Motivating for Change


So it was my dog’s birthday yesterday.  She just turned 11 years old and she is still my little puppy.  I have noticed that through the years her activity level has changed and she has become a bit more crotchety and set in her ways.  However, there are some things that still make her act as though she were mere months old.  She is a fan of the Frisbee.  This simple disk has been the source of hours of play and amusement for her.  She even tore her CCL (cranial cruciate ligament, the equivalent of the ACL in humans) trying to catch the thing several years ago.  We had surgery done to repair the damage but her leg has never really been the same.

I think that these traits are well reflected in humans.  As we age and mature we become set in our ways.  Change becomes an inconvenience rather than exciting.  The trick for us as leaders is to find the Frisbees that motivate each of us.  With the right motivation we are more prone to embrace change.  If you consider our personal lives, we are willing to make changes in the areas that we are committed to doing so, but only then.  So as a leader, how to we get others to commit to the changes that the organization needs?  It is a matter of motivation and motivation can come in many forms.

Consider the typical ways we motivate children: toys, candy, and playtime.  These are all bribes, negotiations, compromises.  This doesn’t work long term because the next time you need your children to do something they expect the payoff.  This is why it doesn’t work to treat our coworkers like children.  I made that analogy early in my career and now I hate it when other people do it because I see the flaws.  The adult equivalent is money, time off, promotion, a better cubicle.  All of these things are simply bribes and short-term ways to get people to do what we want.  These methods will not result in long-term commitment.

So if we want long-term commitment, what does it take to create the motivation for others to commit?  I think that long-term commitment takes long-term investment.  Being a good leader is a process that develops over time and building the right relationships is critical to the motivation for others to follow.  I know that I won’t follow a leader that I can’t trust, that doesn’t seem competent, or doesn’t seem interested.  These three things are demonstrated over time.  The other piece of the puzzle is providing reasons.  Don’t simply explain the “how” but also provide the “why”.  If I know why I am doing something I am much more likely to commit to it.  The “need-to-know” basis way of doing business is obsolete.  If you want great results then everyone on the team needs to know.

This explains why we use bribes for children and pets.  It is difficult to explain the “why” to them.  They don’t have the experience to understand it, yet (or, in the case of the pets, they don’t understand the language).  This can also be true of our coworkers.  If they can’t understand the explanation, they won’t commit.  So what are some reasons that our coworkers wouldn’t understand the explanation?

  • Not enough experience.
  • Too much use of jargon and acronyms.
  • Poorly designed explanation (muddled, unclear, not enough detail).
  • Poor method of communication for the audience.
  • Language barriers.

Not enough experience in the field.

If you have a message that is specific to a skill group or niche field, it can be difficult to get commitment from those that haven’t experienced the topic you are addressing.  It is important to understand this and to keep taking the explanation further when needed.  You have to judge the audience and the level of understanding that is achieved.  Refine the message continually and make sure that you are soliciting feedback and demonstration of understanding.  This can be a laborious process, but will result in the commitment of the team.

Too much use of jargon and acronyms.

Remember, just because you know what it means doesn’t mean that everyone in the group does.  In our world of acronyms and jargon (and making new words every day) it is difficult to make sure that everyone is on the same page.  When I was working with one company we called our accident reporting to OSHA our OIR (OSHA Incident Rate).  At another company it was called the BLS (short for Bureau of Labor Statistics).  It was the same number but called something different.  I had to ask the safety instructor for the training what BLS was and he thought I was a little crazy.

Poorly designed explanation.

Obviously, if you don’t put forth the right message you will never get anyone to understand and commit.  Making the message clear is necessary.  This includes objectives, methods, and timing.

Poor method of communication for the audience.

If you are talking about how to realign the process flow of a production line, it might be best to be on the production line.  Questions can be immediately addressed, demonstrations can be conducted and people can “see” the reason for the change.  It is a lot easier to get the commitment of others if they can visualize the change and the work that will go into it.

Language barriers.

If people don’t understand, they won’t commit.  There are a lot of people speaking other languages in the United States.  Most companies have started printing bilingually in English and a second language.  However, some companies have taken the stance that we conduct business in English and therefore we will require our employees to learn that language.  Good theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.  If you want people to understand and commit, take the time to translate your message.  Hire an interpreter if necessary.  Have a fluent bilingual employee do the translation for you.  Just make sure that people understand and are willing to ask questions.

With the right approach and investment managing change can be very successful.  The change will be conducted by your associates, so make sure that they are committed to the change before you roll it out.


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