Friday, March 26, 2010

Because They Don’t Understand...?

This post's title is part of a quote from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard that we introduced in our March 7, 2010 post. The full quote is:

“It can sometimes be distinguish why people don’t support your change. Is it because they don’t understand or because they’re not enthused?....The answer isn’t always obvious, even to experts.” [p. 107]

So it appears that when people don’t comply with prescribed standards or regimens, the problem may not be knowledge or understanding, it may be something tied to emotion. Bringing about change in something as deeply embedded as culture is not simply a matter of clicking on the new, desired program. The authors provide a number of interesting examples of situations resistant to change and how they have been overcome through using emotion to galvanize action. There are teenagers with cancer who play video games that help them visualize beating the cancer. The accounting manager who changes his priorities after visiting his not-for-profit vendor organizations and experiencing for himself their limited resources and the dire consequences of late reimbursements.

The most common situation for generating emotion sufficient to support change is a crisis, often an organizational crisis that is existential. But crisis is associated with “negative emotions” that may yield specific but not necessarily long lasting actions. Positive emotions on the other hand can lead to being more open to new thoughts and values and a mindset that wants to adopt what is essentially a new identity. One of the more effective ways to generate the needed positive emotion is through experiencing (e.g., using a video game, or immersion in the environment of a stakeholder) the conditions associated with the needed changes.

In nuclear safety management, how often after events that are deemed to be indicative of safety culture weakness, are personnel provided with additional training on expectations and elements of safety culture. Does this appear to be a knowledge-based approach? If so is the problem that staff don’t understand what is expected? Or is positive emotion the missing ingredient - the addition of which might help personnel want to identify with and inhabit the cultural values?

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