Posts Tagged ‘Switch’

Getting at real transformation: advice for aspiring change leaders

I recently asked a group of smart, experienced people what advice they would give others about managing change in an organizational context. The first response (after a short period of silence): “It takes time, and grit.” While subsequent suggestions may have been a bit more specific, the honesty and accuracy of that first response stole the show. It does take time, and leading change—particularly large-scale change—is not for the faint of heart.

How do you describe a change leader?

Emotional intelligence certainly helps. Change leaders must recognize, acknowledge and address both personal and organizational feelings of loss, uncertainty about the future and fear of the unknown. They must be willing to invest time, energy and resources in helping the organization move through the process and in managing resistance along the way. Change leaders must engage other change leaders, continuously building and supporting a team of individuals to champion and guide the change process. And they must emphasize communication. Great change leaders are optimistic and consistent in delivering a message of moving forward. They communicate regularly, talking with people face-to-face as well as virtually. They continually check the pulse of the organization.

John Kotter’s eight stages to transform

One of the most challenging aspects of leading change is ensuring that all stakeholders—clients, customers, managers, line staff, volunteers, board members, even funders—grasp the need for change. In times of stress (and who isn’t experiencing stress these days?), maintaining the status quo is tempting, as is “nibbling at the edges” by opting for small,less-painful adjustments over true transformation.

John Kotter speaks eloquently to this in his 2007 Harvard Business Review article “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” in which he outlines eight stages that must be managed in order to give your transformation effort the best chance of succeeding:

1. Establish a sense of urgency.
2. Form a powerful guiding coalition to lead the effort.
3. Create a vision to direct the change initiative.
4. Communicate the vision, using every vehicle possible.
5. Empower others to act on the vision, e.g., by encouraging risk taking.
6. Create short-term wins.
7. Consolidate performance improvements and produce more change.
8. Institutionalize new approaches developed during the initiative.

The danger of quick fixes

Over the years I have seen many organizations struggle to institute some kind of major organizational change, recognizing only later they had stumbled at Step 1: establishing a sense of urgency. Sometimes the impetus for change comes from the board and staff never fully buy into the need. Other times it is a charismatic ED, someone who knows the organization needs to change and sees a clear path forward, but doesn’t fully appreciate the doubt that still exists among line staff. Even those who see and acknowledge a need for change may not feel a sense of urgency. That is often when a range of “quick fix” suggestions are made.

Our clients don’t feel heard; let’s set up a Facebook page and encourage dialogue through social media. Turnover has been high; we need to re-evaluate our hiring process and make sure we are attracting the type of candidate who would succeed here. Our competitors are expanding the range of services they offer; perhaps we, too, need to consider offering a more comprehensive range of services. These may or may not be good ideas, depending on the situation, but chances are these actions in isolation will not solve the larger problem, or get the organization to where it really wants (and needs) to be.

Questions to start the change conversation sense of urgency? The following questions can help jumpstart the conversation.

What is happening internally that might indicate a need for change? What is happening externally?
What is (or will be) the impact on mission attainment, service quality, client/customer satisfaction, financial sustainability, and morale among staff and board members if these things continue?
How have others in the field addressed similar challenges and/or opportunities? Did they seek change? Why or why not? What was the result?
What could happen if we change?
What will happen if we don’t change?

That last question may be the most important. Sometimes it is the acknowledgement that the status quo will not, in fact, best serve the organization and its mission that is the most powerful driver. Change is hard, but in the long run, not changing might be a whole lot harder.

See also:

A Sense of Urgency

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

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Success: A breeding ground for complacency?

This piece first appeared on the blog, Great Leadership.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can’t lose.”

Bill Gates said that, and he’s exactly right. More often than not, great accomplishments cause individuals and organizations to become comfortable with their way of doing things. Businesses turn static. Workers turn their focus inward. Even the most dynamic of organizations can turn complacent, thinking that what they are doing is right, that there is no need to change, regardless of what’s happening outside.

