Management

'Shape a Path' for Change

Small tweaks to your environment can help you make big changes.

April 19, 2011
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People can make big changes by making some small tweaks to their environment, says Dan Heath, co-author of "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard."

Heath—who will address the America’s Credit Union Conference in San Antonio, June 19-22—shares his insights on change.

What do you mean by ‘shaping the path’ for change?

Small tweaks to the environment can have a big impact. Think about Amazon.com’s one-click-order button. It has “shaped the path” to an order, making it as easy as humanly possible.

Many of us are blind to how much our situations actually shape our behavior. Our surroundings have been carefully designed to make us act in a particular fashion.

Traffic engineers want us to drive in a predictable, safe way, so they paint lane markers and install stoplights and signs. Banks got tired of us leaving our ATM cards in the machine so we have to remove them before we can get cash.

We can also act as our own engineers, tweaking the environment so the right behaviors are easier. A friend lays out his jogging clothes before he goes to bed so it’s just a bit easier to get started the next day.

ACUC

One of the biggest issues facing society is the rising cost of health care. How would you change that?

The Centers for Disease Control have estimated that 75% of our health-care dollars are spent on chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes that respond well if patients change their diet, exercise, and stop smoking.

Of course it's easy to throw up our hands and say, “people will never change.” In fact, many physicians don't even suggest to smokers that they stop smoking, figuring that it won't do any good and they don't want to nag.

Yet our research has uncovered some remarkably simple principles that help people change their behavior even on these difficult changes:

  • How people are more likely to stay on a diet if they change their plate size and snack more;
  • How smokers are more likely to quit if you teach them they're likely to fail multiple times before they succeed; and
  • How people are more likely to lose substantial weight if you teach them that exercise doesn't mean spandex and treadmills, but that they’re already exercising every time they walk across a room or vacuum a floor.

Next: What's a 'destination postcard?'

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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