Goals are for losers

In a study of organizational change, researchers divided the efforts into three groups based on out come: most successful (top third), the average (the middle third), and the least successful (the bottom third).

The chart below shows that the top third and the bottom third set goals with similar frequency.


A typical goal would be to increase revenue by 10%. Setting goals doesn’t distinguish successful change efforts from unsuccessful ones.

The next chart shows why goals as we traditionally think of them are for losers.


The successful change efforts that had goals that were based on behaviors. Another way of saying this, is a goal that focuses on behavior is better than an outcome based goal.

If your goal is to lose 10lbs, instead set a process based goal to go to the gym 3 times a week.

This info comes from Switch. I’ve written another blog post that outlines the framework. I’m doing a deeper dive and hope to have more to share soon.

Below is the passage I have referenced (p. 62-63)

In a pioneering study of organizational change, described in the book The Critical Path to Corporate Renewal, researchers divided the change efforts they’d studied into three groups: the most successful (the top third), the average (the middle third), and the least successful (the bottom third). They found that, across the spectrum, almost everyone set goals: 89% of the top third and 86% of the bottom third. A typical goal might be to improve inventory turns by 50%. But more successful change transformations were more likely to set behavioral goals: 89% of the top third vs only 33% of the bottom third. For instance, a behavioral goal might be that project teams would meet once a week and each team would include at least on representative of every functional area. Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you’re not ready to lead a switch. To create a movement, you’ve got to be specific and concrete.

Can’t Say No

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

The most important element of creating change is making the change easier for the person or groups that have to make the switch. You create a situation in which someone literally can’t say no.

When I thinking of “can’t say no,” I imagine a sleazy used car salesman. “I’ve got a deal you can’t turn down.” But of course you can turn it down. There are a thousand different places you can buy a used car from and you may have serious concerns about the reputation of the salesperson and what implies about the condition of the car.

What I love about the framework laid out in Switch is that we learn how to make changes easier and this more likely to take root. I’m so excited about this book I am teaching a lunch and learn at work – taking co-workers through the framework and then leading an exercise where we use the framework to create change in the participants lives. I’ll share as much of that as I can.

For today’s post, I wanted to simply provide the framework. Hopefully this get’s you interested in creating changes and learning more about Switch.

The metaphor used throughout the book is one of someone riding an elephant. The rider is the rational side of all of us. The elephant is the emotional side. The rider is calculating and prone to worry. The elephant is emotional and can overpower the rider.

  • Direct the rider by:
    • Finding bright spots (small wins or successes)
    • Scripting critical moves (give details regarding how the change happens – specific behaviors)
    • Point to the destination (why is it worth changing?)
  • Motivate the elephant by:
    • Find the feeling (help people connect emotionally with the change)
    • Shrink the change (make the change seem smaller)
    • Grow your people (give others a mindset of growth – changes are possible)
  • Shape the path by:

I hope you find this outline useful and enjoy the book as much as I have.

Wating for the Great Leap Forward

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

The past year has been a time unlike any other in my life. I’ve been working so hard to create change and deliver results. A year ago I would have expected my efforts to have paid off in spades by now. The humble coconut has helped me to rethink my expectations.

It would be difficult to visit a tropical isle without seeing a few coconut palm trees. The trees stand tall, rising to over thirty feet. The fruit of the tree is heavy, since a full sized coconut can weigh three pounds. Almost every part of the fruit could be used for something. The coconut palm will produce over thirty coconuts a year – almost 100 pounds of fruit. To summarize, the coconut palm produces a lot of fruit and the fruit is highly valuable. But here’s the catch – it takes time. Coconut palms don’t bear fruit immediately. It takes 7 years for a coconut palm tree to bear any fruit.

Imagine that you have planted a coconut tree outside of your beach house. It is growing taller and taller. You can see evidence that it will one day bear fruit, but at the present time you cannot see any coconuts. What would you do?

Naturally, you would continue to nurture the tree and watch it grow. This progression towards fruit is slow and steady. There is no great leap forward. Just daily progression towards fruit.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Suzanne Pellican in June of this past year. I was introduced to her by some of my friends at the d.school. Suzanne and her colleagues at Intuit created a group called Innovation Catalysts and have done some amazing things with innovation and design thinking. (My friend Roger Martin tells the story here in the Harvard Business Review.)

I sat down for coffee at Intuit’s headquarters in Mountain View and began to tell her about some of my experiences over the past year. I told her about my life changing experiences at the d.school and how we were starting to implement design thinking. I mentioned the small wins we were seeing with behavior and culture shifts. She smiled the entire time I talked. I was a newly planted tree and I desperately wanted to bear some fruit. And then Suzanne gives me a reality check.

“You are at the start of a seven year journey. When we started Innovation Catalyst we told everyone it would take us seven years before we would see a payoffs.”

“Seven years? Really? I want to change things right now and I want it to be easy and fun,” I thought to myself. I just smiled right back at Suzanne.

