Implementing change series: It’s all or nothin’, baby

“If you want to make a significant change, it’s all or nothing, baby,” was my final thought during a presentation about increasing OER use at a college or university at this years CAMEX college bookstore conference.

a boy jump into a lake
“all in” by popofatticus, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“If you want to make a significant change, it’s all or nothing, baby,” was my final thought during a presentation about increasing OER use at a college or university at this years CAMEX college bookstore conference.

Instinctively, we all know this, but we favor the route of least resistance. And, in our time and resource-pressed world, with so many competing interests, it’s difficult to dedicate what we need to make something work. With that said, we have to go all-in if we truly want to make a big impact.

For example, if you want to lose a good amount of weight, you may go to your doctor and ask your doctor how to lose weight. The doctor tells you:

The people who really lose a lot of weight and keep it off do ALL of these things:

  • Eat breakfast
  • Eat primarily fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week
  • Reduce their calorie intake by 500 calories per day
  • Incorporate weight lifting into their exercise routine 3 times per week

And yet, so many people will walk away and pick only one. They may say to themselves “Ok, I’ll start eating breakfast each day” and ignore the rest. And then they wonder why they aren’t successful! The doctor said “do all of these” and the patient heard “do one of the following” and did just that.

Similarly, you see this in advertising and marketing work often with small businesses. Their agency will say, “your goal is x and this is your program that will get you there.” The client business will then pick-out one thing on that list, do only that, and wonder why they didn’t meet their goal. The client gets mad and fires the advertising agency because their plan didn’t work. Except, the client didn’t follow the plan.

In my work consulting colleges and universities on how to dramatically increase Open Educational Resources (OER) use on their campus, I’ve found there is a specific formula to success:

  • Do a minimum of 8 direct tactics throughout the academic year
  • Have day-to-day involvement from each of the key departments for success (faculty, library, instructional design, disability services, bookstore, etc.)
  • Have one active, vocal senior administrator sponsor that will champion the initiative through communications
  • Plan your year of activities out in advance to keep a continual high intensity level of activities and communications going throughout the academic year
  • Track successes and progress by outcomes for each action: Number of faculty interested, number of faculty adopting OER, number of students impacted, student success metrics.
  • Modify your plan to favor the strategies that you are having the most success from (based on the number of faculty interested, number of adoptions, and number of students for each action)

Schools will contact us regularly saying,  “Our initiative is great, but this OER thing just isn’t working for us.” When I dig deeper, something is missing from above formula, they’ve tried to skip a step or a few steps. I’d love to tell them that less effort could get them the results they want. If it could, I’d recommend less, but the truth is, if they want significant change, they have to do all of the above.

Are there times it makes sense not to go all-in? Absolutely. You may not have all of the resources to go all-in, or your political climate may not be right yet. And that’s ok; it’s not unusual, when working with schools, that I recommend a slower approach until they are ready for the big leap. At that point, however, you need to adjust your results expectations to match your effort. And, if you want to get to the high results, work toward getting in a position where you can go all in.

Implementing change series: Plant a seed

When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a college English professor, who was discussing a book club meeting he was at. One of the other members stated a belief about the text, that was factually incorrect.

This conversation happened years ago, but here’s my best recollection of what happened next:

Me: Did you let them know that’s false?

Him: Nope

Me: Why not?

Him: I could tell they hold that belief very strongly. They weren’t ready to hear the fact about it. If I’d countered with that fact, they would have shut down. So I just asked them for support what they said, which they couldn’t provide, but got them thinking. My job isn’t to change their mind fully, I couldn’t do that with such a strongly held belief, my job is to plant a seed toward new information and understanding and hope that it grows.

Planting Seeds

This conversation really changed my perspective on change management. When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

I recently read a Washington Post article about Derek Black renouncing his family’s white supremacist stance. This is a great example of seeds being planted, it wasn’t just one dinner, or one conversation, that moved Derek Black, it was a number of encounters and conversations that moved him to where he is now.

In my work consulting schools on encouraging faculty to adopt Open Educational Resources (OER), I’ve witnessed this many times with faculty. and administrators. There are some faculty who are ready to make the leap right away, and I coach institutions to focus on helping those faculty adopt, but I also consider the work we’re doing on their campuses now as planting seeds for those in the late majority or laggards part of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve.

