Effectively managing change requires skill in determining the appropriate means of motivation for each change situation. Since no two changes will be the same, leaders need to understand the underlying fundamentals of how and why people react to given types of change.
People derive comfort and security from routine, so it is natural that any change is initially met with some resistance. Most change management experts are in agreement that fundamentally people are motivated by understanding and accepting an argument that there are more benefits than drawbacks to making a given change. Motivating for change thus requires leaders to relate the benefits of the change to their people and to mitigate any associated drawbacks. People will want to know personally what the impacts of the change will mean and the leader must spend the time to make any and all required assurances and accommodations. The manager of an Accounting group, for example, may motivate their team to accept a new software system by presenting the improved efficiencies. The system will cut processing times, reduce error rates, and free up time for the accountants to do more value added activities. Assurances may need to be given to make sure staff are aware that the new efficiencies will not lead to staff reductions. The size of the change will dictate the level of effort required by the leader, but in any case, the level of acceptance by the staff is the measure of success. Motivating by engaging staff on the benefits of the change is appropriate for most straightforward changes, but not for changes that impact the purpose of those involved. ‘Purpose’ introduces a new dynamic to people’s reaction to change.
Purpose can be thought of as answering the question “What societal function is being fulfilled?” This question can be applied to individual positions, teams and the organization as a whole. For example, a nurse is providing patient care, her team is providing Emergency Room service to the community, and the hospital is a Teaching Hospital that is training medical staff for the entire geographic area. The individual nurse may well take personal pride and greatly value all three aspects of the purposes fulfilled by her position. It is important for leaders to understand that people are personally attached to each of the three answers to varying degrees. For many people, the personal attachment to the functions that they, their team and their organization fulfill is tantamount to the purpose of their life. Because of the personal connection to purpose related issues, people can have strong reactions to even small changes that impact purpose. Reactions to changes with large impacts to purpose can often be so great as to make people review their decision to continue their association with the organization.
When an organizational change impacts purpose, motivation must move beyond a ‘pro/con’ discussion and instead center on assessing the degree to which purpose is impacted (positive or negative) and determining a revised purpose statement. Leaders motivate in these situations by making connections between the values and contributions of the individual or group with those of the revised purpose of the organization. Consider the significant change that many civic governments made in combining fire departments with paramedic services. The revised purpose of the combined organization was to provide more efficient service and “save more lives”. For many within these combined organizations, despite the enormous shift in purpose, relating their personal values and commitment to “saving lives” was the motivating factor that surpassed all other challenges and difficulties associated with such a merger. It is important to note, however, that this motivation will not have resounded with everyone. Whereas the leader can assess benefits of a straightforward change on behalf of direct reports, the leader cannot presume to know the reaction of individuals to a change affecting purpose. Each person will have their own attachment to purpose, so motivating must be done at the individual level. For example, a Cat Rescue Shelter may for some reason decide to become a Dog Rescue Shelter. One employee that loves animals may not be bothered by this change, but another employee who is very partial to cats may be dramatically affected by the change.
The important point is for leaders to recognize when an organizational change creates an impact on the purpose of those involved. For a straightforward change with no impact on purpose, motivation can simply be based on the benefits of the change. For changes impacting purpose, effective motivation must be based on relating the values and contributions of individuals to the revised purpose resulting from the organizational change.