When your organization and people are challenged with impending doom—I mean, impending change—leaders often stick their heads in the sand and hope it passes. Yes, it will pass, but your organization can take advantage of the transition using the science of motivation and what we know about the way people experience change.
People go through predictable stages of concern during any organizational change initiative.*
Early on, people have both information concerns and personal concerns—they need to know what the change is, why it’s happening, and how it will affect them. Don’t make the mistake of avoiding people’s personal concerns until you can share all the detailed information about the change. People sense when change is coming: word leaks out, rumors and half-truths are spread, and people make up their own stories in absence of full knowledge. If people smell the smoke of change, they are already fearing the fire. If leaders do not effectively address these concerns early in a change process, the change may likely fail or succeed painfully. Neither of those options is optimal.
To address personal concerns, ask three questions: What choices do you have? What meaning can you make from all this? and What can you learn? When you facilitate people’s answers to these questions, you help them satisfy three basic psychological needs and activate their optimal motivation—despite experiencing disruptive change in their workplace.
Question #1: “What choices do you have?” encourages Autonomy, the first of the three psychological needs.
People forget they have choices when they are faced with a change made without their input or consent. But people always have choices. They can choose to come to work or not; to give their all or bide their time working in fear and expecting the worst; to learn, grow, and contribute or hold back out of resentment and retaliation.
Leaders with the skill of facilitating a motivational outlook conversation are able to guide their employees’ understanding of their situation and potentially shift their perspective. As a leader, you can help your people connect the choices they have to values they hold dear. Change initiatives and a lack of security are less likely to be seen as threatening when people experience a sense of autonomy.
Question #2: “What meaning can you make from all of this?” deepens Relatedness, the second psychological need.
People need to attribute meaning to the madness around them. Consider taking a proactive approach to helping people identify opportunities to serve others, deepen relationships, and make a contribution for the greater good.
Don’t underplay your role in connecting what people do every day to a higher purpose. Instead of simply driving for results, challenge people to examine higher quality reasons for why results are important. A leader who does this is more likely to generate results that were previously lacking—and that probably prompted the change in the first place.
Question #3: “What can you learn?” promotes Competence, the third psychological need.
It is in our human nature to learn and grow every day. However, without a conscious effort, adults don’t tend to notice what they are learning—or even that they are learning at all. Asking people what they stand to learn from a change prompts their awareness of their innate desire for continued growth—and how important it is to their sense of well-being. As a leader, you can help rekindle people’s innate enthusiasm for learning.
Take Advantage of Motivation Science During Times of Change
Remember, your job is not to shield people from what’s happening, to prevent their pain, or to obfuscate the truth in hopes of protecting them. Your role is to create a workplace where, despite the chaos or conditions, people are more likely to satisfy their psychological needs and experience optimal motivation.
By paying special attention to personal concerns at the beginning of a change process, you can help people grow and develop in ways that are beneficial to them and the organization before, during, and after the change. The greatest gift you may ever give—or personally experience as a leader—is to help people thrive in the midst of change, uncertainty, and ambiguity.
* Blanchard consultants Pat Zigarmi and Judd Hoekstra have written extensively on the predictable stages of concern people go through when asked to change. You can learn more in their co-authored chapter of the best-selling book Leading At A Higher Level or via their Leading People through Change model and process.
About the Author
Susan Fowler is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of the best-selling book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… And What Does. She is also the co-author of Blanchard’s Optimal Motivation training solution which teaches leaders how to create a workplace where employees thrive. You can learn more about Susan Fowler and Optimal Motivation at The Ken Blanchard Companies website.