I’ve been road bicycling in Aiken, South Carolina over the past week and have been amazed at the amount of litter along the backroads. I remember as a kid in New York when litter was a big problem, and I recall the anti-littering campaign complete with litter bags available at every gas station, pervasive TV and radio commercials encouraging people not to be “a litterbug,” and penalties for littering. That campaign worked pretty well.
Large-scale change efforts can be successful as with littering and smoking, but they can also fail. When I graduated from college and marched off to Sears for a set of Craftsman wrenches, it was the metric wrenches I bought. It was at the same time that the signs on the New York State Thruway showed distances in both miles and kilometers. That change campaign didn’t work. I bought a second set of wrenches, this time they were SAE. And the Thruway signs today only show miles.
The key to any sort of change, particularly large-scale change in organizations is to have it legitimized at the top, align it with both the culture and with individual self-interest, and to persevere through the natural resistance that always arises.
How change is led and managed makes an enormous difference in its success.