01 Feb WIIFM? Answer this Crucial Question if You Want to Deliver Real Change
Have you ever felt cautious about leaving a job that you don’t hate but doesn’t fill you with a desire to spring out of bed to get to work early? Or been wary of moving to a nicer area because you’re not sure what the new neighbours will be like? That fear of the unknown is multiplied when you have hundreds or thousands of people, each with their own motivations to stick to what is (at least to some extent) working.
It’s one of the reasons that substantial organizational change is rarely easy. The Harvard Business Review reports that about three-quarters of change initiatives fail or are abandoned. The expression “resistance to change” is littered throughout reports of why yet another change initiative has failed to deliver the anticipated benefits. People often prefer familiar situations that are not great to the great unknown.
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s research revealed that loss aversion produces a stark imbalance in how we judge potential losses compared with potential gains. Kahneman told the New York Times that in class, he said “I’m going to toss a coin, and if it’s tails, you lose $10. How much would you have to gain on winning in order for this gamble to be acceptable to you?” $20. They preferred no change to an uncertain situation which was far more likely to be beneficial.
There’s a way to address our preference for inertia: giving staff a real reason to change. If you can answer “what’s in it for me?” for people at each level of the business, you’ll be in a much better position to get them to cooperate fully. Working in change project management, I had to make a strong case for why people should carve time out of their busy day to focus on solving less urgent (but typically, more important) problems.
Understanding what’s in it for them entails having an appreciation of the personal drivers for your teams, both positive and negative. What are they most passionate about doing? What would they pay you to avoid? The size of the organization you’re attempting to change will impact how detailed you can be when assessing this but asking at least some of the staff affected is key.
You can categorise the different groups of people by their job roles or more subjective criteria, such as their level of support for the change initiative. If you’re moving from using a standalone risk system to a system that integrates with other business software, considerations for Risk Managers could include that the system will save time transferring information from one system to another, reduce the manual reporting required and enable them to run custom analyses. What’s in it for them? Less time doing administrative work and fixing copy-paste errors and more time doing what they love and engaging in strategy to drive the business.
The specific motivators will be different for executives, middle management and those “on the front line.” So, this analysis needs to be done across the organisation. If you can find motivation for change that’s twice as beneficial as the potential loss they perceive, you’re more likely to be successful in winning people over. It’s unlikely that you can get that ratio of reward to potential downside for each employee but this is a principle that will serve you well in communicating and delivering change.
You can find out what’s in it for them through a mixture of anonymous surveys, focus groups, stakeholder representative groups that comprise people at different levels and from different departments. Rather than just paying lip service to their views, use their feedback to shape the change initiative from its inception to delivery. It’s important to keep the outcome of the change in mind: be precious about your goals for the change, not the means you use to achieve them.
Delivering change is hard but you can make it a lot easier and more effective if you understand people’s motivations and explicitly show them how this change can benefit them.
This article first appeared in Forbes.