Slow Change

Do you ever wonder why some change seems to take place overnight and other changes seem impossible to implement?  In a world where we face serious issues with type 2 diabetes, obesity, gun violence in our cities and global warming, why can’t even the smallest changes happen?  I was sent an interesting article from Chintan Patel, a PharmD who helps run a marketing course at the UIC pharmacy school.  The article written by Atul Gawande, a prominent Boston physician, appeared in The New Yorker and looks at this issue using some very interesting medical stories.

Besides being a highly provocative and interesting piece, it really does raise a number of foundational ideas about change.  Gawande starts by comparing the use of anesthesia and anti-sepsis methods after they were introduced.  The use of ether gas caught on almost immediately, even though there were skeptics, while the use of antiseptic practices took way longer.  It is hard to imagine surgeons re-using gauzes, not washing their hands and not changing their operating clothes after a case but those were the changes that were difficult to make.  One of the key points Gawande makes is that the use of the gas made the surgeons’ lives easier while the antiseptic issues made their job a little more burdensome.

The stories of the nurse in India and the pharmaceutical rep in the US talk about some other issues.  The rep talks about the need to “touch” the prescriber seven times before any change occurs.  We all know that even with the most beneficial products it takes time for a rep to establish a relationship, get the physician to listen and then try the product.  That is why frequency is key and launches take effort and time.  The same thing happened with the experienced nurse in India who was being taught new birthing skills in order to cut down on infant mortality.  These were simple steps that needed to be implemented and cost nothing yet produced dramatic results.  It took many visits from the woman trying to implement the change before the actual behavior changed.  In this case, the nurse also remarked about feeling comfortable with the teacher and how this was an important aspect, as it is with the pharmaceutical rep, in the change process.

Take a close look at the article and see how that could impact your own change efforts.  Do you write one email or leave one voicemail and expect change?  Do you expect people to listen to you before they even know you?  Do you preach repetition for the reps and yet expect others in the company to pick up on things immediately?  Do you evaluate the burden change will put on others?  Do you really look to frame the change in a way that it looks like it simplifies the lives of others rather than making them more complicated?

Change is incredibly complex and needs much study.  It is worth the effort as our world really needs to move forward in so many areas.  Challenge yourself to become both change agents and change experts as there really are skills involved with implementing change that goes way beyond just wanting it to happen.  After all, isn’t business and even life all about making change for the better?

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