Here’s one example: This summer, the Washington Post asked me to comment on the debt ceiling debate. At the time, congressmen were busy deflecting blame for the dire economic circumstances gripping the country. Negotiations were gridlocked. A deal to stave off economic calamity seemed out of reach. I wrote that Washington suffered from a “complacency cancer,” that after 250 years as the nerve center of the most prosperous, innovative, militarily and economically advanced nation in modern history, success had gone to our political leaders’ heads. They were resting on their laurels, refusing to change, confident that the old way of doing business would suffice. The same behavior was on display just a few weeks ago, as the congressional “super committee” failed to reach a deficit-reduction deal.

The complacency cancer plagues the private sector as well. I recently read about a study that found successful companies to be far less likely than their weaker counterparts to pursue large-scale change. My own research over more than three decades has shown the same results: despite being better prepared to take bold action, companies with a high level of achievement tend to feel content with the status quo. They sit tight. They focus on themselves. And they ignore the rapidly changing world around them, even in the face of cold, hard facts that clearly show the need to move in a new direction.

It’s plain to see how foolish this thinking is, but no one is immune—not you, not I, not even the most intelligent, experienced leaders. Yet, in today’s constantly changing world, complacency is a recipe for disaster. As a leader, you must do everything in their power to identify it and root it out.

Here are some questions you can ask to determine whether complacency has set in among your employees:

Are team conversations inwardly focused, and not about new markets, emerging technologies or potential competitors?

Are past failures discussed only to stall new initiatives, rather than as learning experiences?

Do important meetings end with no decisions about what needs to happen immediately?

Do workers regularly blame others for problems, as opposed to taking responsibility and changing behavior?

Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a major challenge or opportunity knocking at the door?

If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” then complacency has taken root. Before it continues to spread, you must take action to instill a sense of urgency in your employees.

Determine what challenges and opportunities are out there. Discuss them with other senior leaders so those at the top have real clarity about where the organization is headed. Then, communicate that opportunity to your workers, keeping each of the following tips in mind:

Appeal to the head and the heart. Sales figures and spreadsheets can help people start thinking differently, but they’re not going to convince them to change their behavior and take the kind of action needed to move an organization in a new direction. That takes an appeal to the heart. Make a rational case, but do it in a compelling way to win over hearts and minds.

Bring the outside in. If inward focus is the problem, attention to outward reality is the answer. Share outside perspectives. Shed light on troubling data. Listen to customer-facing employees. Each of these tools can be persuasive in helping people see that the outside world is changing—and so, too, must their organization.

Behave with true urgency. Lead by example. If you’re expecting your employees to change, you must change first. Demonstrate your own sense of urgency—in meetings, in emails, during speeches and in one-on-one interactions—and never let up.

Find opportunity in crises. Always look for the upside possibilities. Crises are threats, to be sure. But destabilizing experiences, if navigated carefully and harnessed effectively, can be powerful drivers of change.

Deal with the naysayers. There will always be skeptics. But then there are people who, for whatever reason, simply do not want change. These people, especially if powerful, can be dangerous. The key is to confront them head-on. Do not try to co-opt them or ignore them. It won’t work. Instead, distract them by sending them on special assignments, expose the fallacies in their behavior for all to see, or, if all else fails, push them out of the organization. That bitter pill is sometimes necessary to fight the complacency cancer.

As urgency takes hold, complacency vanishes. Now, your organization is on the path to true success: able to adapt, to change, and to continually seize big opportunities.

See also:

A Sense of Urgency

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work


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How to make a change: A conversation with “Switch” authors

In the last two weeks, we have explored highlights from our July Page to Practice™ feature: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Join us for an excerpt of a conversation with authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath with special thanks to Fortier Public Relations.

Fortier: What was the most surprising discovery you made about change behavior?

Heath Brothers: That self-control is exhaustible, like a muscle. We’ve all experienced this—you have a stressful day at work, and you come home and you snap at your partner, or you have one drink too many. You burned up your self-control at work. And this is critical for change, because all change requires self-control. Not just in the sense of resisting a temptation, like a cookie or a drink, but in the sense that you have to manage your behavior deliberately. So one implication of this is that you shouldn’t pile on too much change at once—don’t pick six New Year’s resolutions, and don’t overhaul every aspect of people’s routines at once at work.

Fortier: In the book, you say we often overcomplicate change. What do you mean by that?

