Change is Difficult. Here’s a Proven Path to Change an Organization.

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

Making changes in an organization is never easy. It’s often fraught with politics, power struggles, and turf wars. It can be tempting to try to ram through changes without considering the implications or engaging people in the process. But if you want your changes to be successful, you need to take a more thoughtful approach. Here’s a proven path to change an organization.

Chip and Dan Heath wrote a book called Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard in 2010. They outline three overarching steps to change an organization. They use an elephant, its rider, and the path to illustrate their concept of implementing change. Under each main heading are a set of three actionable steps that helps accomplish one the three main goals.

Direct the Rider

The rider is the brains behind the operation. He steers the enormous beast that is the elephant. The rider must understand the nature of elephants to be an effective steersman. The elephant’s enormous stature make quick, hairpin, changes an impossibility.

  • Script the Critical Moves. Take most of the difficult thinking out of it. Make the critical moves as automated as possible. This movement builds momentum. And with enough critical mass around a movement, things start changing.
  • Point to the Destination. Tell everyone where you intend on taking the organization. Behaviors don’t stick when people cannot see the destination. Results must be tangible.

Motivate the Elephant

As mentioned, the elephant is slow to change directions. If the elephant could, it would continue doing what it does every single day. The status quo is comfortable. For the elephant, the status quo is the measure of happiness.

  • Shrink the Change. Change is overwhelming. This is one reason why it is so difficult. The end state seems so out of reach. People believe their current efforts can ever influence the goal. Make goals smaller and constantly measure them.
  • Grow Your People. Train your people. The change process begins with the elephant. Motivate the employees, change their mind-set around change, and get them to want to change. This has to come from within themselves. Employees must adopt a “growth mindset” if they are going to change for the better.

Shape the Path

After the rider and elephant become one single unit, we need to direct this toward a worthwhile destination. A subordinate and submissive elephant is useless if the rider lacks a worthy destination.

  • Build Habits. Habits, the status quo, do not stress individuals. Building the right habits with your people makes the organization efficient. And because the right habits help the organization without added stress on the people, leaders can apply the saved energy elsewhere.
  • Rally the Herd. Get everyone on board. Behavior is contagious. The change is not complete until there is a change in the organizational culture.

Changing a culture is never easy. This Rider-Elephant-Path framework can provide a foundation upon which leaders can build and change their organizations for the better.

In a fast paced world change is inevitable. Organizational change is very difficult, but change becomes easier when you have a roadmap that you stick to as your organization makes this change. That roadmap is detailed by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch: How to change When change is Hard.

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