If you were to google “How to prevent coronavirus infection?” washing hands will come up as the number one recommendation. Washing of hands to prevent infections is something most parents drill into their children from a young age. But did you know that till the mid-nineteenth century doctors went in blood-stained clothes from one surgery to another without ever washing hands?
Ignaz Phillip Semmelweiss is the man who first discovered, understood and declared this truth. He was born in Hungary in 1818 and worked as a physician in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He discovered via acute observation that the ward where midwives were responsible for deliveries had a much lower rate of infection and hence mortality amongst new mothers. The case for doctors- who also did autopsies –was quite the opposite. He therefore correctly, empirically, concluded that most likely because of the fact that doctors did not wash hands between autopsies and deliveries, they were carrying germs and causing infections. He developed the antisepsis method of washing hands with a solution of chlorinated lime (calcium hypochlorite) and it immediately led to a decline in the infection rate. However, as the belief that diseases were spread by ‘miasma’ or ‘bad humour’ or ‘vapours’ was deeply ingrained in Europe from the dark ages and Dr. Semmelweis failed to convince the doctors at his hospital, especially his boss. The more they resisted his ideas, the more forceful his defence of them until he was forced to resign. He went back to his native Budapest and though he became the Head of Obstetrics in a hospital there with similar results in reducing fatalities and despite his publishing “The Cause, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbirth Fever” in 1861, he failed to convince the medical fraternity in Europe and eventually died, in 1864, a broken man with deep psychological issues.
If only he had managed to get support, by being able to persuade the other doctors about his ground-breaking discovery, imagine the number of lives it would have saved. Handwashing, which we know today is the best protection against catching infections such as coronavirus would have been popularised much earlier.
There is a lesson in this for business managers and leaders who would like to bring about any big change. Successful change management requires that you are able to persuade others to listen to your ideas. It is not about the power of your idea or discovery but how others receive it that does the job.
In his book “Give and Take” author Adam Grant a Professor at the Wharton School writes that people have three attitudes to reciprocity:
The Givers like to give more than they get. They are not keeping score, but help out others with no intention of receiving any assistance back. The Matchers like to balance getting and giving exactly, practising quid pro quo. The Takers like to get more than they give. They feel the world is a zero-sum game, for them to win means others must lose.
Takers like to believe it is only a matter of marshalling the facts, talking authoritatively and dominating through “powerful communication”. Givers use “powerless communication” where one expresses plenty of doubt and seeks advice from others leads to prestige and is much successful. He gives the example of Don Lane an Account Executive at Arnold Worldwide the advertising agency for Volkswagen came up with the famous line “Drive it. You’ll get it.” “He presented a sample radio script to show how it would work. Then he said to the creative director,” I know it is against the rules, but I want to give you a sense of what I am talking about. What do you think of this line? “Drive it. You’ll get it”. The creative director got it!
Successful change management requires collaboration and the skills required for successful collaboration are simple. Collaboration requires an understanding of the shared goal, of who will do what, respect for each other, encouraging contribution from all, making sure that mistakes are used for learning and not pulling down the person committing them and most importantly keeping the team goal above the individual goal.
It is usually the efforts of a team of people that leads to a successful breakthrough. While one person may be the face of the team, make no mistake without the team it is rare for success to be achieved.
Take the recent Pune based start-up My Lab becoming the first company to develop an indigenous COVID-19 testing kit. While virologist Minal Dakhave Bhosale, Mylab’s research and development chief is the face of this achievement and is being credited for this by the media, she herself has said “It was an emergency, so I took this on as a challenge. I have to serve my nation,”…..adding that her team of 10 worked “very hard” to make the project a success.
To bring about change one needs to ensure collaboration and use communication to get buy-in for your ideas.
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