Now that we have prepared to understand the necessary context for driving organizational shifts which depend upon shifting human behavior and looked at the reasons we might be interested in making organizational changes, it’s time to examine the mechanics of change.
The authors of Switch begin with the process of directing the Rider in their Rider/Elephant/Path model of understanding human change. In this model, the Rider can be understood as our capacity for self-control and planning.
An important thing to remember about self-control is that it is an exhaustible resource. This is often why we get upset with one another in the workplace. Self-control is a requisite for successfully navigating relationships, and when we run out our emotions have to take over.
This is also why we get stressed at work when we have to handle too many problems unexpectedly. Halfway through the day we have run out of the mental resources to handle all of the problems. This often causes us to shut down or lash out, our responses to the behaviors of others now being dependent on our current emotional state.
Planning is a great way to reduce the need for self-control over the long term by allowing routines to take the place of the constant energy-consuming active use of self-control, but planning itself requires a high energy cost initially.
So how might we go about directing the Rider in ways that can overcome these difficulties? The authors propose that we Find the Bright Spots, Script the Critical Moves, and Point to the Destination.
Find the Bright Spots
Finding existing best practices is a great way to reduce the high energy cost of planning because much of the process design is already done. Find “native” best practices in your organization. Instead of looking for the problems in your organization, look for the solutions. It’s likely that there are people who have figured out effective ways of doing things or stumbled into them, particularly when they face the same problems every day. Document those processes, break them down into a series of simple steps, and share them with others.
Part of what is so useful about finding the bright spots is that it helps to counter our normal human negative event bias that renders the rider useless. The authors call this positive-negative asymmetry or problem focus, and they correctly identify that what is much more likely to improve a situation is a solution focus. Dwelling on problems becomes unhealthy after the problem has been correctly identified. Once the problem is defined, then it is time to move on to the solution.
This process of countering our evolutionary drive to focus on problems must become a habit if we are to utilize it fully. Act your way into a new way of thinking by gradually employing the strategy of looking for bright spots more and more often. We are creatures of habit, and to establish a new habit we have to perform it repeatedly. Habits that are shared are part of the tradition of the social group; we pass those habits on and positively impact those with whom we work by doing so.
This might seem like too small a change, but small changes in trajectory magnify efforts in the long term. Simply getting an extra fifteen minutes of sleep can brighten every day and make you sharper and more effective for years. Changing to a healthy diet can lead to more effort at academics or athletics and have a massive impact on long term success. Remember that positive change in a network impacts the entire network.
If we make these small changes in our work lives, they can prompt big changes in the rest of lives. Identify what behaviors are associated with the desired outcomes in your life. Find out what successful people do. How do they lead? How do they communicate? How do they think through a problem? The focus on the bright spots can help us bring a great deal of light to both our work and personal lives.
Script the Critical Moves
One of the ways the Rider can be very beneficial to the Elephant is through providing a script, a way of moving that will work to get the Elephant down the path and toward the goal. It is a helpful way of overcoming the decision paralysis that happens to us quite frequently because we are presented with so many choices in a consumerist society, and we can easily be overwhelmed into inaction by all those choices.
Inertia is another problem for change. We prefer to go back to familiar routes when faced with new challenges, and unfortunately those familiar routes often take us right back to where we started. We desperately need to build new habits to replace our old ones, and to do that we need a script of the critical moves in those habits.
Essentially what this entails is the development and articulation of heuristics, simple rules that can be applied to decision-making process so that decision paralysis is overcome. Once the heuristics have been developed and communicated, how do we overcome the inertia of the old habits?
I recommend the use of positive reinforcement when trying to build new habits. Positive reinforcement of good behaviors is often more effective than penalties for negative behaviors. Consider whether it is more valuable to foster a positive behavior or crack down on a negative behavior when making decisions about how to respond to employee behavior that needs to change in the process of organizational change.
Another strategy for motivating positive change is to find the feeling. People are more motivated by not hurting a coworker than they are by not meeting what seems like an arbitrary deadline. Prompt others to engage their positive emotions (e.g. compassion for others) when asking for change.
Stay away from the negative emotions that come along with playing the blame game. Instead of immediately blaming organizational failures on a person, look at the process in terms of what is working and what is not working. In either case, identify what is causing it to work or not work without assuming that it is incompetence or a lack of intelligence.
Point to the Destination
People need to know what the destination looks like so that they can figure out how to get there. They also need to know what the destination looks like so that they will realize that they want to get there. If we want to overcome the inertia and decision paralysis that can hobble the organization, communicating the destination is critical.
Intelligence can become part of hobbling the organization because of an all-too-human tendency to rationalize. Rationalization as the authors describe it is the process of convincing ourselves that our existing (unchanged) behaviors are helping us toward our goals, even though they frequently are not. Don’t leave yourself excuses for failure or “wiggle room” for rationalization. It is human nature to think backwards to justify our decisions even when we made them poorly, but we can offset that natural habit with practice.
But it’s not all about the mind; the heart needs to be involved as well. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Timely) goals have become the norm in business, and while they are useful to the Rider, they often fail to engage the Elephant. It helps to have a more emotion-driven goal for the Elephant to keep going, a goal that will be a complement to the SMART goals for the Rider.
SMART goals are not ideal for driving change because they do not reach the heart and tug the emotional heart-strings. They are ideal when everyone is already on board with an existing goal, a situation that is unlikely to occur because of normal human inertia. This is where the Rider must work with the Elephant to make sure the Elephant wants to reach the same destination.
Stay tuned for the next post in which I explain how to Motivate the Elephant.