Change management book review: “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” by Chip and Dan Heath

Posted on: September 16, 2015

I’ve just written a review of this book for Professional Marketing magazine http://www.pmforum.co.uk/magazine/

I’ve read many books on change management before but this one comes with a really big recommendation. It’s quick, easy and inspiring to read. And the few lessons – illustrated beautifully with great success stories from all manner of societal, business, commercial and personal programmes – are easy to remember and apply.

  1. Direct the rider – the strong, rational part of people’s brains (the planner)
  2. Motivate the elephant – the emotional drive within people that seeks immediate gratification (the doer)
  3. Shape the path – provide simple, clear direction of what you want people to do. Preferably with simple, short term actions that are within easy reach.

It draws on research from Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis” and you can see the parallels with that other great book on mind management “The Chimp Paradox” by Professor Steve Peters. There’s a reference too to the book “Heart of Change” by John Kotter and Dan Cohen who worked with Deloitte Consulting to learn that the change process isn’t “analyse – think – change” but “see – feel – change”. And I could recognise nuggets of psychology insight from a variety of sources on persuasion science, child development and even counselling – so it’s time efficient to read this book to glean most of those.

There are also lots of useful practical tips to help you promote change on a daily basis. For example:

  • “Shrink the change” – offer small steps towards a bigger goal
  • “Find the bright spots” – use appreciate enquiry to look at what is working well and emulate the success
  • “Self-control is an exhaustible resource” – what looks like laziness is often exhaustion
  • “TBU – True but useless” – when analysis doesn’t help you find the way forward
  • “Knowledge does not change behaviour” – the need to motivate people to change
  • “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem” – interesting ideas around analysing and altering environments to help people make the change. The authors refer to fundamental attribution theory – our inclination to attribute people’s behaviour to the way that they are rather than the situation or environment that they are in.
  • “Script the critical moves” – provide crystal-clear instructions on what you want to happen as “clarity dissolves resistance”
  • “SMART goals presume the emotion, they don’t generate it”
  • “Appeal to identity” – show how respected peers behave. This means you need to make change a matter of identity rather than a matter of consequences.
  • “Develop action triggers” – small things that will trigger a new behaviour to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do
  • “Build habits” – repeat desired behaviours so that they become familiar and routine and deploy checklists to provide an insurance against overconfidence. Use the mere exposure effect which means that the more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it
  • “Rally the herd” – if there are resisters around, create space where the reformers can get together without them

I also took some things away for application in a variety of situations:

  • If you are promoting cross-selling – there is a great example where the simple rule was “in all presentations, you must cite your colleagues’ work at least twice”
  • If you are dieting – focus on smaller portions as people eat more when you give them a bigger container. Furthermore, leverage peer perception and associate with those who are slimmer than you. And if you are trying to increase the amount of exercise you do, focus on how much exercise you are already doing – “It is more motivating to be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting fate of a shorter one”
  • If, as a parent, you are trying to improve your child’s behaviour – offer no resistance but simply describe their child’s behaviour so that they feel noticed. Provide a “destination postcard” – a compelling vision of the goal that will be achieved. And rather than indicating a failure on something, suggest that progress is simply “not yet” there. And that old favourite “catch them doing something good” (Kazdin).
  • If you are facing an unpleasant task – Starting is always harder than continuing. Illustrated beautifully with the “Five minute room rescue” to initiate housework. “A small win reduces importance, reduces demands and raises perceived skills levels”
  • If you are facing huge debts – Create a debt snowball by listing all debts in order of size and paying off the smallest first to maintain your motivation (“small wins”)
  • If you are coaching (or counselling) – ask “imagine a miracle takes place overnight to solve your problem, what’s the first small sign you see that things have changed when you wake?” (source: solutions-focused therapists Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg) and the use of “the exception question”. There was also some interesting insights into our problem focus in that “bad is stronger than good” – or positive-negative asymmetry.
  • If you are developing people – “the positive illusion” means that we over-estimate our abilities so you need to find ways that aren’t too negative to help reassess the situation. Furthermore, people who have a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are basically static and will feel threatened by negative feedback. Growth mindset people compliment people on their effort rather than their natural skill.
  • If you are designing workspaces – Drawing on the idea of “a cone of silence”, build quiet hours into the routine so that interruptions are minimised at those times
  • If you are managing a project – The IDEO “project mood chart” shows people will feel positive at the start (hope) and the end (confidence) of the project, so you should expect things to look like a failure in the middle. Reframe failing as learning.
  • If you are leading a business – achieve focus and change by providing just three or four simple rules that govern all decisions and behaviours

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