Over lunch today I enjoyed a good conversation with a couple of ex-colleagues who are facing a challenging yet not very uncommon situation at work. The company they work for has ambitious growth plans and the practices and behaviors which helped their staff get the company to where it is today will not sustainably support the anticipated growth. My friends have previously worked for more mature organizations and can clearly visualize and articulate what needs to be done to get their company to this next level but are encountering resistance from long-time staff who are reluctant to change.
This discussion made me revisit my own views on the critical ingredients which motivate individuals to change their behavior.
The two most popular inputs I’ve run across are a true sense of urgency (as per John P. Kotter) and understanding how the change will personally benefit the individual (a.k.a. “What’s in it for me?”).
But is that sufficient?
Is a true sense of urgency a cause or an effect? Knowing that a large predator is hunting me in the forest will instill a true sense of urgency in me but the predator is the cause and not the sense of urgency itself.
And while there’s no doubt that a given change might benefit me, think of the volume of competing changes with which we are bombarded daily. Filtering through these to find the one or two which will provide the highest return is akin to a golfer who is overwhelmed with multiple swing thoughts while standing at the tee.
So it almost feels like there is a missing ingredient to convince someone to change now, even if that change is urgent AND will benefit them.
Perhaps that ingredient is PURPOSE.
If we can tie our change to an individual’s true calling, then that will serve as a powerful accelerator to increase their sense of urgency and to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question in spades.
On a one-on-one basis this is achievable but how do we scale it to a large organization? Surely we can’t be expected to understand the calling of every individual we want to influence? This is where we need to rely on our change champions. Our responsibility is to ensure that we take the time to develop a good understanding of the needs and wants of our champions to light the torch that they will carry on our behalf.