So often change efforts fail due to moving too quickly, not getting adequate sponsor support, not consistently communicating what needs to happen and other factors. In fact, nearly 70% of change management initiatives fail for these and other reasons. And yet, change is necessary, and we should adopt a catalyst mentality in order to be effective change agents.
Change, as the saying goes, is the only constant in life. Yet most of us are reluctant to change and this often prevents us from making progress. Understanding this about ourselves can help us better understand those we want to adopt our particular change.
Successfully changing someone’s mind is not simply about being more persuasive or providing them with more information. Rather than pushing harder, successful change agents are able to pull in by removing roadblocks and reducing barriers.
In Jonah Berger’s new book, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, the author presents practical guidance based on scientific research for how to change minds. He provides many examples and anecdotes to explain what he sees as five key barriers that inhibit change. Collectively, he calls these barriers: REDUCE.
- Reactance – People typically push back when feeling pushed to change. Rather than tell people what to do, the catalyst allows for agency and encourages people to convince themselves. To do this, encourage them to chart their path towards your destination.
- Endowment – We are attached to the status quo. To ease this endowment, the catalyst surfaces the costs of inaction and helps people realize doing nothing isn’t costless. Try to surface the hidden costs of not changing to make them see this is not a viable option.
- Distance – When removed from their daily lives, people tend to disregard the need for change. The catalyst needs to shrink this distance by asking for less and switching the field. This means avoiding confirmation bias by staying out of the rejection area. Ask for something a bit less that could be a pivotable start before asking for more.
- Uncertainty – The doubt people feel presents allowing for change. Alleviate uncertainty by making it easier to try. Examples such as free shipping or the freemium model are examples that made it easier for people to buy products in the early days of e-commerce.
- Corroborating Evidence – Often people just need more data from trusted sources. The catalyst can find this corroborating evidence with multiple sources to quickly overcome people’s reluctance due to a lack of information.
As Berger wrote, behavioral scientist Kurt Lewin once stated, “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.” Berger says the reverse is also true in that to truly change something, you need to understand it. And perhaps this summarizes how to change something best of all. No two situations are the same. In each area you are looking to change, you need to thoroughly understand not only the thing itself but also the potential roadblocks and resistance likely faced before you’ll be able to change it.
It could be that up until now, we’ve spent far too much time on the former and not enough on the latter. Investing the time and energy to truly understand the recipient of the change and their potential barriers will enable you to be much more successful in getting your change accepted. And that’s good for all of us.