| 01 November 2011

We see the need for making lasting changes in ourselves (perhaps personally and professionally), in our organizations and in our communities. There are plenty of books on change. So why is it so hard to change and do it well?

The 2011 RAPS keynote speaker, Dan Heath, offered some very powerful concepts drawn from psychology, sociology, business and plain old human nature. Each of us approaches change from both a rational and an emotional side, and there is a struggle for balance between these perspectives.

As a smart person, you know the rational value of making the change. But you also feel in your heart that it is a difficult task. You are already overworked and pulled in so many directions. So, emotionally, it is appealing to stay with the status quo.

Consider the challenges you face in your organization, trying to communicate the importance of regulatory intelligence and regulatory strategy and integrate the regulatory process as part of good business decision making. Many of you are sharing with us the challenges you face in changing the view of regulatory within your organization.

Or, perhaps, consider the need to change our approach to regulation of health products to accommodate changes in science and technology and begin considering effectiveness issues. Most regulatory agencies and industry groups are advocating change, as they have for many years. Will we be successful today or tomorrow?

Both of these areas encompass vast and potentially complex changes. But as Heath pointed out, it is critical to break down a change into manageable chunks and to deal with both the rational and emotional aspects that you and others will face.

As I listened to Heath cite examples from the health sector and other areas, I thought about a story that I heard on the radio while driving home one day. It was about an organization working with a group of women living in a homeless shelter in a large US city.

The organization was trying to improve the women's health status and their self-confidence and did so by starting a running program. By using volunteer coaches, they created a mindset in these women that they could succeed.

Some were obese and relatively sedentary. They started gradually with achievable goals such as walking for a few minutes, then increasing to 15 minutes, then 30. They moved to running.

The group found ways to recognize their accomplishments along the way and then to expand their aspirations. Eventually many ran their first 5k race. Others went on to run longer races, even a half-marathon.

From the beginning, the group worked to instill a sense of hope that these women could make a remarkable change in their lives. They defined a path that would move them toward success using rational and emotional tools and with reasonable ways to measure interim successes.

I am sure the group would not have succeeded if they began this process by saying they were going to change these women's lives by training them to run a half-marathon.

Let's return to the challenges faced by regulatory professionals. Can we envision the future and create a path that will lead us there? Can we find ways to break down this potentially challenging journey into shorter, achievable portions? Can we develop the tools to deal with the emotional and rational obstacles along the way?

I have confidence that the profession can be an agent of change-that you can make a "switch" in thinking. I am not saying this will be easy-but your profession and your jobs are not easy either.

If you were not able to attend 2011 RAPS, I invite you to listen to the keynote presentation on the RAPS website and, if you are inclined, to read Dan and Chip Heath's newest book, Switch.


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