Monday, March 10, 2008

Interesting to Watch 

The rapid rise in the price of gasoline is interesting to watch in the US. American drivers have always believed inexpensive fuel was their right, whereas drivers in Europe and elsewhere have always paid dearly. There has been some impact from high prices. Fuel demand is falling, which means people are driving less or switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles. However, drop in demand is not precipitous -- not yet anyway.

What does this have to do with communications? It is a reminder that getting people to change habits is difficult. Asking them to drive less or to use more fuel-efficient transportation was a failure as long as inexpensive fuel was to be had. Now that the price of gasoline has risen to record-breaking highs, some are ready to listen, but not many.

In the same way, changing habits in organizations meets similar resistance. CEOs should know a leader's job is to sell and sell again a new idea for years. A rule of thumb is that major change takes seven years to implant. On the other hand, one CEO declared it takes closer to 14. My guess is that this CEO is more likely to be right. Companies can backslide after seven years -- and do.

Will it take 14 years for US drivers to change their driving habits as a result of high gasoline prices? Probably, if not longer. Drivers will need to switch vehicles, commuting habits and distances to job sites. Governments will need to provide better transportation alternatives. Should prices decline, drivers will return to their old habits, which means behavior change will need to start again once prices rise. Communications will be a drumbeat in the background that some will hear but most will not. Eventually, imperceptibly, people will change, and society will look different.

It should be a lesson to those of us who believe we can implement a PR program and reach an objective in a year or two.


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