Saturday, January 21, 2006

Medical Miracle

It’s a miracle – though it’s gone largely unnoticed. It’s a miracle of modern medicine that has nothing to do with a new medical device or accidental pharmaceutical breakthrough. No herbs or acupuncture, cryogenics, genome mapping, or aromatherapy.
It cures almost all ills. It prevents many more.

The ‘miracle’ is change.

80% of our national healthcare budget is spent on addressing behavior-related illnesses, according to Raphael Levey of the Global Medical Forum. Yet few of us can avoid excessive smoking, drinking, eating, and stress, or find the time to exercise. And even after coronary surgery when such changes are necessary for life itself, fully 90% of patients cannot make the choices that would prolong their life, according to recent studies.

So what makes you so certain in a change management endeavor that you will inspire these same fallible creatures to work smarter, be more committed, and work as a team to save such an abstract concept as a company, even if their livelihoods are at stake? John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and author of many books on the subject reminds us in a recent article, "The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people."

Why is change so difficult for us? What is it about how our brains work that resists change? Why do we fight our own interests? Conventional wisdom says that crisis is a powerful motivator for change. But this doesn’t seem to be the case, so true to a Strategy180 tenet, we must challenge known absolutes.

The answer is that you cannot frighten people into change. You must instead appeal to the better angels of their collective nature, that is, speaking to people's emotions. Even in organizations that are focused on quantitative measurement, and those who think of themselves as smart in an academic sense, an appeal to emotions is most effective. In successful change efforts, leaders find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.

Unfortunately, that kind of emotional intelligence doesn't come naturally to engineers, accountants, managers and other leaders who pride themselves on analytical thinking. There is solid science behind the psychology of change but its insights often seem less than strictly logical.

Consider the cardiac patients asked to change behavior. The best medical minds at have for years been trying to motivate patients with the fear of death, but in the end death was just too frightening to think about, so they'd go back to their old bad habits. A far more effective method, it turns out, is addressing the issue as not a fear of death but a joy of living… considering not the length, but quality of life. Instead of a 90% backslide, patients exposed to this approach only return to bad habits 23% of the time. Joy is more powerful than fear.

When leaders are addressing people who have a similar mind-set and shared values, the message needs to be positive, inspiring, and sincere. Charts, graphs, and compelling strategies have their place. But even when the issue is truly life and death, the gut-check is emotional, not rational.

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