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Leading Through Change: Bite-Size Change

(Part Two of Two)

6 Questions Every Leader Should Ask

 

Last time, in PART ONE, we looked at a couple of keys to creating a culture that's receptive—even excited—about change. Step one: make changes frequently. And step two: do it now, before you're forced to.

Today, let's dive into two more practices that can make leading through change a breeze. And again, we'll start with a story. 

In the mid 1960s, social scientists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser devised an unusual experiment to test the power of the "foot-in-the-door" technique often employed by salespeople. A volunteer would go door-to-door in a residential California neighborhood making a preposterous request of homeowners—to allow an oversized billboard to be installed in their front yards. The poorly lettered sign reading Drive Carefully would almost completely obstruct the view from their homes.

Although the request was understandably refused by 83 percent of those asked, a particular group of homeowners reacted favorably. More than 50 percent of this group offered the use of their front yards.

How can it be that these folks agreed to such an extreme request?

The answer lies in something that happened to this group two weeks earlier. A different volunteer had come to their doors asking them to sign a petition that favored "keeping California beautiful." Of course, nearly everyone signed since state beautification is an issue almost no one is against. 

But why should the small act of signing a petition cause more than half of these people to be so willing to perform the much larger, more imposing favor of giving up their front lawns?

The explanation: signing the petition changed the view these people had of themselves. They had come to see themselves as public-spirited citizens who acted on their principles. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Freedman and Fraser say, "Once [a person] has agreed to a request, his attitude may change, he may become, in his own eyes, the kind of person who does this sort of thing . . . who takes action on things he believes in, who cooperates with good causes." 

So what can we learn from this study? Should petitions become our secret weapons? Maybe not. 

But we know that small, safe commitments can change a person's self–image. So when we have a major change to navigate, let's start small. The label test may be the way to do so. 

The most visible test we've taken on recently at North Point has been adding a Sunday evening service. Adding another service meant significantly expanding “the ask” from our volunteers. But introducing the change with the label of test meant volunteers didn't need to commit their next 52 Sunday evenings. We only asked for a commitment while we tested the new schedule. 

Breaking major changes into bite-size portions lowers the barriers to commitment. And once someone commits to the small step one, he is more likely to see himself as an insider, an early-adopter, someone who is on board with the larger vision. 

Now where do you go from here? Right back to that group of folks. Casting vision for whatever change you're undertaking should start with this group of "connectors." These are the people who, despite having only agreed to a small step in the direction of change, are most on-board with you. Get these folks excited about the results of the change and you'll create real momentum—one person making one small commitment at a time.