Motivating Change That Leads To Results

When things aren’t working, change needs to happen.  For change to happen, someone has to act differently.  That sounds simple.  The challenge is first to figure out what to change and then to motivate people to want to start behaving in a new way or to move in the new direction that you want them to go.  You can announce changes.  You can explain how the changes will take place and why they are important, but if you can’t motivate people to actually change, you will meet resistance or failure.  By applying the change management concepts similar to what is presented in the book, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, we have found counterintuitive ways to help our clients make transformative changes successfully.

Cover of "Switch: How to Change Things Wh...

Cover via Amazon


In order to make changes in ourselves, our team, our behaviors or practices, we have to understand what psychologists have been telling us for years.  Psychologists say that our brains are ruled by two systems:  the rational mind and the emotional mind.  Both systems compete for control.  The rational side of your brain is your reflective or conscious system that deliberates, analyzes, plans, calculates and strategizes for the future.  The emotional side of your brain is instinctive, impulsive, seeks pleasure and feels pain.  Here’s how it works:  The rational mind knows that summer is coming and says it is time to lose weight so we will look good in our swimsuits this summer.  The emotional mind wants immediate gratification when we crave our favorite sweet treat, snack or fried food so we eat it for immediate pleasure but then feel guilty later for letting our self-control fly out the window.  In work, our rational mind knows we need to change or improve something, but the emotional mind loves the comfort and ease of the existing routine or current structure.  The tension between the rational and emotional can undermine change or help change come quickly.


In the book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt calls the emotional mind, the Elephant, and the rational mind, the Rider.  Since the rider is so small compared to a six-ton elephant, the rider loses control of the direction they go if the elephant gets lazy, scared, too exhausted to change, or is looking for a quick payoff over the long-term benefit.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses.  Play to each one’s strengths.  Emotion is the Elephant’s strength hen it comes to loyalty, compassion, love, sympathy, instinct to protect from harm, spine stiffening when you need to stand up for yourself, and most importantly…the energy to get things done.  The Rider’s strength is the ability to plan and provide direction.  The Rider needs the Elephant or wheels spin but nothing gets done as there is no motivation.  The Elephant needs the Rider or nothing improves.  You need to appeal to both and have them work together.


In the book, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard, the Heath brothers give numerous concrete examples of how to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives and achieve dramatically successful results.  For example:  In 2007, researchers Alia Crum and Ellen Langer published a study of hotel maids and their exercise habits in Psychological Science, called “Mind-Set Matters:  Exercise and the Placebo Effect.”  A hotel had complaints from the maids because of low morale.  When interviewing the maids, they expressed that they were too tired after cleaning rooms to go exercise so they were overweight and unhappy.  After investigating the energy put into cleaning an average of 15 rooms a day for 20-30 minutes per room, i.e. bending, pushing, lifting, carrying, scrubbing, and dusting, the researchers decided to tell half the maids that they were in fact, exercise superstars.  They gave them a document describing the benefits of exercise and calories burned from doing various tasks such as:  100 calories burned for a half hour of vacuuming, 40 calories for changing linens for 15 minutes, etc.  Four weeks later, the maid who had been told they were good exercisers had lost an average of 1.8 pounds which is almost half a pound a week.  Plus they had lost body fat.  The maids had not changed anything else in their lives, so it was concluded that awareness of the exercise value of their activities triggered the weight loss.  The self-realization that I’m not a sloth–I’m an exerciser! was extremely motivating and the maids found satisfaction that their work was also helping their health and well-being.


How can we accomplish this in other settings?  How does an organization, a business, a team or an individual make the switch?


Guides to Changing Behavior (Making the Switch): 

1.  Direct the Rider – If we experience resistance in the change, we work with you on clarifying the direction you want to move in capture plans and then help you break it down into smaller achievable, measureable benchmarks.  We discuss and investigate what is working and build on it.  We help you script the critical moves and identify specific behaviors that will lead to the desired change.  We help point you to the destination and clearly describe why it is worth changing.


2.  Motivate the Elephant – Laziness and exhaustion are two of the main reasons people are not motivated to change.  The Rider can force change, but it won’t last long unless you engage their emotional side and gain cooperation.  We help you grow your people, give you tools to facilitate the change, and guide you to motivate your people through the process.  Knowing is not as motivating as feeling the need to change.  Reducing the change into manageable smaller steps helps reduce the fears and makes the change attainable.  We help you cultivate a sense of identity in who you are and what you do so you can better connect with owners.  We work with you to instill a growth mindset.


3.  Shape the Path – The Path is the situation.  Shape the situation so the Rider and Elephant want to work together, and are motivated to change behavior.  If needed, we help you change the situation and tweak your environment.  It is important to build habits that encourage change in the direction you want to go.  When behavior is habitual, it requires less energy, so look for ways to encourage habits.  Behavior is contagious.  Help positive attitudes and behavior to spread and influence others on the team or in your department to become part of the successful transformation.


Of course there will be obstacles to overcome, but when you are tempted to “raise the bar” remember that perception matters.  Though it may seem counterintuitive, you may actually need to lower the bar at first to motivate the reluctant Elephant to step over it and start to move in the direction you want to go.


When you have a decision to make, ask yourself:

1.  Who am I?

2.  What kind of situation is this?

3.  What would someone like me do in this situation?


You may be tempted to Analyze –> Think –> assume Change will happen, but it is important to also See –> Feel –> to motivate Change.


In order to be effective and make the change long-lasting, you must reach out to both the emotional Elephant and the rational Rider.  In addition, you must clear the way for them to succeed and shape the path for success.  One of the most rewarding parts of our consulting business is to help companies, organizations, teams and individuals successfully make the switch which leads to overall better health, more satisfaction,  improved performance and desired results.


Leave a Reply

Revenue Growth Workshops

Stewardship to Equity