A Mammoth Task of Change 

Change can be a huge task. Organisational Development expert Wong Eilene simplifies it with 3 tips.

Managing change, be it at work or in one’s life, often feels like a mammoth task. However, you are not alone; only one in three change efforts are successful according to a 2008 mcKinsey survey. So why is change so difficult to deal with? The answer lies with an Elephant and its rider.

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of “Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard”, observe that all change efforts require people to behave differently. Choosing a healthy salad over your usual nasi padang at lunch, adapting to the new IT system – any change, be it big or small, easy or difficult, requires us to behave in a new way. To do that, we have to work at one’s heart and mind. This is where the Elephant and its rider enter the picture.

Imagine a rider sitting on top of an Elephant. He looks like he’s in control of the Elephant’s movements as he holds the reins. But the rider, being relatively much smaller, is completely overpowered should the Elephant refuse to budge or disagree with the direction to go. And so it is the case with us.

Our brains have two independent systems at work all the time – the rational side represented by a rider and our emotions represented by an Elephant. While the rider can direct and plan to charge the way forward, the Elephant provides the energy and motivation to move. This means that when managing a change, you have to consider both the rational rider and the emotional Elephant in a person (or people). One without the other is not going to get you to your destination. But when both the rider and the Elephant move together, change can be a breeze.

“Our brains have two independent systems at work all the time – the rational side represented by a rider and our emotions represented by an Elephant… when both the rider and the Elephant move together, change can be a breeze.” – Adaption from Chip and Dan Heath

For a start, here are three tips to help us or others switch to a new behaviour when dealing with change:

1. Specify tangible behaviours

Most people would have set a New year’s resolution to exercise regularly. How many people have you known to achieve it? Did you? Well, we can rattle off the benefits of regular exercise to change our unhealthy lifestyle. But thinking “regular exercise” is too general to be useful for the rider in us. We need to think of specific behaviours. For example, run three times a week; or climb the stairs at the station when taking the train. so, be exact and clear.

2. Shrink the change

Sometimes change can feel rather daunting. The mere thought of it could put one off and have the Elephant hiding in a corner. So to make it more appealing and motivating, reduce the change to a more manageable scope. For example, instead of aiming for a full-on 90-minute gym workout, tell yourself to simply run for the duration of your favourite song or just keep moving for 15 minutes. (Perhaps at the end of it, you might find it easier to continue for a little while more since you’re already warmed up!) make it easy and start small.

3. Build habits

When a behaviour becomes a habit, it releases your brain from thinking and frees you of the mental load. This implies the need to encourage and develop (new) habits in times of change. To make a change last, develop triggers and prompts for ‘automatic’ action. For example, if you plan to run on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, you can sleep in your running attire the night before. so for those mornings, you are more likely to get up for your run since you’re already changed. Think of ways to build and reinforce habits for change.

For a higher chance of success in your next change effort, think of the rider sitting on the Elephant and consider how to appeal to both!

Article by Wong Eileen. Eileen has pioneered an overseas entrepreneurial business and has worked in private and public sectors. She enjoys being curious and running, besides her current work in the practice of Organisation Development.

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