Archive | November 2012

How to change things when change is hard: A book Review

Written by Andrew Leunig – Andrew Leunig & Associates Pty Ltd

Why is it that it is sometimes so hard to achieve Change in ourselves, in other people or across organisations or indeed societies?

This is the challenge that Chip and Dan Heath attack in their great book : Switch : How to change things when change is hard.

Like their earlier book “Made to Stick” the story of how some stories resonate and are much more memorable than others, the brothers Heath have synthesised the latest material and learnings from others. In Switch they draw heavily on a number of other great books- including recent books on happiness, the psychology of our eating habits and achieving change in emerging societies. This is practical stuff rather than academic theory. They have cleverly synthesised some complicated work and put it into an easily understandable framework. The work initially revealed some surprises about change.  They discovered that the barriers to change are often completely different to what we may have originally concluded.

You are no doubt familiar with the concept of left brain versus right brain. Our “right brain”is the more free-wheeling creative side. Our “left brain” is the more logical, structured half. We all know that human behaviour often involves stuff that doesn’t pass the logic test. Behaviour that we know is not what we logically should be doing. For many people  – at least some of their eating behaviours would fall into this category.

The Heath Brothers have endorsed an analogy developed by  Jonathan Haidt in his great book   The Happiness Hypothesis. Rather than simple left or right thinking, the superior analogy describes our human operating system as more like a rider atop an elephant. The rider represents our logical self. The elephant represents our emotional, instinctive self. For a time the  rider can steer the elephant in the direction that the rider wants to go, but this requires much concentration and is a challenging, draining exercise. Eventually the rider tires or sometimes in any case (often for no obvious reason) the elephant has other ideas and despite the best efforts of the rider the elephant will head off the path. For me, this is what I call a killer analogy – it immediately makes sense and provides a much more powerful insight into the complexities of human behaviour.

So – to achieve change – we need the rider and the elephant to operate in sync. We need the rational judgment of the rider but we also need to harness the enormous power of the elephant. When both are in sync very significant change is possible. A disconnection and we are not going to get the right outcomes.

This plus other powerful insights lead the Heath Brothers to prescribe their change model, comprising three key elements, each with three subsets. To achieve change you need to:

  • Direct the Rider
  • Motivate the Elephant
  • Shape the Path

For each of these elements the Brothers Heath present a wide range of illustrative stories (made to stick!) and shape up the problem.

Since reading the book I have often gone back to their nine point checklist to see what I was missing. Inevitably this provided new insights into what was blocking change. AND often it is simple stuff , a simple mis-step that is the problem.

For example one of the sub-elements of “Shape the Path” is “Tweak the Environment”.  The book outlines the story of a manager who (in a 360 degree review) is rated very poorly by her direct reports in regards to empathy and understanding. So how might this be fixed – some executive training or maybe an expensive executive coach? Further investigation revealed that this impression arose because she often communicated with her people by talking to them in her office from behind her desk, with one eye on her computer emails. The solution ? A simple re-arrangement of her office furniture to include a small round table where she sat down and gave her people her undivided attention without her computer as a distraction / barrier.

I find this a very powerful insight – I reckon that there are many scenarios where we seek complicated “rider” solutions when we would be better off re-arranging the furniture to make it easy. Tweak the environment and make it obvious to the elephant which way to go.

If we can get the preferred behaviour to become  a habit – then we will succeed because when behaviour is habitual the elephant just does it with no draining concentration from the rider required.

Even though I had already read many of the books referenced in Switch I found that the way the brothers Heath packaged  the stories within their change framework to be powerful, yet easy to understand.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants achieve change in themselves or in organisations.


Leadership in an Age of Fast-Paced Change

Written by Jerry Comer – Comer & Associates, LLC

If you search using the term “leadership”, Amazon will return 95,695 results. People have been writing about leadership since ancient times:

  • Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm…Publilius Syrus, 1st century BC
  • Know thyself…Plato, 4th century BC
  • Treating people with respect will gain one wide acceptance and improve the business…Tao Zhu Gong, 5th century BC

If we try, we could probably find writings on leadership in the original Sumerian writing system from 2,600 B.C.!

