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July 04, 2019 Thursday 04:01:22 PM IST

Researchers Identify Personality Traits Susceptible to Persuasion

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Successful change is one of major problems that contemporary organizations face. In our ever-changing world, the strategic imperative to change is often obvious. Without doing things differently, organizations are unlikely to succeed, or last. But change management research has established time after time that organizational change attempts fail more often than they succeed, despite the resources put into building change management processes. In Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard,  Dan and Chip Heath show us a three-part framework that can help us to attainpreferred change - at individual, organizational and societal levels - with substantial results.

Switch recognizes the critical factors in effecting long-term changes for both individuals and firms. Dan and Chip Heath draw on existing research and lively narratives to demonstrate that individuals will embrace substantial changes given the right conditions; namely, when all three constituents of change - the rational component (the Rider), the emotional component (the Elephant), and the situational component (the Path) - are aligned. The Heath brothers concentrate on how to advance each of these three elements with simple strategies and ample real-life recommendations. The Switch framework helps create change in three ways.

Direct the Rider

The rational side of the brain is the one that reflects, analyses and looks into the future. To direct the Rider, leaders have to find the bright spots in a situation and script critical moves as to how to achieve the goal. In 1990, Jerry Sternin, a representativeof the international organisation Save the Children, was asked to address the malnourishment epidemic in Vietnam. Traditional wisdom argued that malnutrition was a result of the natives’ ignorance to the significance of nutrition, poverty, poor hygiene and polluted water, but instead of concentrating on the cause, Sternin had a better idea: to identify bright spots - children who are well nourished, in spite of the circumstances.  Sterninidentified three differences between the healthy children and the sick children. They were as follows: First, the healthykids ate four, small-sized meals every day with their families. Second, the well-nourishedchildren were actively fed by their parents. Third, the mothers of healthy kids had includedfood items such as shrimps, crabs and sweet potatoes greens to the meals. This was a rich source of protein and vitamins. With these conclusions, Sternincreated a community-based programme where 50 malnourished families, in groups of 10, would meet at a house, every day, and prepare food. Six months after Sternin had come to the Vietnamese village, 60 percent of the children were better nourished and stayed that way.


Motivate the Elephant

The rational side demands a great amount of self-discipline, which comes in limited resources.  The only way for a change to stick is to have an emotional drive. The case study of St. Lucia parrot - a beautiful bird with a bright turquoise blue face, lime green wings, and a striking red shield on its chest whose only natural habitat was the island for which it is named- is worth mentioning.  The St. Lucia parrot was on the brink of extinction, with only hundred birds in existence in 1978. Because the St. Lucia parrot served no fiscal purpose, environmentalists were forced to make an emotional drive for conserving the species.  They had to motivate the ‘elephant’. Working in and with the St. Lucian forestry department, they set out to convince - and succeeded in doing so - the inhabitants of St. Lucia that they were the kind ofindividuals who safeguarded their own habitats.  The wildly successful movement has since served as a model for they ‘Pride campaigns’ for species in over fifty nations worldwide. It’s the duty of leadership to appreciate the importance of people’s emotions, to involve them in working for change, and to use those emotions to help individualsachieve things that they didn’t think they could.

Shape the Path

What usually appearslike a people’s problem is only a situation problem. The situation, comprising the immediate environment, is called the Path. When you suitably shape the Path or, in other words, tweak the setting, you make change more probable to happen. The airline industry has long used a steady practice. As most aircraft mishaps happen during take-offs and landings, the most hectic and coordination-intensive parts of any flight, the industry implemented the ‘sterile cockpit’ rule. Anytime a plane is below ten thousand feet - whether on the way up or the waydown - no conversation is allowed in the cockpit, except what's directly significant for flying. One IT companyembraced the‘sterile cockpit’idea to achieve a considerable goal - to bring down new-product development time from 36 months to nine months. In former projects with tight deadlines, the work atmosphere had become progressively stressful. When employees fell behind schedule, they interrupted their co-workers for quick help and demanded status updates. As a result, the coders were disturbed more and more, and work weeks extended to fifty and sixty hours. The leaders of the IT group decided to try an experiment. They implemented‘quiet hours’ onTuesday, Thursday, andFriday mornings before noon. The objective was to give software engineers a sterile cockpit, letting them to focus on intricate bits ofcoding without being upset by episodic interruptions. Even the socially insensitive employees responded well to this change in the Path. In the end, the firm succeeded in meeting its strict nine-month development goal.


Change is anincessant process, and it’s vital to sustain it for a long period of time before the envisioned results can take place. The Heath brothers endorsedrecurrent positive reinforcements through this process to enhance the possibility of success. While change can occur in a multitude of ways, most fruitful changes are a blend of clear direction, abundant motivation and a caring environment.


Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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