Posts Tagged 'Switch'

The challenge of changing ourselves and influencing others

A quality shared by most resilient people is the ability to see the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

As a result, they understand that:

• Changing ourselves is hard, even when our health and lives may depend on it.

• Changing others is harder.

• Changing organizational culture and practices is even harder because it combines the difficulties of changing ourselves and others with the challenge of overcoming institutional inertia and active resistance.

In addition, most of us significantly underestimate what’s required to alter long-standing habits of mind and behavior in ourselves and others and to create organizational cultures of continuous improvement.

And, at the same time, we significantly overestimate the extent to which humans are rational and motivated to change because of evidence and logic.

That’s why reading a book, listening to an inspiring speaker, or attending a “research-based” workshop are almost always insufficient to produce long-term, meaningful change.

The essential elements of change

The most compelling explanations of what’s required to produce significant change are offered  by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life and by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Deutschman explains that people make significant and lasting changes by “relating,” “repeating,” and “reframing.”

Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups to inspire hope and provide support.

Repeat involves learning, practicing, and mastering new skills until they become habits.

And reframe means finding others ways to think about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.

A problem, Deutschman says, is that leaders too often rely on relatively ineffective change strategies—facts (human beings are not as rational as we think we are), fear (at best it’s a short-term motivator), and force (there are many ways it can be resisted) to promote change.

Instead, successful change efforts offer a sense of hopefulness that problems can be solved through a genuine sense of community that enables the acquisition of new habits.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain that our behavior is shaped by three forces—our intellect, our emotions, and the situations in which we find ourselves.

To explain their ideas the Heaths offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider:

The rider is our intellect. Although modest in size compared to the elephant, it plans and directs.

The elephant is emotion. It provides the energy that creates and sustains movement.

The path is the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. that either supports improved performance or hinders it. (For example, strong teamwork requires a “path” that includes regularly-scheduled meeting time, relevant data to make decisions and assess progress, and training in group skills.)

We promote change, the Heaths say, when we:

• create clarity of purpose and direction (influence the rider),

• engage people’s emotions (motivate the elephant), and

• create environments (shape the path) that enable rather than hinder the desired performance.

What, in your experience, are the essential elements of change in individuals and organizations?

I will be taking a sabbatical during the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under).

“Shape the path” to influence change

Photo/Dennis Sparks

“What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” —Chip Heath &  Dan Heath

Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain the change process this way in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: “For individual behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds.” To explain their ideas they offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider, with the intellect represented by the rider and emotions by the elephant. The rider plans and directs; the elephant provides the energy. The extend the metaphor by including “the path,” the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. Leaders’ work, then, is to guide the change effort through clarity of purpose and direction, motivate the elephant by engaging people’s emotions, and “shape the path” to enable the desired performance. Previous essays described ways to affect “the rider” and “the elephant.”

To help us understand the power of the path, the Heath brothers ask readers to note how many times a day someone has tweaked their environment to shape their behavior (examples include lane markers on roads, the location of displays in groceries stores, and ATM machines that made it difficult for you to leave your card or cash).

The Heaths stress the power of culture and habits to shape behavior. “People are incredibly sensitive to the environment and the culture . . .,” they write. “Because we instinctively try to fit in with our peer group, behavior is contagious . . . . To change yourself or other people, you’ve got to change habits . . . .” Noting that even small environmental changes can make a difference, they suggest “action triggers” in which you create a mental plan that includes a time and place in which you’ll engage in a particular action. “Action triggers simply have to be specific enough and visible enough to interrupt people’s normal stream of consciousness,” the Heaths note.

Chip and Dan Heath also suggest the development of habits and routines as ways to shape the environment because they create a kind of “behavioral autopilot.” In addition, they encourage the use of checklists (the subject of an upcoming essay) to remind people of important behaviors that might otherwise be overlooked.

The Heaths use the phrase “rally the herd” to describe ways in which organizational culture and peer influence can be used to promote the desired behavior, citing efforts to promote “designated drivers” in the 1980s as a example of cultivating cultural influence to shape behavior. Meeting agreements and group protocols are examples of ways leaders shape habits and routines and cultivate high-performance cultures.

Ways school leaders might shape the path:

Meeting agreements: Establish meeting agreements (some people call them “norms”) that establish group expectations regarding meeting behavior (for instance, arrive on time and stay until the meeting’s conclusion, be fully engaged, and do not say anything outside the meeting you have not said in it).

Protocols: Use tools that shape meeting behavior, whether the meeting is for the primary purpose of professional learning, problem solving, or decision making.

Action triggers to establish new behaviors/habits: Imagine yourself in a future situation doing a desired behavior. Trigger the behavior through a notation in you calendar, to-do list, or post-it on your bathroom mirror.

Take a moment now to . . .

• select one of the methods above to “shape the path” regarding improvements in your own leadership practice or for a significant change effort in the school community.

