Reading the pilot program

When change agents realize that actions speak louder than words, it make sense to let a pilot program speak for itself. Showing how the change gets accomplished and what results follow will be far more convincing than any propaganda about the change in the abstract. It's time to play "show and tell" with demonstrations, test drives and other hands-on experience whenever changes need widespread adoption.

To consider the receiving end of these "shows of changing", it's helpful to return to Chip and Dan Heath's metaphor of the elephant with its small rider on top. The elephant will be reading the change from its own perspective, not that of the rational rider. I suspect our inner elephants look for the following attributes in any pilot program for a looming change:

  1. How safe will the participants be during the exposure to embarrassing mistakes and vulnerability to criticism?
  2. How balanced is the change effort with preserving what's already working so the baby does not get thrown out with the bathwater?
  3. How reliable is the structure for orchestrating the diverse change efforts into a coherent whole?
  4. How strong is the container for the participants' misgivings, doubts, hesitation and cynicism toward the proposed change?
  5. How much stability will get restored after the upheaval?
  6. How useful will the change appear after the commotion dies down and the daily grind deals with the change everyday?
  7. How much consideration has been given to not changing or changing more gradually?

These concerns suggest that our inner elephants read any pilot program with a different set of questions than those who are championing the change. If the pilot program answers the elephants' questions, it will get read as a safe path, reliable bridge and protected path to take forward. If the pilot program only answers questions of the small rider on top, the elephants will balk at the change. There will suddenly be tons of motivation to preserve the status quo and avoid the crazies with their inflammatory talk of change.

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