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Thought Leadership Derived From Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard | Advisory | Fahrenheit Advisors

Most days, barring any injuries or illnesses, the first thing I do in the morning is exercise.

It is my fuel, it is my medicine, and it is my signal to start the day. While this has been my routine for at least 20 years, there is still a lot of bargaining that happens when that alarm goes off.

First, my mind floods with reasons not to workout. Then I see if there are pockets of time later in the day to squeeze in a workout (there aren’t, and I won’t). Then I remind myself why I do it in the first place: the relief after the workout, the feeling of knowing when I sit down to work that I’ve already challenged myself once that day, the physiological benefits of blood sugar balance and healthy composition.

So why, with all these benefits and the fact that a workout is already hardwired into my routine, do I struggle with getting out of bed to do it?

My Elephant is trying to overtake my Rider.

We all have an Elephant and a Rider. Simply put, the Elephant is your emotional side, and the Rider is your rational side. In this analogy, it’s an illusion that the Rider is in control and the Elephant obeys. A Rider sitting atop an unmotivated Elephant gets fatigued. An emotional Elephant without a disciplined Rider can get wildly off course.

Authors Chip and Dan Heath explore these human attributes in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. They explain how to control these dual-systems and apply them to the management and leadership of others in times of change. Understanding the emotional Elephant and rational Rider helps leaders, change makers, and normal, everyday people make more balanced decisions and move mindsets.

Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path

So how can you use it to encourage people to switch their behavior and make a change in your business?

To make a switch, you must direct the rational side, appeal to the emotional side, and ensure that there is a clear path to change. Without an understanding and equal focus on each of these, a behavioral switch will be difficult.

Let’s learn more about the Rider. The Rider is analytical and steadfast – but he quickly loses sight of the mission if the path forward is unclear. To direct the Rider, you must narrow down choices and give very specific instructions. When our Rider is faced with too many options, he is often paralyzed by indecision.

An adage that the authors repeat throughout the book is, “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”

For example, if your company has seen a decline in new business, you may say “we have to reach more customers.” But what does that mean to your sales department? You’ve left them with a world of options and the goal of “more customers” is daunting. Often it is the lack of specific instruction that makes the goal seem unattainable and creates resistance. The Rider does not know how to “reach more customers” but he does know how to “make four more calls to potential customers each week.”


Script Critical Moves, Point to the Destination, And Find the Bright Spots

Four calls each week eliminates ambiguity- it is specific and measurable. In Switch this concept is called scripting the critical moves. Although, critical moves mean very little to a Rider without an end goal.

The authors recommend pointing to the destination, or creating a destination postcard, and they reiterate the importance of clarity. Creating a black and white goal eliminates ambiguity, keeps everyone on the same page, and there is no question about where you expect to end up. Destination: “We will gain four new customers by the end of the quarter.” Your sales department knows exactly what the goal is and with their specific instruction of “make four new calls a week,” they know exactly how to get there.

As you script the critical moves and paint a clear picture of the end goal, you may want to find what’s already working and replicate that. The Switch authors call this finding the bright spots. If your sales team is struggling to add those four new calls into its weekly to-do list, find the team member that has been successful in the new initiative. What are their methods? What environment have they created to facilitate additional outreach? You can really spin your wheels trying to figure out what’s failing, but if you shift that focus to what’s working, you can work to recreate that success. Finding the bright spot encourages the Rider to become solution focused. As the authors put it, “What’s working and how can we do more of it?”

Now that we know how to direct the Rider, we need to give him a mode of transportation, the Elephant, because rationalization alone will not make change easier. While it is a constant battle between the two systems, a Rider needs his Elephant. The Elephant is much larger than the Rider. It is big, bulky, has little direction, and a lot of heart. The Elephant needs motivation because without it, it stalls. And it needs logic else it goes astray.

Stay tuned for the second part of this article series, an examination of how to motivate the Elephant! In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Are you considering changes in your organization and need help to focus your strategy?  Let’s connect-


About the Author

Megan Price provides a broad range of experience in strategy development, project management, organizational behavior, corporate culture, stakeholder relations, process integration, and change management. She encourages a collaborative process and tailors work to her individual client. Megan serves her clients by drawing on her multi-dimensional industry experience, which includes agriculture, legal services, state and federal government, infrastructure development, and electric utilities. She was a co-founder of an education support business where she worked closely with private companies, state and local government, and non-profit organizations to establish partnerships and acquire funding. She has provided strategic planning, operations management, marketing support, and vendor relations for small businesses and start-ups.