I am fascinated by change. In fact, I am actively engaged in a love/hate relationship with change. Being a middle-aged creature of habit who likes predictability while also being someone who craves new experiences and new ways of thinking, change is a very loaded subject for me.
I recently participated in a workshop that got me thinking about change from a bit of a different perspective. Having studied change from every angle, this was nothing earth shattering but the combination of messages struck me in such a way that it moved my thinking 3 degrees in another direction – just enough to have some new insights. We looked at change from the perspective of shifting brand messaging by moving from focusing on selling characteristics and benefits to communicating beliefs and values. This is not the first time I have explored this idea but, for some reason, at this workshop it all made sense in a different way.
I organically connected this discussion with the work I do with my clients to help them shift the culture in their organizations. It is much more powerful when we talk about an organization’s credo or mission and vision than when we talk about the tactical and practical ways in which they do the work that they do. Individuals need to believe in something. We have a natural need to be emotionally connected. And, despite the fact that business is meant to be impersonal, we know that employees become more invested in their work if they can find a personal connection to it. The difference between standing in a factory creating whatever device is being manufactured and going into the marketplace and seeing the same device in action with the end user is extraordinary – and the engagement level of the employees in those respective jobs reflect that difference.
In the workshop, I was introduced to a book called Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath which discusses how individuals approach change. I, of course, being impatient and glued to my technology (something I might want to consider changing), purchased the book on my iPad within ten seconds of it being talked about. I dove in during some breaks in the conference and immediately was captivated by the stories that the authors used to talk about change. One such example is of a scientific study done on people’s eating habits. A group of adults unwittingly participated in a study at a movie theater that looked at their eating habits. Different people were given different size buckets of very stale popcorn – it was about a week old and really inedible. The researchers were trying to find out if the people with the larger buckets would eat more popcorn just by virtue of the fact that there was more popcorn available to them. And, sure enough, the individuals with the largest buckets ate 53% more of the disgusting popcorn simply because it was there. What the researchers were ultimately working towards was a strategy to encourage people to eat more mindfully and eat less. What they finally acknowledged was that, perhaps the best strategy to encourage the people to eat less was to give them smaller portions. Rather than taking the typical route of looking to change the individual, they concluded that a more effective strategy would be to change the situation or the environment.
I love this idea. We spend so much time putting people into self-help programs to help them change the way they do things. A lot of this is important and helpful but, absent of the other component of changing the environment, it is often ineffective. If you are trying to lose weight, you certainly need to change your habits around eating but you also rid your cabinets of high calorie and unhealthy foods – you alter the situation. An alcoholic goes to rehab to quit drinking where their situation and environment is altered in order for them to focus their attention on the aspects of their psyches that needs to be altered. Change is not always simply about changing ourselves.
There are so many ways to apply this premise. I immediately apply it to culture change. Since I spend 75% of my time working with clients on shifting their corporate culture, I put a lot of thought into what motivates people to change and what situational elements need to be impacted to influence the change. We talk about value propositions. We talk about corporate environments. We talk about how we work. Nonetheless, we almost universally end up talking about culture change through the lens of the people. If we can change the people, we can change the culture. If we can get them to think differently, to increase engagement, to develop buy-in, our culture will be more successful.
Change is hard. We all resist change no matter how much we might want it. We can try to talk ourselves into change but it is a process that requires not just mental buy-in but a larger situational adjustment. For large companies it requires a shift in not only the way people think but a shift in the way things are done. It becomes a collaborative approach. For individuals, change requires a balance between thinking differently and behaving differently. Our change in behavior cannot just come from thinking differently and thinking differently will not be a natural offshoot of behaving differently. We must consciously and deliberately do both.
When I walked away from the workshop, I found myself having a newfound appreciation for developing key values. If we can align ourselves with a belief in some core values (and every organization and every human being MUST identify core values), we can much more easily begin to attempt the process of change. Those values become our north star and every journey towards change will have something to align itself with.