Heath Brothers: When change doesn’t happen, we almost always blame it on the people—people who are too “resistant” or “lazy.” But what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. For instance, we tell the story of a manager named Amanda Tucker, who got poor ratings on “communication” from her employees. The problem was that, when they’d come in her office, she’d often get distracted by email and try to multitask while they were sitting there. Is Tucker a bad manager? A poor communicator? Well, no. She rearranged her office one afternoon, so that she couldn’t see her monitor, meaning that she wouldn’t be distracted. And—poof—her communication scores went way up. It wasn’t a problem with Amanda, it was a problem with her environment. And the environment was a lot easier to fix.

Fortier: What do you mean by “shaping the path” for change?

Heath Brothers: Small tweaks to the environment can have a big impact. Think about Amazon’s one-click-order button. They have “shaped the path” to an order, making it as easy as humanly possible. Many of us are blind to how much our situations actually shape our behavior. Our surroundings have been carefully designed to make us act in a particular fashion. Traffic engineers want us to drive in a predictable, safe way, so they paint lane markers and install stoplights and signs. Banks got tired of us leaving our ATM cards in the machine, so we have to remove them before we can get cash. We can also act as our own engineers, tweaking the environment so that the right behaviors are easier. A friend of ours lays out his jogging clothes before he goes to bed, so it’ll be just a bit easier to get started the next day.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter.

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Make the switch: Explore three surprises about change

The nonprofit sector is no exception in an era of change on the heels of economic uncertainty. New strategies and ideas are a necessity for survival as opposed to a “wouldn’t-it-be-nice” consideration. Whether you seek change in your home, organization or society, the applications in Switch abound.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath address specific examples of successful change using strategies such as a social worker who improved the diets of malnourished Vietnamese children by studying “bright spots”; a young college graduate who saved a national bird from extinction by “growing his people”; and a school teacher who “pointed to the destination” to transform her underperforming students into math geniuses.

The examples go on, and so can readers’ results if they apply the patterns Switch spells out for successful change. Early in the book, the Heath brothers explore three important surprises about change that set the stage for their modeling a successful switch.

The first surprise is “what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.” Said differently, if you want people to succeed you need to provide them with specific and clear instructions. (Direct the Rider)

The second surprise is that “change is hard because people wear themselves out” and “what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.” The idea behind this notion is based on research that shows us that “self-control is an exhaustible resource.” The authors refer to self-control, not in terms of willpower per say, but in terms of “self-supervision,” or tasks that require concentration or deliberate speech or movement, such as organizing a drawer or learning a new language. The reason why this matters for change is that new behavior requires self-supervision or purposeful behavior as opposed to not changing and staying on autopilot. “The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side”—get their Elephants on board. ( Motivate the Elephant)

The third surprise is that “what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” In other words, most of us tend to blame the person when something doesn’t change the way we expect it to. Heath and Heath argue that in reality, it’s often a matter of “tweaking the environment.” (Shape the Path)

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. Read next week’s blog about the three surprises about change.

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Appeal to the “elephant” and “rider” for a change

Change is hard—period. Whether your desired change is losing some weight, restructuring your board or trying that new donor cultivation strategy, change is difficult. Why? Because according to Switch authors and brothers, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, we are of two minds: the rational and the emotional.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the Heath brothers use a wide variety of interesting narrative examples to illustrate how change follows a pattern we can control if we acknowledge what they call the “Rider” (rational brain), the “Elephant” (emotional brain) and the importance of “Shaping the Path” (creating a clear path for success).

By identifying consistent patterns in the examples they observe, the authors create a compelling methodology for 1) directing the Rider; 2) motivating the Elephant; and 3) Shaping the Path, and they provide tactical strategies within each of these three components of change.

The Heath brothers begin Switch with a baseline understanding of change or, rather, the misunderstandings of change. They debunk our perceptions by uncovering “three surprises about change” and letting us in on their terminology for what numerous studies prove—that we have two independent systems in our brain.

Rational side/Rider



Looks to the future

Directs and plans

Emotional side/Elephant


Feels emotions

Lives in the moment


In order to create change, you have to appeal to both the Rider and Elephant. The Rider provides the planning and direction and the Elephant is the power behind the plan. If you don’t appeal to both, the Elephant will overpower the Rider or the Rider will get stuck in analysis, leaving the Elephant without a place to direct its energy.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. Read next week’s blog about the three surprises about change.

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