Dig deep to understand, overcome barriers to change

July 8, 2011 By    

As we near the 100th anniversary of the first propane installation, resiliency is a word that comes to mind to describe our industry’s history.

Recently at Propane Days I was reminded about that again by the large number of second-, third- and even fourth-generation propane businesses that are thriving across the country. It is a remarkable achievement.

Yet it struck me that with longevity and resilience can come some negatives – like repeating old, worn-out habits. Put another way, many of us and our organizations are resistant to change. In fact, because change comes slowly in this industry, we often don’t notice it, and therefore the need for us to change is perhaps not as obvious.

For those who truly want to make a permanent change in your propane company, here is just the book for you: “Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard.” Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote it specifically to help us understand the barriers to change and how to overcome them.

Psychologists know that our brains are governed – and conflicted – by a logical side and an emotional side. The authors have keyed on this basic human fundamental to dig deeper into why most change is hard for us.

In all of us exists the “Rider” and the “Elephant,” created by the authors to demonstrate how our emotional and logical sides differ. The Rider sits on the Elephant and uses reason, logic and intelligence in directing the Elephant where to go. The Elephant is then the determination, drive or emotion in us that sees us through obstacles to an end. Seldom does this harmonious partnership work smoothly. Both the Rider and the Elephant have issues.

Barriers to change
The Rider in all of us tends to overanalyze and often creates too many choices. Riders often are not clear on instructions or directions. Riders can easily be ambiguous, which is the enemy of choice. The Elephant is the emotional side. Despite all logic and reason, an Elephant who is motivated may take the Rider places where the Rider has no intentions of going.

Riders expect change to come through logic and understanding. When change does not occur, Riders attempt a fix with more logic and information. This is easily refuted by examples of what we know about alcoholics, smokers and those who overeat. Their lack of change is not based on the need for more information or logic. They have all of the information they need to make a good decision and change, yet they continue their ways. What they need is motivation.

Elephants can change the world. All passion, determination and motivation describe the elephant in us. We accomplish remarkable things because our Elephant drives us to compete, to complete, to accomplish. Elephants make sure we arrive wherever we want to go.

We fail at change because we expect a process of analyze – think – change. But little happens because the Elephant in us (or our organizations) is not motivated. The authors point out that true change occurs with a process of analyze – feel – change.

For those of us who don’t care for the touchy-feely side of things, this will be hard to accept, but true change occurs when those in the organization feel, sense and get excited emotionally about the new direction.

The cure – “shape the path”
In shaping the path, the authors create three action plans for organizations:

■ Tweak the environment. Example: Install a clock where one did not exist to cure tardiness.
■ Build new habits. Example: Establish a policy where every customer service representative will be measured and rewarded by every dissatisfied customer saved.
■ Rally the herd (to gain broad emotional support). Example: NPGA’s Scholarship Foundation has been widely successful because it appeals to the broad membership’s desire to support secondary education.

The authors point out that true change occurs when the Rider has direction, the Elephant has been motivated and the path has been shaped. I hope you enjoy the book.

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