional elephant. Dividing staff into teams and awarding a notional prize to the team that, say, cuts its carbon most, is a very effective method of staff engagement. The herd instinct is there too – if someone is letting the side down, their peers will soon let them know.
Very much a mixture of scripting the moves and growing your people, but it needs to be part of wider methods to have an effect. Otherwise the elephant goes back to its old habits with the occasional guilty reminder from its rider. In my training courses I try to bring elephant-centric elements into the sessions by including elements of section 3 above.
In conclusion, I whole-heartedly recommend the book if you are serious about any form of change management in your organisation. Sustainability fits very well with the model – as you can see from the above. Organisations tend to provide their staff with information, but find, as the Switch authors repeat, knowing isn’t enough – you’ve got to tap into that emotional feeling (some examples here) and create the right situation.