I’ve been reading from the book, “Switch: How to change things when change is hard,” by Chip and Dan Heath (authors also of “Made to Stick,” which have we have utilized previously in our Power2 programming). They have identified a three step process that helps to change behavior that mirrors, I believe, what we’re doing in the Power2 approach. In their words the three steps are 1. Direct the rider (which basically means provide very specific and concrete directions). 2. Motivate the elephant (find ways to motivate with powerful examples). And, 3. Shape the path (which is basically focus on changing the culture or environment as much as the people).
What the Heath’s argue is that knowledge does not change behavior, practice does. It’s not the knowledge is unimportant, it’s just not sufficient for changing behavior. Here’s an example from the book: in trying to reduce obesity in West Virginia milk was identified as a potential problem, since many families drank whole or 2% milk, which contains lots of fat. The scientific knowledge helped to identify the fat content in milk as problematic, but simply telling people that milk has lots of fat and “shoulding” all over them (you should watch your weight, you should think about this, you should be healthier” wasn’t going to make change in behavior. They needed a very specific recommended strategy: buy 1% milk. This recommendation guides practice or behavior (essentially answering the question, so what should I do?).
This approach is very similar to what we’re trying to accomplish in our Power2 programming. In Power2 programming we are basically identifying the persistent challenges that cause organizations to under perform–these are most often challenges of moral and performance character. We identify the competencies needed to offset the identified weakness. Once we know what competencies are needed, we distill the existing knowledge (on the ground wisdom, published research, etc.) into replicable tools utilized for developing the competency. What’s a tool? the tools we build are things like a rubric, a checklist, a set of replicable steps, a sticky or memorable guide (check out our unit descriptions to see more competencies and tools). Instead of telling schools and organizations that they “should” think about this and figure out ways to do that, we build the tools that provide them a specific and replicable outline of what to do.
Let’s use one of our tools, the Integrity-In-Action Checklist, as an example. We all know cheating is a major problem in schools and organizations. (Check out Don McCabe’s research, or David Callahan’s “Cheating Culture” for some background). We can share the research until we’re blue in the face. We can educate people on the stages of moral reasoning. We can moralize about the impact of cheating and the need for integrity. But what schools and individuals need are tools with which they can practice development of integrity. If you don’t get to practice the skills for putting integrity into action, it shouldn’t surprise us when individuals don’t demonstrate the competency–especially in high pressure situations.
In the case of this tool, it provides a guide for thinking. It distills lots of information and psychological and sociological theory into 9 discrete reflections. We provide a strong model and then develop opportunities where individuals can practice with that are relevant to their circumstances where they’ll be challenged to put integrity into action. Over time when this becomes the default behavior of an individual, then a ethical competency has been developed. When this becomes the default behavior of a community of individuals, then the culture has been changed.
This approach is simple, not easy. Change isn’t easy, and change in behavior requires practice. What to do, how to do it, opportunities to practice, and a system of support and challenge–that’s our recipe for developing character and culture.