Small tweaks can lead to big change

This post was submitted by Julie Peachey, a Summer Fellow at Leadership Beyond Boundaries.

Small tweaks can lead to big changeMajor organizational change can seem daunting and overwhelming. But when it comes to change, sometimes small tweaks can make a big difference.   This is a mantra that behavioral scientists believe and practice.  Grameen Foundation has been working with ideas42 to help solve dormancy challenges with newly opened savings accounts in the Philippines. We are piloting small changes intended to make it easier for the client to follow through on their desire to save.   The account opening form has been made simpler – easier to complete and with a requirement to select how the first deposit will be made.  Clients will also complete a savings plan with the help of the financial institution’s staff, putting the goal for their savings up front and center and writing down how much and how often they will save.  This small, but meaningful act of writing down a commitment can go a long way towards enabling the follow through.  They’ll also get a calendar to write down how much they save every day, which allows them to see tangible progress towards their goal. This is about changing behavior at the client level, but similar concepts can be used when approaching organizational change. 

In one change project I was involved in, decisions were sometimes made in an ad-hoc fashion which had led to unclear and overlapping value propositions amongst the organization’s products.  We wanted to try to change the practice around decision-making.  We proposed creating a ‘product committee’ that would meet monthly and be composed of representatives from key departments in the organization.  All decisions related to the new products would be discussed, made, and documented in this venue.  It was a simple, fairly obvious thing to do that was effective in bringing more discipline and a cross-functional perspective to decision making.  And it has helped to create a habit, which continues to reinforce the change.

 Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, ‘Switch’, emphasizes this idea that big changes start small.  I just read it and found a great summary of the book here.  One tactic recommended is to look for the ‘bright spots’ – basically find out what is working and build on that, rather than focus on what is not working, which is where human nature often takes us first.  

 That ‘bright spot’ principle explains something that worked well on one of my projects.  It had to do with the language used for action items coming out of a project meeting.  As the Project Manager and an outside consultant, I was getting frustrated that people weren’t as focused on their ‘follow up’ items as I wanted them to be.  During a semi-annual organizational planning meeting, I noticed that the senior leaders used the term ‘key agreements’ for follow up on actions agreed to during these meetings.  We started using that term for our project’s follow up items and people seemed to become much more cognizant of their responsibilities and due dates.  A small language tweak made a big difference.

[Julie Peachey is a cross-cultural team leader who has spent the past 3 years in the Philippines with Grameen Foundation helping a large microfinance institution develop appropriate savings products and education for the poor.  She will be writing weekly for the next 2 months and invites feedback and discussion on the topic of change management in mission-driven organizations.]

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