“Motivate the elephant” to influence change

Photo/Dennis Sparks

“Once you break through to feeling . . . things change.” —Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain the change process this way in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: “For individual behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds.” To explain their ideas they offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider, with the intellect represented by the rider and emotions by the elephant. The rider plans and directs; the elephant provides the energy. The extend the metaphor by including “the path,” the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. Leaders’ work, then, is to guide the change effort through clarity of purpose and direction, motivate the elephant by engaging people’s emotions, and “shape the path” to enable the desired performance. My previous essay described ways to affect “the rider.” The next essay will consider “the path.”

Leaders engage the energy of the elephant through the cultivation of positive emotions. “Negative emotions tend to have a ‘narrowing effect’ on our thoughts . . .,” the Heaths note. “[I]n contrast with the narrowing effects of the negative emotions, positive emotions are designed to ‘broaden and built’ our repertoire of thoughts and actions.” Hope is cultivated, they say, through small, incremental wins that are meaningful and that individuals perceive as within reach. Likewise, unclear actions that offer little guidance are unlikely to produce the small wins that motivate the elephant.

The Heaths also advocate that leaders adopt and promote a “growth mindset” that views abilities as muscles that can be developed rather than a “fixed mindset” that sees abilities as static. The growth mindset has learning as its core process and acknowledges the possibility of failure. It says, according to the Heaths, “We will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down—but throughout, we’ll get better, and we’ll succeed in the end.” On the other hand, a fixed mindset discourages the pursuit of stretching goals because of the risk taking they entail.

Ways school leaders might motivate the elephant:

Cultivate positive emotions: Understand the role that your emotions play in the emotional life of the school community and cultivate your positive emotions using tools suggested in an earlier essay.

Adopt a growth mindset: View human capacities as malleable rather than as fixed. As a first step, read this article on the influence of mindsets and reflect on whether your words and deeds match your intention of learning and growth for all students.

Take a moment now to . . .

• select one of the methods above and apply it to “the elephant” in an improvement in you own leadership practice or to a significant change effort in the school community.

“Direct the rider” to influence change

Photo/Dennis Sparks

“For things to change, someone has to start acting differently.” —Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Our behavior is shaped by three things—our intellect, our emotions, and the situations in which we find ourselves. When school leaders promote change, however, they often appeal only to the intellect, ignoring other powerful factors that affect performance. Leaders seeking to motivate change solely through presentation of research, data, and professional literature more often than not find that their rational approach meets with limited success. That’s why it is essential for leaders to consider ways they can also affect emotions and alter situations in ways that promote continuous improvements in teaching and learning.

That’s my summary of the “big ideas” in Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard as they relate to school leaders. The Heath brothers explain it this way: “For individual behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds.” To explain their ideas they offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider; the rider is our intellect and the elephant is our emotions. The rider plans and directs while the elephant provides the energy. They brothers extend the metaphor by including “the path,” the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. Leaders’ work, then, is to guide the change effort through clarity of purpose and direction, motivate the elephant by engaging people’s emotions, and “shape the path” to enable the desired performance. My next two essays will consider school leadership practices related to “the elephant” and “the path.”

The Rider

“What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity,” Chip and Dan Heath write. “Clarity dissolves resistance.” To promote clarity, the Heaths advocate “destination postcards” (“pictures of a future that hard work can make possible”), “scripting the critical moves” (“to create movement, you’ve got to be specific and concrete“), and “black-and-white goals” that describe all-or-nothing intentions (“I will not eat refined sugar”) in situations where rationalizing and backsliding are likely. “When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain the ‘new way’ clearly. Don’t assume the new moves are obvious,” the Heaths caution.

While the rider brings the ability to analyze and plan, it “. . . has a terrible weakness—the tendency to spin his wheels. The Rider loves to contemplate and analyze, and, making matters worse, his analysis is almost always directed at problems rather than bright spots,” they observe. To address this problem, the Heaths recommend focusing on the “bright spots,” and to that end they describe Jerry Sternin’s work with “positive deviance,” an approach I described in an earlier essay.

Ways school leaders might direct the rider:

Destination postcards: Hone a clear, compelling, one-sentence description of the school’s vision (for example, “quality teaching and learning every day for every student”).

Black & white goals: In an area or it will be easy to excuse backsliding, set a goal that does not allow for equivocation (“Because professional learning is essential to the achievement of our goals, it will be a priority at every faculty meeting. No exceptions, no excuses.”).

Script the critical moves: Explain in clear, simple language a behavior that will lead to the “destination” and engage members of the school community in activities in which they can experience the effects of the behavior rather than simple talk about it (“We’ve agreed that we want reading and writing to be part of each students’ school day. To demonstrate its importance, we will use a portion of every faculty meeting to carefully read a journal article or other text, write about our views, and engage in dialogue about the implications of those ideas for our community.”)

Look for bright spots: Use the “positive deviance approach” recommended by Jerry Sternin to identify and spread desirable behaviors.

Take a moment now to . . .

• select one of the methods above to direct “the rider” in a change in your own leadership practice or in a significant change effort in the school community.


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