Just do it! Change minds to change culture

Jayne Dalmer | July 30, 2021

Have you noticed that telling people what to do doesn’t always work? Ask any parent, police officer, or public health campaigner.

If it were that easy, we could explain what people need to do and why, and step back to bask in their success.

But to successfully change behaviour, we need to do more than just tell people things. Sustained change needs a mindset shift and a culture change. And those things need a multi-layered effort.

Image, pushbike leaning against a sign saying 'please do not litter', that's surrounded by rubbish

Please don’t throw rubbish — telling is not enough. Image by Eleanor Meecham / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Mindset controls motivation

A person’s mindset can help drive their motivation for change. A growth mindset can help people learn new things more effectively. Here, a growth mindset means a desire to learn, embrace challenges and opportunities, persevere through setbacks, and feel inspired by others’ success.

Research published in the journal ‘Psychological Science’ discovered interesting results in the brains of people with a growth mindset. The brain regions responsible for correcting errors and encoding long-term memory were more active in these people when they processed feedback.

They learn to do new things because they have a mindset that expects to.

Read Mind your Errors research by Moser, Schroder, Heeter, and Moran on ResearchGate

Plain language is not simple

So what does this have to do with us at Write?

We’re all about plain language, but we know that plain language is not a goal in itself. It’s a vehicle to help an organisation do its job better. We know that it makes a difference to people’s lives. And we know that just telling people to write in plain language doesn’t work.

So what does work?

Your standard becomes the foundation for all other parts of your culture change. You also need supportive leaders, plain language champions inside your organisation, and experts on tap. And you’ll want to build understanding and support with a multi-pronged communications plan.

Image of the Rewrite for Change culture change diagram

Sustained change needs a multi-level approach. Image by Lynda Harris, 2015. All rights reserved.

Start well. Have a plan with goals, a process, milestones, and owners. Let the ideas breathe and get people talking. You can expect some backlash — asking busy, smart people to change long-term writing habits and embrace a new style is bound to cause some resistance. You’re going against the grain to change years of bureaucratic or academic writing habits. Our brains often react negatively to uncertainty. This is where a growth mindset enters the stage again. A flexible, curious mindset can help people learning new things as well as people receiving feedback on the new things.

Stubbing out climate change

Our public health experts and scientists are working on complex problems and changing the things that will make the biggest difference to significant social and environmental challenges. Again, simply telling people what to do is not the solution.

Here’s an article written by our friends at The Workshop about the history of SmokeFree work in New Zealand. Jess Berentson-Shaw discusses how mindset shift is a critical tool for making the changes that will make the most difference to people and our planet.

Read Jess’ Stubbing out climate change article for Newsroom

Find out more about changing minds and culture at your place

Rewrite: How to overcome daily sabotage of your brand and profit has advice and testimonials about changing the writing culture at your place.

Download The Write Plain Language Standard

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