Notable passages from
Switch: how to change things when change is hard
by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Broadway, New York, 2010
What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.
What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. So it's critical that you engage the people's emotional side.
What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. To change someone's behavior, you've got to change that person's situation.
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Change begins at the level of individual decisions and behaviors, but that's a hard place to start because that's where the friction is. Inertia and decision paralysis will conspire to keep people doing things the old way. To spark movement in a new direction, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance. That's why scripting is important—you've got to think about the specific behavior that you'd want to see in a tough moment….
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In creating change … we're interested in goals that are closer at hand—the kinds of things that can be tackled by parents or middle managers or social activists. We want a goal that can be tackled in months or years, not decades.
We want what we might call a destination postcard—a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.
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Goals in most organizations … lack emotional resonance. Instead, SMART goals—goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely—have become the norm. A typical SMART goal might be "My marketing campaign will generate 4,500 qualified sales leads for the sales group by the end of Q3…."
The specificity of SMART goals is a great cure for the worst sins of goal setting—ambiguity and irrelevance ("We are going to delight our customers every day in every way!"). But SMART goals are better for steady-state situations than for change situations, because the assumptions underlying them are that the goals are worthwhile.…
In the 1980s, a major study of corporate change efforts found that financial goals inspired successful change less well than did more emotional goals, such as the goal to provide better service to customers or to make more useful products. According to researchers, "Effective visions expressed values that allow employees to identify with the organization…. One manager at a glass company suggested, 'it's hard to get excited about 15% return on equity.'"
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Kotter and Cohen observed that, in almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change in not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE. You're presented with evidence that makes you feel something. It might be a disturbing look at the problem, or a hopeful glimpse of the solution, or a sobering reflection of your current habits, but regardless, it's something that hits you at the emotional level.
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[Conservation organization] Rare's success in motivating people in fifty countries suggests that something universal is at work here. Confirmation of that comes from the research of James March, a professor of political science at Stanford University. March says that when people make choices, they tend to rely on one of two basic models of decision making: the consequences model or the identity model. The consequences model is familiar to students of economics. It assumes that when we have a decision to make, we weigh the costs and benefits of our options and make the choice that maximizes our satisfaction. It's a rational, analytical approach.…
In the identity model of decision making, we essentially ask ourselves three questions when we have a decision to make: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation? Notice what's missing: any calculation of costs and benefits. The identity model explains the way most people vote, which contradicts our notion of the "self-interested voter."
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In the business world, we implicitly reject the growth mindset. Businesspeople think in terms of two stages: You plan, and then you execute. There's no "learning stage" or "practice stage" in the middle. From the business perspective, practice looks like poor execution. Results are the thing: We don't care how ya do it, just get it done!
But to create and sustain change, you've got to act more like a coach and less like a scorekeeper. You've got to embrace a growth mindset and instill it in your team. Why is that so critical? Because, as Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter observes in studying large organizations, "Everything can look like a failure in the middle." …
If failure is a necessary part of change, then the way people understand failure is critical. The leaders at IDEO, the world's preeminent product design firm, have designed products and experiences ranging from the first Apple mouse to a new Red Cross blood donation procedure. They understand the need to prepare their employees—and, more important, their clients—for failure.
Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, says the every design process goes through "foggy periods." One of IDEO's designers even sketched out a "project mood chart" that predicts how people will feel at different phases of a project. It's a U-shaped curve with a peak of positive emotion, labeled "hope," at the beginning, and a second peak of positive emotion, labeled "confidence," at the end. In between the two peaks is a negative emotional value labeled "insight."
Browns says that design is "rarely a graceful leap from height to height." When a team embarks on a new project, team members are filled with hope and optimism. As they start to collect data and observe real people struggling with existing products, they find that new ideas spring forth effortlessly. Then comes the difficult task of integrating all those fresh ideas into a coherent new design. At this "insight" stage, it's easy to get depressed, because insight doesn't always strike immediately.
The project often feels like a failure in the middle. But if the team persists through this valley of angst and doubt, it eventually emerges with a growing sense of momentum. Team members begin to test out their new designs, and they realize the improvements they've made, and they keep tweaking the design to make it better. And they come to realize, we've cracked this problem. That's when the team reaches the peak of confidence.
Notice what team leaders at IDEO are doing with the peaks-and-valley visual: They are creating the expectation of failure. They are telling team members not to trust that initial flush of good feeling at the beginning of the project, because what comes next is hardship and toil and frustration. Yet, strangely enough, when they deliver this warning, it comes across as optimistic.
That's the paradox of the growth mindset. Although it seems to draw attention to failure, and in fact encourages us to seek out failure, it is unflaggingly optimistic. We will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down—but throughout, we'll get better, and we'll succeed in the end.
The growth mindset, then, is a buffer against defeatism. It reframes failure as a natural part of the change process. And that's critical, because people will persevere only if the perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing.
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Perhaps [principal of Louisville, Georgia's Jefferson County High School, Molly Howard's] most distinctive change … was to the grading system. Under her new system the only grades offered at Jefferson County High School were: A, B, C, and NY.
In the new system, the students couldn't stop until they'd cleared the bar. "We define up front to the kids what's an A, B, and C," said Howard. " If they do substandard work, the teacher will say, 'Not Yet.' … That gives them the mindset: My teacher thinks I can do better. It changes their expectation.
