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Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

By Chip & Dean Heath

Publisher Random House Business Books
ISBN 9781847940315

Switch is an academically rigorous but still readable book that encourages leaders of change to think differently about the people affected by their programmes and projects. It encourages readers to think deeply and offers many practical examples and interesting case studies.

Authors Chip and Dan Heath, though they are both academics, do understand the business world and the realities managers face; this is not a theoretical book. They don’t give pat answers but the do give a framework that mangers can use to work out solutions for their own situations.

At the heart of the book is their belief that we need to appeal to peoples’ rational and emotional sides for change to happen. They describe individuals – and companies - as being like an elephant and its rider.

The elephant is our emotional side. It is compassionate, sympathetic, loyal, courageous, energetic – but also lazy, skittish and looking for instant gratification. The rider is our rational side where we think long-term, plan and make short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs – but can overanalyse and not take action.

In change the rider provides planning and direction, while the elephant provides energy and drive. If we want change to happen we need to appeal to both. The way to do this, they say, is to change three things at once – peoples’ minds, their hearts and their situations.

Practical advice

The remainder of the book walks through a three-part framework for changing behaviour that is practical rather than theoretical and clearly explained so managers and change professionals can easily apply it in their roles.

In the first section – Direct the Rider – the Heaths say that what looks like resistance is often lack of clarity. The solutions are to find people who are already doing well and use them as role models; script small, easy to understand and easy to do moves that get people started; and point to a clear destination for people to aim towards.

The second section – Motivate the Elephant - says that what looks like laziness is other exhaustion. We can overcome this when we instil hope, optimism and excitement in people; shrink the change so the journey feels shorter; and give people confidence that they can reach the destination.

The third section – Shape the Path – says that what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Solutions are to tweak the environment so behaviours you want to change are more difficult or impossible; encourage contagious habits that are easy to embrace and become automatic; create opportunities that allow change agents to find each other and talk about how they can make change happen.

The last section of the book has advice on the 12 common problems people face as they introduce changes, as well as online resources including a series of podcasts.

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