Large scale change IS possible: A couple of examples from the Nordics

“No-one likes change…”

“You can’t turn a tanker around…”

“Change the culture of an entire corporate organisation? I doubt it…”

You have, no doubt, heard all of these sentiments expressed at one time or another.

We believe that large-scale, sustainable change is more than achievable – it can be enjoyable and energising. We’ve made it happen with a number of projects.

But we’ve just got whole organisations to change. In these examples from the Nordics, whole countries changed. Which just goes to show.

Sweden’s Vision Zero

In 1980, more than 800 people died on Sweden’s roads. Like most countries, Sweden’s planners, motor vehicle manufacturers and politicians worked on a cost-benefit analysis basis. How you balance the cost of improvements needed to reduce fatalities, versus the cost of the fatalities themselves.

That is, until a movement emerged that said: “Hang on… how many deaths does anyone think is ‘acceptable’?” It doesn’t matter how many people in the street or in parliament answer that question, the answer is always going to be: “None. Zero. No death is ‘acceptable’.”

And so Vision Zero was born – a movement to reduce the number of deaths on Sweden’s roads to zero.

Vision Zero was adopted into Swedish law in the late 90s. And since then, its programme of change has been vast, involving planners, politicians, car manufacturers, schools and municipalities and numerous other stakeholders.

All roads in Sweden are now built to prioritise safety over speed or convenience. Speed limits have been reduced. Bikes have their own dedicated, walled-off lanes. New road layouts and designs have been introduced.

In 2016 there were 270 road deaths – an almost 75% reduction. Still too many, say campaigners, who want to reduce road deaths to zero by 2050.

Swedes are proud of the initiative and export their Vision Zero knowledge to the rest of the world.

Finland goes from fat to fit

In the late 80s, Finland was one of the unhealthiest countries in the world – with dismal rates of coronary heart disease, obesity, lung cancer and diabetes. People were inactive during long winters, drank and smoked a lot and ate high fat diets with little fruit or fibre and lots of bread.

That was until a pioneering doctor headed a public health experiment in the North East of Finland. Pekka Puska decided that to solve a medical issue, he needed to change the culture of the region he was working in.

He and his teams went out into communities and organised cholesterol-reducing competitions between towns. They encouraged bars full of middle-aged drinkers to come outside and try cycling, swimming and skiing. They carried out hundreds of wide-ranging initiatives, all aimed at getting the people of the Karelia region into better health.

After five years, the health of the region was transformed – and the programme was intensified and rolled out nationally.

Farmers were made to produce low-fat milk and spread. They were given support to farm hardy berries that could withstand the climate. All tobacco advertising was banned. Cheap, clean local swimming pools and sports facilities were created.

Puska set up a nationwide TV show – The Keys to Health – which was a wee bit like the Biggest Loser. He got communities to compete against each other for quitting smoking – with prizes to be shared between towns and villages for the biggest quitters.

They constantly looked for new ideas and ways of tackling barriers to healthier lifestyles. One of these was the fact that older Finns didn’t like to walk on slippery roads in the winter. So the government passed legislation that makes every householder responsible for clearing the snow in front of their home. And they talked to shoe manufacturers to get them to make grippier soles.

The results today are massively reduced figures for deaths from heart attack and lung cancer – and an approach to health that the rest of the world looks to for inspiration.

Key to bringing about these wholesale changes include, we think:

  • You have to change the mindset – people will only embrace change if they’re given a different way of looking at things
  • It’s not so much about education – people know if you speed, you’re more likely to kill people. It’s more about making it personal and giving people motivation
  • You have to work across many disciplines and teams
  • You need imagination and you need to believe that anything is possible
  • You need to involve people who can energise and motivate people into believing they can

If you’d like to talk about changing your workplace culture – or making your customers do something interesting and different, please drop us a line.