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In trying to minimize the risk of bad outcomes, injury-prevention experts often turn to the Haddon Matrix, a simple framework that provides a way to think systematically about accidents by highlighting three key periods of time: pre-event, event, and post-event.
Let's say our goal is to reduce serious injuries from car wrecks. Pre-event interventions would include anything that would tend to prevent wrecks from happening: installing bright lighting on highways, painting clear lane markers on the roads, popularizing antilock brakes, launching advertising campaigns against drunk driving.
With event interventions, we accept that crashes will happen and ask ourselves how we can reduce the chances of injury. Seat belts and air bags are classic event interventions, but also think about breakaway light poles and those big orange barrels that line exit ramps (which are intended to soften collisions).
With post-event interventions, we acknowledge both that crashes will occur and people will be injured. The goal of post-event interventions is to minimize the severity of the injuries and optimize the health outcomes. A speedy, effective emergency medical team will be important.
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In 1999, some bad behavior was abruptly made impossible at a company called Rackspace. At one particular moment, company employees stopped doing one thing and started doing another thing, and that behavior shift became the most important inflection point in the company's history. But before we get to that moment, a bit of backstory is necessary.
Rackspace is a company that hosts internet sites for other companies. It prides itself on customer service, as suggested by its slogan, "Fanatical Support." The firm's focus on customer service has paid off. Over the years, Rackspace has won an armload of trade awards for its service, and its "Net Promoter" score—a commonly used benchmark of customer word-of-mouth—has consistently been the envy of the industry.
But Rackspace wasn't always so customer-friendly. In 1999, Rackspace didn't think much about customer service. Company founder Graham Weston said that in the early days, Rackspace had a "denial of service" business model. Customer-service interactions were viewed as costs to be minimized—the more roadblocks that could be erected to keep the phone from ringing, the better the profits would be. (Notice the uncomfortable echoes of the Haddon Matrix: If you view customer calls as bad behavior to be prevented, you will do all you can to deter them. Recall that for many years, Amazon.com's policy was not to publish a customer-service phone number.)
Then in the fall of 1999, Rackspace received The Call. It started normally enough. A customer tried to call for support. He pressed 5 to get help, but instead he got voice mail, which in effect said, "Feel free to leave a voice mail here, but we don't check it very often, so you're better off sending us an e-mail." The customer grudgingly sent an e-mail message to the suggested address. And the team at Rackspace never answered it.
After a few more of these irritating cycles, the customer was furious, and with a bit of legwork he managed to track down Graham Weston at the office of a real estate business he owned. Surprised, Weston asked the customer to forward the e-mails he'd sent and promised to look into the matter.
Weston reviewed the long chain of e-mails, which had become increasingly angry as past inquiries were ignored. "Something hit me about what the customer was asking for," said Weston. "It was something that we could do very easily that he couldn't do. So the question in my mind was, why are we not serving the customer happily?"
Weston knew that his team couldn't sustain a business based on dodging its customers. "We made a 180-degree turn," he said.
Weston hired David Bryce to be the head of customer support. At his first meeting with the team, Bryce announced that Rackspace was going to transform itself from a company that dreaded customer support to a company that was passionate about support. He posted an aspirational banner on the wall: RACKSPACE GIVES FANATICAL SUPPORT. The phrase stuck immediately.
This was just talk, of course, but there was action to back it up. Weston started by overhauling the company's business model. Providing great service would cost more, and if Rackspace offered both premium service and cutting-edge technological expertise, it would be forced to set its prices so high that no one would buy. So, remarkably, Weston began pushing for the company to become technologically dull: "We don't want to be on the bleeding edge of technology. We believe in standardization. We want a narrow focus—these are the things we do, and these are things we don't do. If you're E*Trade or Amazon, you should host your own site, we can't help," he said.…
Perhaps the most dramatic change made by Weston and Bryce was also the simplest. Rackspace, like all hosting companies, had a call-queuing system. ("Your call is important to us. Please press 1 for recorded tips that don't address your problem. Press 5 to leave us a message we won't return. Press 8 to repeat these options.") The call queue is perhaps the most basic tool of customer support.
Weston threw it out.
"When a customer calls, that means they need our help, and we've got to answer the telephone," he said. Without the queuing system, there was no safety net. The phone would keep ringing until somebody picked it up. To Weston, this was a critical symbol of the service ethic. "When a customer has a problem, we shouldn't deal with it when it's convenient for us. We should deal with it when it's convenient for the customer." When Weston threw out the queuing system, it became impossible to dodge the customer. By 2007, the company was talking to an average customer three times per week.
Subsequently, the company launched the "Straightjacket Awards," including actual Rackspace-branded straightjackets as trophies, which were presented to employees who'd been so fanatical about service that they'd become downright insane.… Not coincidentally, in 2008, Rackspace was one of the companies in Fortune's list of Best Places to Work.
The focus on service paid off. In 2001, Rackspace was the first internet hosting firm to turn a profit, and over the next six years, it averaged 58 percent annual growth. By 2008, Rackspace had passed AT&T as the highest-grossing firm in the industry.
Here's Rackspace's homepage. The main thing on their homepage is a highlight about their fanatical support. The first thing that happens when you visit is that a box drops down to center screen inviting you to a live chat and presenting you with a toll-free phone number to call.
Here's what the have at the top of the right-hand column of every other page:
Rackspace has nine data centers (in the US, UK, and Hong Kong), 70,000 customers, including over 51,000 cloud computing customers, and 2,600 employees ("Rackers") serving their customers around the world.
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