08.2011 - Eat Your Peas & Carrots:  Seven Lessons for Culture Change

Seven great lessons about managing change can be distilled from a well-known British chef and television show host’s efforts to alter a community’s eating habits.

Jamie Oliver decided to launch an effort in an American city to help a culture change around eating habits – a monumental mind-set shift involving giving people correct information, engaging key people, and helping people translate their new nutritional knowledge into new behavior. 

Oliver learned quickly he had to get grounded. 

Changing culture is a challenge in any setting.  It is also an exciting and rewarding venture when you are mindful of the process you are following. 

Like any venture, leaders need strategy, persistence, early successes, careful monitoring and staying close to the people who can help promote the needed and desired changes to achieve long-lasting sustainable winning culture that creates success and profit. 

Von Post ends with an inspiring send-off: 

“But once you learn how to change habits and get an organization to “eat its peas,” you’ll soon be ready to take on new challenges — (like) eating the competition!”

Culture Change Lessons

Lesson 1:  Understand the Culture

The beliefs, assumptions, and ingrained traditions, practices and habits that drive people’s behavior.   Then, he had to figure out how to leverage the culture to have more winning attributes.

Lesson 2:  Create Urgency.  

Oliver’s work was done for him:  The city had recently been dubbed the U.S.’s unhealthiest city.

Lesson 3:  Find Daylight

Being with what's easy or accessible.  In this case, the low-hanging vegetable (!) was peas.  As Rutger Von Post writes, peas “laid the groundwork for further and deeper changes.” 

Lesson 4:  Persist because Success Builds Success. 

Oliver kept at it for over a year, even when faced with major setbacks. 

Lesson 5:  Know your Target Audience. 

For example, very different strategies had to be designed for different target audiences – parents, elementary school and high school students.

Lesson 6:  Engage Key Influencers. 

Von Post cites three key types in Oliver’s quest:   culture carriers, people with authority, and people who are respected by their peers.   Change was accelerated by creating collaboration among these three types. 

Lesson 7:  Execute Flawlessly

Oliver’s experience also points to the importance of assuring that the system is designed for flawless execution.   In Huntington, this included thorough planning:  goal setting, communicating priorities, and creating supply systems.