See, Feel, Change

Often one of the challenges when trying to support people to change their behaviour is finding a way to convince them a behaviour even needs to changed in the first place.

It’s the first step in any change process – awareness that a change needs to occur. However, the way you create that awareness can make a difference in your chances of changing that behaviour.

Change guru John Kotter, argues in his classic book Heart of Change that we often try and present rational, logical reasons for why change needs to occur. It just doesn’t work very well.

He calls this approach Analyze, Think, Change.

We spend time understanding a problem, thinking about it and its impacts, reflecting on what needs to change, and weighing up options. Through this process we rationally define the reason for change, and then we change.

Kotter describes this as “all head, no heart” and shows that it rarely motivates people to recognise the importance of a given problem. It’s too easily forgotten or ignored if it doesn’t get people to have an emotional response for why change needs to happen.

Instead Kotter argues the process should be See, Feel, Change.

You need to highlight the problem in a way that makes the problem feel real. You need people to feel the need for change by being hit with the reality of their situation, and you can do that through a number of ways.

A great example of this is the story about ‘Gloves on the Boardroom Table’ told by Kotter in Heart of Change:

We had a problem with our whole purchasing process. I was convinced that a great deal of money was being wasted and would continue to be wasted into the future, and that we didn’t even know how much money was being thrown away. I thought we had and opportunity to drive down purchasing costs not by 2 percent but by something in the order of $1 billion over the next five years. A change this big meant a big shift in the process. This would not be possible, however, unless many people, especially in top management, saw the opportunity, which for the most part they did not. So nothing was happening.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the problem, I asked one of our summer students to do a small study of how much we pay for the different kinds of gloves used in our factories and how many different gloves we buy. I chose one item to keep it simple, something all the plants use and something we can all easily relate to.

When the student completed the project, she reported that our factories were purchasing 424 different kinds of gloves! Four hundred and twenty-four.

Every factory had their own supplier and their own negotiated price. The same glove could cost $5 at one factory and $17 at another. Five dollars or even $17 may not seem like much money, but we buy a lot of gloves, and this was just one example of our purchasing problem. When I examined what she had found, even I couldn’t believe how bad it was.

The student was able to collect a sample of every one of the 424 gloves. She tagged each one with the price on it and the factory it was used in. Then she sorted the bags by division in the firm and type of glove.

We gathered them all up and put them in our boardroom one day. Then we invited all the division presidents to come visit the room. What they saw was a large, expensive table, normally clean or with a few papers, now stacked high with gloves.

Each of our executives stared at this display for a minute. Then each said something like, “We buy all these different kinds of gloves?” Well, as a matter of fact, yes we do. “Really?” Yes, really. Then they walked around the table. Most, I think, were looking for the gloves that their factories were using. They could see the prices. They looked at two gloves that seemed exactly alike, yet one was marked $3.22 and the other $10.55.

It’s a rare event when these people don’t have anything to say. But that day, they just stood with their mouths gaping.

People rarely consider changing until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed. You need to highlight the problem, and the people affected by it, in a way that makes the problem feel real.

By getting people to see and feel the change, people respond emotionally to the lesson, and their emotional reactions propel them into action.

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