After serving three times as an interim executive director, I’ve become obsessed with organizational culture.
Earlier in the year, I read a lot of articles about culture change, and from these I gleaned a few interesting ideas. Overall, though, I found these readings pretty underwhelming.
Then I stumbled on a fascinating book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath, who are brothers. I loved this book. To be sure, it’s based on a corny metaphor – but it also distills a great deal of research in an accessible manner and provides the reader with a do-able change system to experiment with.
Crediting psychologist Jonathan Haidt, the Heaths use the metaphor of an elephant (our emotional side) and its rider (our rational side). They lay out an approach to change that has three parts:
Direct the Rider.
Motivate the Elephant.
Shape the Path.
Unsurprisingly, each of these parts also has three parts. Here’s a quick “cheat sheet” I created for myself, using the Heaths' chapter titles and a few snippets from the book:
In order to Direct the Rider:
In order to Motivate the Elephant:
In order to Shape the Path:
That’s a lot to think about. And not every change situation will be amenable to all nine of these approaches.
I’m particularly interested in exploring bright spots – because I know it’s all too easy to focus on correcting what’s wrong rather than expanding what’s right.
I also appreciate the reminder to focus first on seeing and feeling – a lifelong challenge for me, since I can too easily default to logical, analytical reasons for doing something. The Heaths present several great examples of using compelling visuals to jump-start change, and I’m interested in experimenting in this vein.
Finally, I want to think more about rallying the herd. The Heaths assert that “In this entire book, you might not find a single statement that is so rigorously supported by empirical research as this one: You are doing things because you see your peers do them.” That’s a wake-up call.
Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, is quoted in the book as saying, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game---it is the game.”
That’s something that I, too, have learned through experience. It’s a sinking feeling to realize that you have a culture problem but don’t have the right tools for culture change. After reading Switch, I’m feeling hopeful that next time I encounter a tough culture problem, I will be better equipped.
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