Switch Your Strategy to Achieve Your Desired Change

by Tim Rinaldi
6 min read

Do you struggle to inspire change with your colleagues, no matter how much time and energy you invest?

Do you find that many just won’t buy in to what you’re trying to accomplish?

Have you resigned yourself to accept that in some cases, their lack of adoption is out of your control?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath detail how individuals, groups, and companies can inspire change, no matter how seemingly difficult or impossible it may be. In order to change behavior, they’ve applied a three-part framework: “Direct the Rider,” “Motivate the Elephant,” and “Shape the Path.” The “Rider” refers to our rational side – it wants clear direction so that it can control and lead the “Elephant,” our emotional side. On the other hand, the “Elephant” refers to our emotional and instinctive side, which will overpower the Rider when they aren’t aligned. It’s looking for instant gratification, as opposed to the Rider who will focus on the long-term benefits of an initiative. The “Path” refers to the surrounding environment that impacts those involved with the desired change.

Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, teaching courses on business strategy and organizations. He is the co-author (along with his brother, Dan) of four books. Dan Heath is the co-author, along with his brother Chip, of four New York Times bestsellers:  DecisiveSwitchMade to Stick, and The Power of Moments. The Heath Brothers’ books have sold over 3 million copies worldwide and been translated into 33 languages. Dan is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports social entrepreneurs.

I read this book during my MBA program at Indiana University, and while I certainly appreciated it, it wasn’t until I became the Director of Operations for Raincatcher that I realized how valuable it was. In my work, I love finding opportunities for improvement and creating new processes to achieve that improvement. However, it’s one thing to create a new process; it’s another to get the necessary buy-in from everyone it will affect. This is the dilemma that led Chip Heath and Dan Heath to write Switch, so I hope these lessons will have a similar impact on your career:

1- To appeal to their rational side, you must give your colleagues good examples to follow and clear first steps and then focus on the positive outcomes of your intended changes 

In situations where the Rider (the rational side) isn’t given clear direction, it will become burnt out, and the intended change will fail. In order to prevent this, Chip Heath and Dan Heath gave three rules to follow: 

  1. Find the bright spots
  2. Script the critical moves
  3. Point to the destination

To provide the clear direction the Rider needs, these rules explain that we should start by analyzing what is working well (i.e. the bright spots) and determine how we can get more people to follow these examples. Then, we should identify the first steps needed to accomplish this change – they should be very clear and easy to follow. Finally, we should make sure to clearly demonstrate the outcome of this change to inspire others to stay motivated. 

As they explained, we should motivate the Rider by adopting a positive orientation to focus on the solution, rather than just the problems at hand. Then, we should determine the specific behavioral changes needed to work towards that solution and avoid the enemy of these behavioral changes: rationalization, or attempting to justify our lapses in adopting these changes. 

At one of my previous companies, our CEO left and the owners warned that more changes were coming, but they needed a few months to review everyone’s roles and performance before making any decisions. You may think that the fear of being laid off would motivate everyone to work harder than ever, but in reality the opposite happened – we weren’t given a good example to follow or clear first steps, and it quickly became the most stressful work environment I had ever experienced. No one wanted to lose their job, but we also didn’t know how we should change. 

What initiatives have you seen fail to inspire change because they didn’t appeal to yours and your colleagues’ rational sides? How can you ensure this doesn’t happen in the future?

2- To inspire their emotional side, you must enhance your colleagues’ motivation with quick wins and help them to adopt the growth mindset 

In addition to the steps needed to get the buy-in from the Rider’s rational side, we also must inspire the emotional side of the Elephant to ensure that the desired change is likely to take place. To accomplish this, there are three more rules to follow: 

  1. Find the feeling
  2. Shrink the change
  3. Grow your people

Contrary to the popular practice of “Analyze-Think-Change,” Chip Heath and Dan Heath called for “See-Feel-Change.” This will enable leaders to change behaviors, the crucial step in implementing change. Once the emotional side has been inspired, the next step is to find the quick wins to maintain and enhance the motivation (even if these initial wins seem insignificant). Then, permanent change will result from adopting the growth mindset and helping others to find a new identity that grows from the desired change; in fact, at the outset we should help the Elephant to expect setbacks so that they are prepared to overcome them on the way to achieving the desired change.

At another previous company in a sales role, I was given a few hours to learn about the business and then told to start making dials. I didn’t understand our mission and the true value we brought to our customers, so my emotional side wasn’t inspired, and I wasn’t motivated. They hoped the desire to earn money would be enough, but it wasn’t. When I joined Raincatcher in a sales role, though, they stressed the importance of understanding our mission and the incredible impact we week to have with small business owners. My emotional side was absolutely inspired, and my boss focused on my quick wins during my training to keep me motivated, which led me to focus on how I could continue to improve to have a greater impact. 

When you struggle to adopt changes with your work, how can you find ways to inspire your emotional side? How can you accomplish this for your team? And how can you make sure it will last?

3- But sometimes it is out of their control, so we must change the situation for our colleagues and help them to learn new habits

In some cases, the most important fix is to the conditions (the Path) rather than the individuals. The last three rules to ensure optimal conditions are as follows: 

  1. Tweak the environment
  2. Build habits
  3. Rally the herd

We must identify the situational forces impacting the individuals, rather than assuming that every mistake is in their control (as we tend to do, especially when we are frustrated). Rather than trying to change them, we should change the situation if possible to eliminate this risk. Then, we should adopt action triggers to reinforce the desired new habits even when adverse conditions arise – these action triggers are predetermined responses to different scenarios and are most useful in situations that threaten to drain the Rider’s self-control. Finally, once the herd has adopted the desired behavior, it should be praised and publicized to motivate everyone else to follow.

While working in sales, I learned that sales reps will do what they are incentivized to do. They apply for roles that highlight the target earnings, so it makes sense that they would do what it takes to achieve those numbers. So when I took on a leadership role at a previous company and knew my team’s quota wasn’t aligned with the company’s best interests, I changed that. I wanted my team to have fair quotas, but I also wanted them to be rewarded for doing what was best for the company. To promote this behavioral change, I didn’t need to better appeal to their rational sides or inspire their emotional sides; I needed to change the external circumstances.

When you see change failing to take hold, do you instinctively analyze what the individuals are doing wrong? What can you do to identify when it’s the situation that needs to be changed, rather than the individuals?

As Chip Heath and Dan Health explained, “A change leader thinks, ‘How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?’” We can become change leaders, too, by having a clear view of the destination, understanding how to best inspire those involved to adopt the necessary, specific behavioral changes, preventing any external factors that would make these changes more difficult, and searching for and rewarding any tiny steps along the way. How can you make this a part of your mission?

These are just a few of my takeaways from Switch, so I highly recommend reading it and determining how it will impact your career! Here is a referral link to Amazon.

To learn more from Chip Heath and Dan Heath, please visit their website: https://heathbrothers.com/

How can I get better?

My mission is to impact as many people as I can from what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown in my career. If you have any feedback on how I can do that better (about my writing style, other books/articles/videos I should check out, etc.), I’d love to hear it!

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