If you see the need to do things differently to get better results, you might be a change agent. Whether you’re brought in specifically to shake things up or you’ve accidentally stumbled into the role, you can’t just wave a magic wand and make things change. You have to get others to transform the way they think. As a change agent, you need to make others want to change and give them the tools to accomplish it.
Change is hard because you have to address both the rational and emotional sides of people. In their book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” Chip and Dan Heath use the elephant and rider to describe this. The elephant is the emotional side of people, and the rider represents people’s rational side. The elephant tends to be lazy and skittish, looks for instant gratification and just wants to get things done. Meanwhile, the rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader; he knows what’s right, but tends to spin his wheels.
Change is about people
To make change successful, you need to appeal to both the elephant and the rider. If there is disagreement between them, the elephant is going to win – it’s way bigger and heavier than the rider. Even though the rider can see what to do and where it wants the elephant to go, he sometimes can’t get it to move.
When overwhelmed by choices, “analysis paralysis” – over-analyzing a situation or problem – can set in. When this happens, sometimes just starting to move instead of trying to figure out whether to move will get people unstuck.
So how do we get the elephant moving in the right direction? Usually, we analyze, then think, then change. This might work for small problems. But getting our organizations and colleagues to change how they approach their work isn’t a small problem. We’re talking big change, and big change requires an S-F-C approach: SEE-FEEL-CHANGE. Present evidence that makes people feel something – this speaks to the elephant and gets it going where the rider wants to go.
Effective change leadership
We often talk about change management, but as John Kotter points out and the Heaths demonstrate with the elephant and rider analogy, change isn’t something to be managed, it needs to be led. Management is making an existing system work. But when you change things, you break things. That requires leadership. And so talking about change means we’re talking about change leadership.
Something I have found effective to get the elephants and riders moving in sync is what I call strategic nagging: Patient but persistent repetition of a message. By constantly reminding others what you’re doing, why and what’s working, you keep everyone moving forward when they want to diverge from the path.
There are three things that make strategic nagging effective.
1. Vulnerability: Taking risks, opening yourself up to failure, letting yourself be seen. It is not easy, but necessary for effective leadership.
2. Communication: There is no such thing as over-communicating. Time and time again, under-communication is the reason things go off the rails. When people don’t know what is going on, they make things up.
3. Patience: Change is not easy. And it is not fast. This can be the hardest of all. Don’t allow others’ impatience to get to the next thing derail your efforts.
Figure out where to start. Ask hard questions. Work with business owners to create, measure and iterate solutions. Create a common goal. You have to do something so you don’t get caught in analysis-paralysis.