Motivating for Change

Conventional organizational change usually fails. That’s because you and your employees look at things differently.

In traditional organizations, employers expect employees to do what they are told (i.e., their jobs for which they are paid). Some leaders still believe that the way to motivate people to change is to tell them, or persuade them. This stems from an early age of having expectations imposed on us—first by our parents and teachers and later, by our employers.

But times have changed.

Organizations are now judged on how well they meet corporate responsibility, fair trade, sustainability, and triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet). And the judging is coming from all levels—customers, employees, and the public at large.

Because people have this new perspective on their world, imposing change on people will not work. Here’s why:

  • Individual needs are not the same as those of the organization.
  • Individuals lead busy lives (even outside of work), so they are not able or willing to assimilate change just because the organization says so.

Given these new paradigms, organizations that implement successful change are those that are able to align their aims with the total life needs of their employees—that’s why addressing WII-FM (“what’s in it for me?”) is so important. Leaders that know how to tap into each individual’s WII-FM will not only build an urgency and momentum for the change, but they will also make change stick.

To help you with your change initiative, consider these facts:

  1. People will never align with bad aims. Reassess and realign your organization’s vision and mission to ensure that it meets corporate responsibility, aims for sustainability of the environment, favours fair trade, and is opposed to exploitation and executive greed, to name a few.
  2. People cannot multi-task or learn new skills without some job realignment. Several things need to be considered, not the least of which are individual capacities for change (“absorptive capacity”). Consulting with employees to learn how they think change will impact their jobs helps to see change from both perspectives.
  3.  Ignoring the above facts is a sure guarantee of failed change initiatives.

Consider also that at least 75 percent of the organization’s leadership must buy-in to the change if it is to be successful. What this means for the organization’s change leader is that they must provide compelling evidence of the change to leaders first and staff second.

When at least 75 percent of the organization’s leadership supports the change, selling the change to staff becomes much easier. Then the potential for change to stick becomes a reality, rather than a hope…and as one of my friends astutely noted – “hope is never a strategy.”

Secret to Enabling a Paradigm Shift

Do you have a paradigm? Yes, of course; we all do. Paradigms are what we use as a frame of reference for whatever we do. Paradigms are our boundaries that tell us what to do in order to be successful within those boundaries. Here are some examples of how paradigms can limit success:

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” – Harry M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” – Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

As you can see, paradigms can be huge inhibitors to success. To enable continuous improvement in our organizations, we need people to shift their paradigms. This can be done by engaging people to work together to see/feel the impact of improvements. Let me show you what I mean.

Let’s say you want your organization to decrease waste. First, put together a team that will lead the change on your behalf. Then invite the team to a Kaizen event and set the stage for the paradigm shift by encouraging people to get to know each other; really get to know each other. By building mutual respect among team members, you are enabling people to shift their paradigms (i.e., those with mutual respect for each other are more open to listening to and accepting new ideas from others).

Another important aspect to enabling paradigm shifts is to engage people to see and feel where improvements are needed. For example, during Kaizen events, people are asked to go out into the workplace to find examples of waste in each of the eight waste categories (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and extra-processing). This exercise alone is an eye-opener for many and their excitement in seeing the wastes firsthand ignites their enthusiasm for  eliminating the wastes. In addition, having groups “see” the wastes by developing value stream maps of the processes solidifies their resolve to improve the situation.

Do you see how we got people to change their paradigm? By teaching about wastes and Lean (in this instance) and allowing people to apply their knowledge by physically searching for each of the eight wastes in their workplace, they experience the waste. Then they look at the wastes in the overall process using value stream maps, all the while interacting and building mutual respect for other team members. There is no better feeling than seeing the shift in thinking from “We’ve always done it this way and it can’t be done differently” to “Wow, look at all the things we can improve to make the process even better.”

With the biggest hurdle now overcome (paradigm shift), all you need to do is maintain the momentum for continuous improvement in your organization.