Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
By Chip Heath and Dan Heath; Broadway Books; 305 pages
Whether you're a manager, a parent or a civic leader, getting people to change can be tricky business. In Switch, brothers Chip and Dan Heath--authors of the best-selling Made to Stick--survey efforts to shape human behavior in search of what works.
Lesson No. 1: tell people what you want them to do in a way that will make intuitive sense to them. The U.S. government's Food Guide Pyramid says adults should eat 5 to 7 tsp. of oil a day. Know how many teaspoonfuls of oil you ate yesterday or why you should care?
The Heaths find a better example of a public-health campaign in West Virginia. The message used there: drink 1% milk because a glass of whole milk has as much fat as five strips of bacon. That's specific, vivid and easy to remember when you're in the grocery aisle.
Next, engage with emotions, not just brains. Consider the ironfisted accountant at the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services who wreaked havoc on nonprofit partners by withholding funds unless forms were filed perfectly. When his boss forced him to visit some of the group homes the department funded, he saw the specific kids being helped--not to mention the pandemonium that often ruled--and started figuring out ways to work with the nonprofits instead of antagonizing them.
Or, in an example that may hit closer to home, think about how you would go about paying off a series of credit cards. Mathematically, it makes the most sense to start with the bill with the highest interest rate. Yet the Heaths argue that beginning with the one with the smallest rate is the better approach. Why? You're more likely to successfully pay it off, feel good about yourself and keep going with plan.
Finally, remember that environment helps lead people to act the way they do. When a hospital administrator in San Francisco wanted to reduce the number of mistakes nurses make in administering medication, she realized the main culprit wasn't carelessness but constant interruption. The solution: a bright-orange medication vest that told everyone, including doctors, to leave nurses alone so they could focus. At first, nurses hated the tacky vest--until medication errors dropped 47%.
Even when change isn't easy, it's often worth making.