Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cultural change management made difficult

I watched Jamie Oliver´s tv show one night. Not because I`m particularly interested in his cooking. But because his program was a great example of a extremely difficult change management program. Oliver´s mission was to change cooking and eating habits of American schools. Not an easy task. What children eat daily - hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, pizza, pizza. Even if there is occasionally something green available, the children do not touch it. Another problem is the culture of eating - nobody knows how to use a knife and fork properly. Showing vegetables in a classroom - children did not recognize tomatoes nor potatoes, what french fries are made of.

Jamie´s good intentions were not welcomed. The kitchen staff resisted him. School management resisted him, authorities resisted him and even local press wrote negatively. Jamie cooked fresh food: chicken, brown rice, salad. Children were asked what they wanted, pizza or chicken. Pizza won. At the end of the show Jamie bursted out crying. How to get further? What would you have done? Changing a whole culture in a week is not easy. How can you teach a whole economy that they need to eat healthier? How can you make even one school change?

One of my notions was that children did not even see the food. They were asked what they wanted and automatically chose pizza. Not even seeing what the food looked like. If they were to pick it themselves, would there be a difference?

The story continued in the next episode. Jamie used a tactic so often highlighted in change management: emphasizing a crisis and creating a burning platform. First, he concentrated on one family only. Took them to a healthcheck. The doctor predicted the son of the family, much overweight, might die at the age of 30. Then, he showed children at school how processed food is cooked. Not very successful. Even after seeing the gross stuff of which chicken nuggets are made children still were ready to eat it. Finally, he invited parents to see how much fat the school food includes and had a truckload of fat brought in the school yard. This was much better understood.

As in any change management program, things take time. You need to find right target audiences and make sure they understand the urgency and need for change. Problem is the magnitude and history of the project - of even culture of eating at schools. Jamie Oliver felt already more relieved. He made a difference for one family. Maybe this is a beginning of change for more children and families.