How to change things, when change is hard?

“People don’t resist change, they resist being changed”

switchIn the book “Switch, how to change things, when change is hard” from Chip & Dan Heath (in dutch “Switch, veranderen als verandering moeilijk is”), they have some interesting insights and practical advice on change management.

There’s an inspiring story in the book about Jerry Sternin, a guy that worked for an international aid organization ‘Save the Children’. In 1990 the government of Vietnam invited him to set up an office in Vietnam and help to conquer undernourishment. He got the message to make a difference in only six months. Sternin had read as many as possible about the problem of undernourishment. There were many interconnected issues like bad hygiene, poverty, no clean water available, the lack of knowledge about nutricion of the people liviing in villages. Sternin thought this knowledge was TBU (True but useless). “There are millions of children that can’t wait for those problems to be solved.”, he said. To end poverty, clean the water and construct new piping, it would never happen. And certainly not within six months, with almost no money to spend.

Sternin had a better idea. He traveled to the villages and met with groups of mothers. He told the mothers to go out and measure and weigh all children in the village. Then they looked at the results. He asked them; “Have you seen children that were poor like the rest, but were bigger and healthier than the rest?” The women replied “Yes”. So Sternins’ strategy was to look for bright spots in the community. If some children were healthy despite their poverty, undernourishment was not inevitable.

He said: “let’s not sit still and analyse undernourishment. Let’s find out what the mothers of these bright spots do?”

It turned out that the bright spot mothers used the same amount of rice than the other mothers, but they feeded their children 4 times a day from it and not the usual two times. Also they were more active in feeding there children, by hand if necesary. And a big difference was that the bright spot mothers mixed small shrimps and crabmeat, that they found in the ricefields with the rice. And also the leaves of a sweet potatoeplant, that the other villagers thought of as inferior food.

He then invited the bright spot mothers to teach their way of cooking to the other mothers in cookinggroups.

By finding the bright spots, the solution to the problem was a local one, that was much more accepted than a solution from outside.

Six months after Sternin came to this Vietnamese village, 65% of the children was better fed, and it stayed that way. The program reached 2.2 million Vietnamese children in 265 villages and made a huge difference.

————–

What I like about this story is that often organizations reach for external help (consultants, researchers, interim management) in dealing with their problems. But these external solutions often encounter resistance with the people. In this story, the solution comes from within. It is allready there. The only thing you have to do, is to find these bright spots and learn from them.

In creating a more positive company culture, I look for the uplifting people that energize the rest, and put them into the light. Often they come from surprising positions in the organization, like the secretary or a maintanance person. I tell them they are the (sometimes secret) positive change agents, that bring joy and playfulness to the workplace. By acknowledging them and allowing them to be their natural positive selves, they invoke positive change in the organization. A change that is needed to answer to today’s challenging world.

With playful greetings,
Annemarie Steen

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