Similarly, there are also faculty who I’ve now worked with for three years to adopt. They email me every six months or so, ask a question, and disappear again. Each conversation is a seed that brings them closer, and it’s very exciting when one of these faculty do decide transition to OER.

As I’ve written about before when discussing advertising ROI, most major purchase decisions also aren’t made from a single communication or a single source of communication. It’s usually a series of seeds, an ad they see, a conversation with a friend, an experience they’ve had, that move someone to purchase.

What does this mean for OER and other change initiatives?

  1. Still track faculty or consumers who say “yes” now. This gives you an idea what parts of your initiative are working.
  2. Keep track of who interacted with you, but didn’t say yes. You planted a seed with these folks and you have a good chance these folks will say yes in the future.
  3. Make note of other ways you can tell a seed was planted. If for nothing else, to remind you that you are making progress. But,  #1 on this list should always your main focus with any of your actions, followed by #2. This one is just gravy on top. See Combine Active and Passive Strategies for High Impact Results for a more detailed outline of these three.

What does this mean in personal conversations?

What I learned from my friend, is, when someone states a strongly held belief that you think is untrue, don’t counter directly. Take a deep breath and plant a seed by asking for more information. But, you also have to open to maybe having them plant a seed in you during this process as well.

Implementing change series: Timing is everything

“In most cases, our direct mail piece is worthless. But in the hands of someone who just found out  they need new windows? It’s priceless.”

An owner of a window company made this statement when one of my colleagues asked him how he thought direct mail was working for him. Obviously, we’d need a lot more data to prove that it is, indeed, providing good return on investment (ROI), but the implication of timing is dead-on.

If it’s raining and there’s a crowd, it’s a good time to sell umbrellas and ponchos. If there’s a party or event without food being served, the timing is perfect for a food truck. But, for most large change initiatives (where we’re asking for a big change and/or a long-term change), it can be much more difficult to know when the timing is perfect for two main reasons:

1. The timing isn’t the same for everyone you’re trying to reach.

In the window example at the beginning, not everyone needs new windows at once. There may be parts of the year when it’s more likely someone will find out they need new windows, but it’s still scattered throughout the year.

Similarly, in my work promoting Open Educational Resources (OER), every faculty member doesn’t consider new textbooks and alternatives to textbooks at the same time. They may consider new books every year, every three years, or whenever they decide it’s a good time to. There’s no set formula.

2. The timing depends on external factors (usually beyond your control).

For someone to decide to make a change, usually there’s some sort of event that precedes that decision. Again, looking at our windows example, a homeowner considers new windows when they are told they need them by a home inspector or if their current set of windows is damaged somehow.

With OER, the event could be a complaint of the high cost from a student, or a publisher raising their prices again, or a technical error with the publisher’s system, or a discussion within the department of how to reduce high drop/fail rates.

Sometimes you’ll be able to anticipate these events happening, like monitoring publisher prices, but many times you may not even know they’ve occurred.

Being in the right place at the right time

A young man jumping off of sand. The timing is such that you see a trail of sand.
“jump” by Barry Badcock, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The simple solution would be to shout from the rooftops about the change you’re encouraging all the time. But, in practice, this is not only costly, but can leave those that you are trying to reach tone-deaf to your message. Think about that person who sends you too many irrelevant emails, do you read them all anymore? I’m guessing not.

The better solution is a pulse schedule. This is where you keep a low hum of communication about the change out there at all times, but you amp-up your messaging around those critical events and external factors you can predict.

A great example of a pulse schedule is candy manufacturers. In the U.S., candy manufacturers are always advertising, but for a couple of weeks (lately a few months!) leading up to major holidays (Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day)? They are everywhere, there’s no escaping the barrage of marketing from them. These are their pulse times.

With OER, the pulses are around the academic calendar. The first pulse to encourage faculty to consider OER should happen when the faculty come to the welcome back event for faculty at the beginning of the fall semester. They are refreshed and ready to start a new year. The second pulse comes mid-way through he semester, faculty are in between their busy start-up period and exam periods. Similarly, there’s another great pulse time mid-way through the spring semester, leading up to the bookstore deadline for Fall (usually early-mid April).

By keeping a constant hum of communication about the change initiative and ramping-up (pulsing) when people are most open to the change, your can maximize your efforts for encouraging change.