It turns out she was right. Change is hard and it takes time. But don’t mistake a lack of fruit for a lack of growth. I believe I have grown more this year than any other in my working career. I have written more, read more and grown my network more than the past ten years combined.

Just like the coconut palm, I am convinced that fruit is coming. Like Suzanne predicted, substantial changes will take time, but I am committed to continue to grow.

I believe the lesson from Suzanne’s journey was to be patient as those around you grow. Nurture the tree and value growth. It takes a lot of patience to see and taste the fruit.

The Walls Are Coming Down

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

Whether you know it or not, your environment has a substantial impact on your behavior. If you remove all of the chairs from a room, most people will stand. If you surround yourself with people who eat healthy and care about fitness, you’ll likely find yourself making better food choices. If you are in an open space with your coworkers, you’ll be more likely to collaborate.

Are you in a position where you are trying to impact behaviors – your kid’s, your spouse’s, your coworkers’? Are you thinking about how the environment effects behaviors?

In this passage from Switch, Chip Heath helps us to see the importance of the environment on change:

According to one study of people making changes in their lives, 36% of the successful changes were associated with a move to a new location, and only 13 percent of unsuccessful changes involved a move.

Many smokers, for example, find it easier to quit when they’re on vacation, because at home, every part of their environment is loaded with smoking associations. It’s like trying to quit smoking inside a Camel advertisement – everywhere you look are reminders of the habit. There’s that drawer in the kitchen where the lighters are stashed, the clay pot on the porch that’s become an archive of ashes, the ever-present scent of smoke in the car and the closet. When the smoker goes on vacation, the environment recedes towards neutrality. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to quit, but it’s easier.

My favorite line from this is “it’s like trying to quit smoking inside a Camel advertisement.” I laugh at this, but how often have I attempted to make changes without any consideration to the surroundings or environment? (Hint: often!)

Within the last twelve months, my team has been experimenting with space. Our first experiment involved moving from the sea of cubicles that divided our team into an open space. There wasn’t really anything special that had to be done, we just asked for the walls to be taken down.

Now we are onto working on Space v2.0. Standing desk, whiteboard surface, everyone within a few feet of each others. In other words, this is Susan Cain’s, worst nightmare.

11-10-2013 6-55-47 PM

We launched Space v2.0 a few weeks ago and have seen some great results. In addition to me dropping a few lbs, we are able to move around and collaborate more frequently.

The environment drives behaviors.

We keep secluded space when team members need to do what we call “head down” work. I’m looking forward to continuing the experiment. I can’t wait to see what we come up with for Space v3.0.

If you have a change you are going to drive, consider the environment and how it can help your change take root.

Lower the bar

Source: sportxcel.org

I am reading yet another fabulous book and I can’t help myself from sharing. Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, helps us understand how to create change when change is really hard.

Have you ever said to yourself, “why won’t he change?” or “why won’t they change?” Or have you attempted to create change with your team, with a group at work, in your marriage, or with you children and come away frustrated? If so, you should read Switch. (aside: this book has inspired me to teach a change seminar at work for my team and others that are interested. I will share the results with my readers)

Chip and Dan lay out a straightforward framework for creating change. It’s so easy, you could create a checklist or guide to outline what you want to change. (If one doesn’t already exist somewhere on the internet).

One item I want to share with you from the book is the idea of “lowering the bar.” We often approach change thinking that a radical shift is what will motivate people (including ourselves). In the business world, managers are fond of mentioning things like “burning platforms” and “burning the ships.” I’ll admit that I’ve used this tactic before to try and motivate people.

Take the burning platform – this comes from the story of an oil rig explosion that happened in the mid 80s. The rig caught fire and those who survived the explosion where forced to chose between staying on the rig and burning to death, or jumping to an almost certain death in the ocean (which was also on fire) 150ft below. The term “burning platform” is used often, but it’s not a great analogy.

First, why is our platform on fire? As the typical worker sits in her cube, telling her that the platform is on fire won’t go very far. She doesn’t smell smoke. This doesn’t motivate change.

Second, who wants to take a plunge into a fiery ocean? Can we provide a slightly better alternative to 150ft jump to an almost certain death? Again, you will not get people lining up to jump from your burning platform.

Now, I’m not saying that there are not real burning platforms out there. Blockbuster was a burning platform. Kodak was a burning platform. My point is simply, people don’t typically change just because they are forced to do something very hard. Change happens because we want to change and because it is easy.

I was struck by the idea of “lowering the bar.” I often think about making targets aspirational, but study after study shows that giving people a path to the change and showing them clearly where they are going is the way to drive change.

Think about losing twenty pounds. You would begin to think about all the exercise, the cookies you will give up, the salad that you’ll need to eat, etc. What if instead you thought, all I need to do is set out my workout clothes every night, so that I am ready to go in the morning? Or, all I need to do is coordinate with a friend to run tomorrow morning?

You, your team and your company is more like to make a small change. The next time you need to impact change, think about lowering the bar to get change moving.