Sunday, February 28, 2010

Switch: When change is hard...

The subject matter is a book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard! I finished reading it this afternoon.

When one completes a book that tells you how to change or bring about change and it coincides with what is topmost on your mind, it does cause you to reflect a little more than usual. My reflection usually circles back to how people learn. And the same happened with Switch.

In their inimitable manner, Dan and Chip Heath have once again excelled in pinning down the abstract, in tackling that bugbear called Change that every manager and leader conceptualizes and envisions, but can seldom bring to pass. This is a book that should be on the shelf of every manager, leader, change management gurus, teachers, learners and anyone else who believes that change is the TRUTH, is inevitable for survival but often perceives the barriers as insurmountable.

I am a teacher. At least that is how I started my career; I am still a teacher marketing myself under fancier terms like “instructional designer” and “learning solutionist” and “performance consultant”.

Once I put down the book, I tried to map Switch to teaching strategies or, to use the terms more relevant to today’s corporate setting, Performance-Focused Training. Since the goal of any training program is to bring about a change in the behavior of learners, all the 3 parameters of change advocated by the two brothers can be applied in toto to a training program, and it would be a resounding success.

Using the metaphor of the Rider (mahout), the Elephant and the Path, Switch advocates 3 criteria for bringing about change. I have tried to map each of these 3 criteria to the designing of a performance-focused training program. The Rider stands for the anlytical mind, the Elephant is representative of our emotions and the Path is the environment one operates in.

1. Direct the Rider:  what looks like resistance is often lack of clarity. So provide crystal clear direction.
Make training laser focused; trim the flab. Identify the key areas/workflows a learner needs to know to be able to perform on the field. Tell the learner precisely what they will be able to “DO” after the training, and then go about showing them how.

2. Motivate the Elephant: what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side—get their Elephants on the path and cooperative.
Don’t make the training resemble a Switch (noun): a slender flexible whip, rod, or twig. Force never got anyone anywhere, at least not for a long time, and never when seeking to bring about change. Avoid cognitive overload, which means, don’t overplay on the learner’s analytical abilities. The “how” or delivery of a good training program should also appeal to a learner’s emotions—perhaps through the use of simulations, stories, games, case studies, videos, movie clips, podcasts, anything that can engage the heart as well as the mind. A complex table of data maybe what they need to understand, but converting that into meaningful and impactful knowledge is the training designer’s job.

3. Shape the Path: we call the situation (including the surrounding environment) the “Path”. When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and the Elephant.

Training designed and delivered right may motivate learners to change. However, without a supportive environment that encourages implementation and application of the new behavior, no amount of training can successfully bring about and sustain the desired change.

Realms can be written about designing engaging training and creating a performance-focused environment, but these are topics for other posts.



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