I recently finished reading the book Switch, by Chip & Dan Heath.  These authors discuss how to change things when change is hard.  I know there are a lot of books available about how to deal with change, but these brothers give an easy to follow method to manage change.  There are three steps: Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path.  You may be asking yourself, what do you mean by Rider and Elephant?   Well, each person has an emotional side (elephant) and a rational side (rider).  We have to reach both sides as well as shape a path in order for each person to succeed.

Direct the Rider

In order to direct the rider, we must follow the bright spots, script the critical moves, and point to the destination.  Following bright spots allows us to find what is working well and replicate it.  Scripting the critical moves means we have to step away from the big picture and think about specific behaviors, because ambiguity can exhaust the rider and uncertainty makes the elephant anxious.  We can take small, specific steps to eventually lead us to the bigger picture we are working toward.  Lastly, we must point to the destination.  “Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it (Heath & Heath, 2010).” 

Motivate the Elephant

In order to motivate the elephant, we must find the feeling, shrink the change, and grow our people.  Knowing is not enough to cause change.  We have to make people feel something.  I am much more likely to buy an unknown brand of pizza at Costco if there is someone there offering me a sample, rather than a sign that tells me how delicious it is.  Shrinking the change is best illustrated by the quotes of a couple well known coaches.  John Wooden said, “Seek the small improvement one day at a time.  That’s the only way it happens- and when it happens, it lasts.”  Coach Bill Parcells stated, “You want to select small wins that have two traits: (1) They’re meaningful. (2) They’re within immediate reach.” Finally, to grow our people, we must instill the growth mindset.  The brain is like a muscle; it can get stronger, it can get better.

Shape the Path

In order to shape the path, we must tweak the environment, build habits, and rally the herd.  Behaviors will change when the situation changes.  By tweaking the environment we make the right behaviors easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder.  I can tweak my own environment by removing all the chips from my house, in order to remove the poor eating habit.  Forming habits is mental as well as environmental.  To create a habit that supports the change you’re trying to make, the habit must advance the mission as well as be relatively easy to embrace.  Behavior is contagious.  When rallying the herd, we must help the positive behavior spread.  When shaping the path, a good change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”

-Beth Popowski