There’s a temptation to believe that the sheer logic of a good decision will sway the crowd; that if you make a good case and present it in an inspiring way, you’ve done everything you need to for that idea to gain instant uptake in an organisational culture. I’ve yet to see that happen successfully. I’ve seen it tried often – “now take that idea and apply it to what you do” – but never in ways that live up to expectations.
There are “how” aspects to that. Presented with a range of reasons as to why change is needed, the opportunity that change could generate and the information that explains how decisions were reached, people are often receptive but inert. They may well agree with some or all of the arguments. But there is too little momentum to shift them from what they’ve done/known for some time to what is now being asked of them.
Often they worry that they’ll do it wrong or that others are less motivated to act than they are. Or they weigh up the new requirements against what is being asked of them already and decide the new actions are too difficult, unproven or unclear.
The new search for meaning
Meaningful change won’t happen until the change itself means more than the current arrangements mean now. People will make those shifts in how they behave if they are motivated to do so by rewards – interestingly, many of them communal rather than purely personal.
In this Tedx talk, behavioural economist Dan Ariely suggests that our motivations to do good work are no longer driven by the efficiency gains that dominated the industrial economy. Instead, we now find incentives in a range of intangibles including meaning, being able to create things, challenges, ownership and a sense of pride.
- We are incentivised to act when we can see the results for ourselves.
- People prefer appreciation to money. Conversely, if they will only continue to act if they receive more money, it can be because they feel unmotivated and unappreciated or ignored.
- We value and are proud of work that is difficult and that requires us to expend a greater level of energy.
- We all want to do good in the world, whether we are aware of that drive in ourselves or not..
- We’re more motivated to follow rules if we are aware of how doing so benefits those around us.
- We respond to challenges better than we respond to threats, and we respond to challenges best when we have confidence in our abilities.
- A positive environment sets the scene for focused work.
5 questions for meaningful change
Such insights suggest that organisations looking to achieve meaningful change should be asking themselves questions scoped beyond the usual constraints of WIIFM. Here are five suggestions:
- How open are you prepared to be about the ongoing effects of change? How, where and when will you report the impacts of what you are now asking people to do?
- How can you respectfully say thank you to people who do more than what is being asked of them? How will you celebrate what they achieve so that others feel motivated to emulate them?
- How can you present people with challenges that tax them in good ways? And how will you support them to take up those challenges?
- Have you spelt out the implications of change for the organisation, for teams, for individuals, for customers and the community? Are those changes the kinds of rewards you would change a deep-seated habit for?
- What will change in where people work that will encourage them to work differently? What visible proof will there be that things are not as they were and that that’s a good thing?