From Choice to Change

When we’re faced with too many choices, most of the time we’ll just go back to our original decisions or default behaviors. How many change efforts fail to take hold because people have too many options?

Too many decisions, and people will just go back to doing what they’ve always done.

Decision paralysis sets in. More options, even great ones, can freeze us and make us either do nothing, or go back to the default plan. Just think about your last trip to the supermarket.

And it also happens at board meetings, city council meetings, online shopping sites, and with office committees and teams. Think about the choices every business must consider:

  1. Growing revenues quickly versus maximizing profitability
  2. Make perfect products versus getting to market faster
  3. Innovating new products and services versus optimizing efficiency

These are all opportunities for paralysis because there are just too many options. The Heath brothers write about this in their great book, Switch.

Here are some examples from social research to prove the point:

  1. Choosing jams: In a gourmet food store, managers set out a table with samples of imported jams for tasting. Actually, they ran a test. One day the table showcased 6 different jams. The next day, 24 jams. The 24-jam display attracted more customers for sampling. But when it came time to buy, they couldn’t make a decision. Shoppers who only had 6 choices were 10 times more likely to buy a jar of jam.
  2. Choosing plans: At the office, employees of a large company were offered choices for 401(k) retirement savings plans. But the more options offered with the plans, the less they were able to pick a plan and start saving. Because many companies match employees’ contributions, that means people are walking away from free money.
  3. Choosing dates: Speed dating programs: when young adults spend 5 minutes talking with other singles, they select more matches when meeting 8 others rather than 20.

Decision paralysis sets in when we have too many choices for medical, retail, investment, and dating decisions.  As Barry Schwartz writes in his excellent book, The Paradox of Choice, when we’re faced with too many options, “we become overloaded. Choice no longer liberates, it debilitates.”

Studies show that successful change transformations occur when companies set goals that are behavioral goals.

For example, a typical goal might be to improve inventory turns by 50 percent. A behavior goal that supports those results might be that project teams meet once a week with each team including at least one representative of every functional area.

You eliminate the uncertainty of choice by providing specific action steps. Until you can set up specific, concrete behaviors, going from a change idea to real action, you can’t expect to lead change. People won’t switch from doing the same things the same way until you lay out a clear path for them to take.

What’s been your experience with this?

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