Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Switch : When change is hard. A change management book !


Another book about change management could certainly be your reaction when reading this review. The Heath brothers are well known for the bestseller "Made to stick". In "Made to stick" (this is a recommended reading ;-), the emphasis is psychological and human centric : this is a (vulgarized) psychological book that propose a model for human mind : rational mind and emotional mind. I think this is important to mention because "Switch" is compatible with this psychological model and both books work well together.

Change : if was easy, it would already be done !

Change is, by definition, hard. If it was not the case then ... it would already be done. As a consequence, the second part of the title is somehow redundant but that is certainly a good marketing coup ;-) The second part of the title has at least one virtue : it explains clearly what he book is about "How to change when change is hard". I've read in an unidentified source (don't remember!) that the greater the success, the harder the change. 
As a consequence, I really think that leaders have to embrace change and make sure that they can master any tool that will help organization to change. Change is another word for adaptation, evolution and the most important strategy for survival.
Change model presented in the book
As a scientist (at least by training/education), I think that a good bibliography and a thorough research of the state of the art is key to any publication. In this context, the book is well supported : more than 250 references, scientific articles, websites, etc. The model presented in the book is well supported by scientific evidence : this is not pure theory but solidly backed by science. Even for social science, I really prefer those books that build on top of the existing science (and, of course, simplify the complex problems in order to be useful for a large number of readers).

The rational mind is called "the rider". He ride a 3 ton creature called "the elephant" : this is your emotional mind. This strange creature is following a path. Change, in this model, is a way to use/create a different path in order to reach a different destination. This model is very useful by itself : it will help you in any change resistance situation. Most of the time, we tend to use our rational mind (the rider) and we want everybody to become 100%, pure reasoning creatures. While the rider can be convinced by science, the elephant is a creature of habit : it takes the rider a lot of energy (every step) to control the elephant. Each time the rider is loosening its grip then the elephant use the most effective path and he come back to its old trail.

How to change then ?
As a consequence, any change need to appease and motivate the three "components" of any human : 
  • the rider must be convinced by scientific evidence, reason. the destination must be clear in order for the rider to be an ally
  • the elephant is a creature of feeling. Knowing something is not enough for the elephant : he has to feel it. Also, large change is scary, boring and seems impossible. You have to break down the change in small chunk until it generate no fear for the elephant.
  • the path : you don't have to define the complete path (by the way, the complete path is simply impossible to define with precision in the early phases of a major change. You are lying to yourself and to all the parties involved if you think that you can plan the path for the next 5 years for all the people involved in the change you propose/manage). Path can be easy to follow if the environment is tweeked, when you can successfully build habits and when you help the good behaviors to spread (viral change).

Very useful tools I have learned in this book

One of the most interesting technique I have learned in this book is called "Follow the bright spots". In any project/change, we tend to focus on problems : either problematic systems or problematic deployments or problematic users. Same thing for a help/desk service center : we focus on missed SLA and unhappy customers. The consequence is that we spend lot of energy and resources about failure and non-successful items. 

In this book, the authors suggest (and this is backed by a very interesting real-life story) to concentrate on the bright spots : the people that embrace change, the system that fulfill/exceed the expectations/specifications.  At the beginning of the change project, nobody has any certitude that it will work and most of the leaders don't know what is happening in the field. During change management meetings, we tend to focus on failure and why change is not happening instead of focusing on our bright spots : when change is happening, what are the key factors ? How can we replicate those factors and help the one that are stuck in the old system ?

Environmental analysis is another key technique : an example could be the smokers addict that tried to quit. If they don't change their environment it is difficult/impossible for them to quit smoking. In practice, they saw their friends that still enjoy cigarette, they visit bars with smoke and temptation everywhere, etc. The success rate is greatly increased when the environment is tweaked to favor change.

The path has not to be defined precisely : the destination has to be very precised but only the next few steps have to be defined. The elephant will find a way once he will be on another track but it is not possible for the rider to control every step of the elephant... The next step has to be well defined, the next one define and the following ones ... not at all. This is very refreshing : during project meeting, we can concentrate on the next operation and this is very engaging and real instead of doing some kind of long term strategic planning that will, most of the time, be useless becaure very different from the reality...

Conclusion & Open Source

An excellent book, key to any (major) change. I have already apply some of the techniques described in this book with good success, especially the "follow the bright spots" one. It really completely changed the project dynamics and it was greatly appreciated by the team.

Open Source, in my workday, is all about change. Every organization is at least genuinely interested but ... change from proprietary to open-source is ... often perceived as very hard. Using appropriate change management technique can greatly reduce the perceived difficulty of any migration project.  Ultimately, Open Source companies should become familiar with change management books and expert in change management : this will allow a widespread diffusion of open source and lessen the perceived difficulty of change. By discovering and analyzing the bright spot (every organization that has successfully deployed Open Source) we will be able to address the Rider, the Elephant the Path elements of any human being.

1 comment:

  1. Syntax:
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