Change is at the foundation of all nonprofit work. Your vision is of a world changed in some way, and your mission requires people and places to make incremental changes toward that end goal. Easier said than done. How do you change things when change is hard?
Chip and Dan Heath answer this question in their book Switch. Whether you are trying to end world hunger or motivate your employee to stop an annoying habit, there are plenty of obstacles in the way. The Heath brothers (along with many psychologists) argue that those obstacles are built into our brains: We all have rational and emotional sides that are constantly in conflict. Our rational side wants to stop twirling out hair during meetings, but our emotional side finds comfort in the existing routine.
Switch breaks down the process of change into 3 main components, each of which can also be perceived as obstacles:
1. The Rider
The Rider represents our rational side. If you are facing resistance in response to change, it might simply be a lack of clarity. If the Rider doesn’t know where they are going (or if they don’t understand why they are moving in that direction), they will spin the elephant around in circles and get nowhere. Which brings us to…
2. The Elephant
The Elephant represents our emotional side. If you’re facing laziness or demonstrating a lack of productivity, it could easily be exhaustion. In some situations, analytics just don’t cut it (which can be hard for us to hear especially at Whole Whale). What do those numbers and charts actually mean IRL? Make your audience feel the need for change and give them a sense of ownership over that change — whether it’s implementing change on your team or with your audience: Fire up the elephant with an emotional appeal to get it to move forward.
3. The Path
The Path is similar to your mission: How do you reach your goal? If you think youre facing a “people problem” it might just be a situational problem. To resolve this, make instructions clear, with easy to follow steps. Build capacity, delegate tasks amongst the team, gamify the task, and use some (gentle) peer pressure. For example, you could create a bingo board of some less-than-desirable but nevertheless essential tasks and have employees compete to complete them for a small prize. If you are working on content marketing, have team members pair off as accountability buddies so that they each write one article a week and cheer their partner on. Behavior is contagious, and once you get the ball rolling it will get easier and easier to roll. Science, right?
So whether you’re trying affect change at the global or local (or even cubicle) level the formula becomes one and the same: Look at the obstacle(s) in the way. Are you struggling to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, or shape the Path? Find the obstacle, break the pattern, and pretty soon you’ll be seeing change happen. Pulling in many case studies and examples, Switch is a favorite in an office of people passionate about change and impact.
What book should we read next? Share your recommendations with us @WholeWhale.