Switch. How to change things when change is hard. By Chip & Dan Heath.


Change is hard.  It is difficult.  Humans crave routine, structure and much of our daily actions are informed by habits that have been ingrained from months, if not years of repetition.  They are difficult to alter.

Yet, changing the way we operate is not impossible.  It does require effort but when necessary, and under certain conditions, we can rise to the challenge and alter our working procedures.  Switch is an excellent book about the power of change and how best to bring it about within an organisation.

The book focuses on the example of an elephant and its rider.  The rider, sitting atop of the elephant, has a say in the direction they want the elephant to travel in.  The elephant requires motivation to follow the rider’s direction.  If the elephant wants to, it could overrule the rider’s instruction and go wherever it wanted to.  The book looks at ways to motivate the elephant to travel in the rider’s intended direction.

Directing the rider

The rider sets the direction of an organisation.  They set the vision, the plan of action and point an organisation to the destination they believe is right for the company.  They communicate their ideas clearly, with passion and with a clear vision to help motivate colleagues to join them in advancing the company’s cause. 

Motivating the elephant

The elephant is the powerhouse of an organisation.  In this analogy, these are the people you require to change their ways.  Colleagues need motivating to follow you down the course you are hoping for.  Without motivation or direction, the elephant will continue to go down the path it was originally heading down.  By setting a clear, concise direction for your organisation which is clearly explained to colleagues, you can play a part in motivating the elephant. 

You can also “shrink the change” by creating smaller goals ‘en route’ to achieving the larger goals in the end.  People enjoy working towards a larger goal knowing they have already achieved some of the smaller goals on the way.

Shaping the path

The elephant can be motivated further by shaping the path you want the elephant to head down.  By smoothing the road you want to be followed, you make the decisions easier for people to make the decision you intended. 

Can you create new habits, or encourage the correct behaviours to make changing habits easier for people to achieve?  “Small tweaks can lead to dramatic changes.”

Rally the herd

Much of society is based upon social norms.  We are highly attuned to our environment and susceptible to copy others’ behaviours.  Within an organisation, you want to be able to cultivate the power of the herd and celebrate where the change is taking place, to create a new normal for individuals in their new environment and operating procedures. 

Practical implications:

  • Set a clear direction.  Make sure your employees and organisation are clear what the expectations are and exactly what you would like people to do.  Often, where change doesn’t happen exactly as you wished, it is a result of a lack of explicit clarity from the leader leading the change. 
  • “Point to the destination.”  Always focus on the goal and the mission in a positive light.  Motivate staff by communicating the end goal, the destination that we are all heading for.  The best organisations will ensure this is framed positively, as to further motivate individuals to follow them on the correct course. 
  • “Shrink the change.” Celebrate the successes you have already achieved in your organisation to foster increased motivation.  People like to know they have already achieved part of the longer journey rather than starting from scratch. 
  • “Rally the herd.”  Celebrate individuals, groups or occasions where you have seen the new change enacted positively within your organisation.  Ensure the new normal is celebrated where it is being done correctly and you will be surprised at how others will copy.  Build new group norms.
  • Keep going.  “Change isn’t an event, but a process.”  Change is difficult.  It is hard.  It involves changing habits which have been engrained for significant amounts of times.  Where the change becomes difficult, keep persevering. Be reflective in case there are easier ways to “shape the path” but continue to set clear directions, motivate the elephant and you will come through.


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