Good leaders do some very important things. They:

  • Manage and inspire the human side of their enterprise – developing a vision, sharing and living values and building a great team.
  • Find ways to get growth and ever better performance out of the business they run today.
  • Have a shrewd vision of what tomorrow’s business will be, and steer their company into a position to prosper in the future.

Leadership styles have evolved with time and society. In the “Mad Men” days, the dominant leadership style was “transactional”. The leader influenced the team through an equitable exchange or transaction based on self-interests of both, i.e. “You do this work and you’ll get this pay.” (This was also known, at times as “my way or the highway” leadership.) “Charismatic” leadership occurs when followers attribute heroic or extraordinary leadership abilities to their leaders.

Although this could mean “cult” (Richard Manson), it could also show up in such corporate stalwarts as Apple with Steve Jobs or the Virgin Group with Richard Branson.

Recently, much has been written about “transformational” leaders, who are known for:

  • Creating trust among all team members.
  • Creating alignment within the team.
  • Having an orientation toward success.
  • Displaying genuine interest in followers and consideration for all individuals inside and outside of the team.
  • Respecting and supporting all team members.

Teams that embrace transformational principles are typically high-performing, goal-oriented groups that operate beyond self-interest and with high moral and ethical values, shared by all.

According to a study by publisher McGraw-Hill, leadership trends in 2012 include:

  • Leaders don’t have to be perfect but they do need to be honest and authentic.
  • Leaders will use their expertise to deliver bottom line profits AND commit to tackling social problems.
  • Leaders will drive more conversation about LEAN principles and continuous improvement.

Looking even further out, a compilation of key leadership competencies for 2020 include:

  • Collaborative orientation
  • Developer of people
  • Learning agility
  • Digitally proficient
  • Global mindset including cultural agility
  • Conscious capitalist/green focus
  • Future focus
  • Adaptability/change orientation
  • Innovative/creative champion
  • 360 communicator
  • Able to thrive on complexity and chaos

There is nothing natural in organizations of human beings except chaos. It takes strong leadership (and skillful management) to create followers, individuals who decide to align with the leader and the team for the good of the whole and the mission.

3 Key Ideas to Help Business Leaders Succeed in 2013

1. Understand what your customers REALLY want in 2013

When planning for how you will evolve your products and services in 2013 start by sitting down with your best customers and asking them these two questions:

  • “What are the key challenges (good and bad) you will face in 2013?”
  • “If you had a magic wand and no limitatons, what could we do differently to improve our service to you in 2013?”

The key to discovering the REAL opportunities for your business is to hear their challenges / ideas and translate that into how you can help. What can you add to your service offering that can help them? Sounds simple and it is! Why not grab a lunch or coffee with your top 5 customers prior to years end and ask each of them the above questions, you have nothing to lose.

2. Boost your accountability levels
A critical element to strategy implementation is accountability. Great strategies are developed during a planning weekend (or day), and include one page plans for implementation. However when there is no accountability loop, even after all that great work, you tent to find after 1-2 months things have ground to a halt as day-to-day issues get in the way. Building in as a ‘habit’ a two week accountability loop with key team members for key strategies will ensure it happens as barriers can be discussed and addressed quickly. Making these accountability meetings short and sharp (maximum 30 minutes) every 2 weeks will ensure only strategic issues are discussed and addressed. If you operate by yourself find a coach or a peer you trust and use them for your accountability loop, you will notice the difference quickly.

3. Reduce the time it takes to blog
The other month we posted a great blog article by Paul Hassing from the feisty empire called: “How to blog with minimal effort using content you already have?”. The topic said it all! Paul’s blog article raised the issue of business people wasting a great deal of time searching for valuable ‘content’ to distribute to their target markets via their BLOG’s or on other forms social media. Paul made the fantastic suggestion that great material is essentialy right under the nose of most organizations in the form of the emails / communications they have with target market customers regarding new opportunities or issues.  These existing communications could be slightly re-written and instantly you have a blog article about a hot topic facing most customers. So next time you go searching for great material, search back over the emails you have written to your best customers and we are sure you will find some good examples.