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Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Chief Knowledge Officer, The Knowledge Management Institute of Canada; Senior Advisor, Knowledge Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Husky Energy

Monday, 17 August 2015

What Toronto's Efforts to Control Traffic During the PamAm Games can Teach us about Change

Leading up to the start of the PanAm Games, Toronto city planners instituted temporary HOV lanes on all major highways in and out of the city. Nothing unusual - we are all familiar with the concept of HOV lanes. However what was different was the requirement to have 3+ passengers to use the HOV lane instead of the typical 2 person minimum. In Addition, taxis buses and motorcycles were also allowed to use the HOV lanes.

On The first Friday of the games I was planning on getting out of the city. Unfortunately as a result of meetings we were forced to delay leaving until 5:30 pm - smack dab in the middle of rush hour going north on arguably Toronto's worst artery - the Don Valley Parkway (aptly referred to by local residents as the "Don Valley Parking Lot") with a feeling of trepidation akin to having someone threaten to stab me in the eye with a pencil, I approached the Bloor street on ramp. Lo and behold I noticed the HOV lane was almost completely empty - some quick mental math told me I had 4 people in the car and I headed over. It took us a sum total of 10 minutes to reach the top of the DVP a feat I had been unable to accomplish since 1981. As we were whizzing by the "parking lot" on our right to the sultry overtones of my wife singing, "see you later sucksaars!" I realized someone in the city planning department had come up with, whether intentional or otherwise, a simple, cost effective,  short term solution to Toronto's mounting traffic problems .

Toronto has been grappling with ever increasing traffic congestion for the past 10 years. On one level the problem is simple, the city planners of yesteryear didn't anticipate the extent of growth the city is currently experiencing when they designed the highways.  On another, it's more complicated. The habit of driving alone, treating the car as a personal refuge, is part of the average driver's mindset and as we all know getting people to change their mindset is notoriously difficult. City planners and politicians have floated all kinds of different ideas for doing this from toll roads to increased public transit to increasing parking rates in the downtown core. None of which has produced the kind of change in behaviors necessary to dramatically alleviate the problem.

Any experienced KM practitioner knows  helping organization manage change is key to ensuring the success of any KM initiative. I have always believed In order for employees to embrace change they need a compelling reason to do so. Even so, getting employees to adopt a different mindset is extraordinarily difficult. First you need to get them to change their behaviors (habits)

We are all creatures of habit and typically we default to what is familiar and easiest when we make decisions about how to approach a particular task, like getting from point A to point B. The best way for new thinking to replace old habits is when doing the "familiar" becomes more difficult than changing.

People change when doing things the old way become more difficult than adopting the new

As I watched drivers fuming in their cars on the DVP that Friday afternoon while I zipped by in the HOV lane, it struck me that if Toronto City Council decided to keep the 3 Person HOV lanes post Games,  it wouldn't take long for drivers to see the advantage of having more passengers in their car  and start changing their driving habits and ultimately their mindset towards commuting - It certainly did for me for the duration of the Games as I had to make a number of trips across the city over the next two weeks and I made sure I had at least three people in the car, or I opted for public transit.

We can apply the same change strategy within organizations when we are attempting to get employees to change how they do things. Instead of simply introducing something new, along with the old and letting people choose (because we know most people will opt for the familiar) we need think about (and communicate) how the change(s) we are proposing will be better,  making the old way of doing things more difficult, less efficient, more time consuming etc.  Once employees see the advantages, it won't take them long to embrace the change.


Final Word 


Toronto City Council -  "keep the 3-person HOV lane in place!"


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