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Book Excerpt

How do you get people to change? Add to ...

The following is an excerpt from Michael Fullan’s Change Leader: Learning to Do What Matters Most.

You can’t make people change, and rewards and punishment either don’t work or are short lived—the only thing that works is people’s intrinsic motivation, and you have to get at this indirectly.

But what is going to motivate the masses? The big change problem is how to get people to put in the energy to improve a situation when a lot of them don’t want to do it. How do you get people to change their minds? Grasping the essence of quality change processes is the focus of this chapter.

Machiavelli had it right 500 years ago. When people contemplate new ideas, he observed, they are “generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience” (1515, 1961). The key word here is experience. Grasping change involves giving people new experiences that they end up finding intrinsically fulfilling. Once again we are back to practice rather than theory as the driver.

Key Insight 3: Realized effectiveness is what motivates people to do more.

In other words it is not inspiring visions, moral exhortation, or mounds of irrefutable evidence that convince people to change, it is the actual experience of being more effective that spurs them to repeat and build on the behaviour. People can get fantastically excited and inspired, as many did when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008. But change is only a mirage unless people actually experience the reality of improvement. If that happens, they will expect and do even more. Motivated people do get better implementation, but interestingly the reverse can be more powerful. Helping people accomplish something that they have never accomplished before causes motivation to increase deeply. Such newly found motivation is tantamount to passionate commitment that is further contagious to others.

There is often a tension between resolute leaders and group development. By definition, the former are determined to get on with it, and thus can become impatient with those who are hesitant to get involved. Grasping change reconciles this potential conflict because those leaders who are change savvy know that they cannot become successful without the collective commitment and ingenuity of the group. This collectivity is seen not as a nuisance but rather as a necessity. Galvanizing motivation is the essential task of the change leader.

The resolute leader who is change savvy helps people try new things under relatively non-threatening conditions, and listens to and learns from their reactions. He or she kick-starts the change process, often acting as the initial ignition. But the process will never go anywhere unless the leader figures out how to develop ownership within the group, and I use the word group advisedly because the driver of sustainability is the peer culture. Put another way, at the beginning of a given change process the leader is key to get things going, but successful change eventually must revolve around collective ownership.

Finding Effective Motivators

Let’s start with the basics: what motivates people? Daniel Pink provides us with the foundation when he identifies three sources of motivation: biological drive, extrinsic rewards (incentives and punishment), and intrinsic rewards (things that make us feel good just by doing them). One example of an incentive/punishment motivator is merit or performance pay. Rewards and punishment have a place under conditions of seriously limited capacity, such as where few people have the necessary skills and often do not show up for work, as is the case with teachers in some developing countries.

But if you want substantial and continuous improvement extrinsic motivators have limited effectiveness. Pink reports on several experiments, all of which led to the same conclusion. One involved an experiment in India in which participants were asked to do several tasks (unscrambling anagrams, tossing tennis balls at a target, and so forth). They were divided into three groups who received low, medium, and high financial rewards tied to reaching performance targets. There was no difference in the success of the low and medium groups but “in eight of the nine tasks … examined over the three experiments, higher incentives led to worse performance” (Pink, p. 41, italics original). Another example: when women were invited to give blood, with one group being paid, and the other voluntary, only 30% of the former group decided to give blood, compared with 52% of the latter. Pink observes that the rewards “crowded out the intrinsic desire to do something good” (p. 48). Extrinsic rewards, in other words, narrows the reasons for doing something and makes it unlikely that the reason for the effort is coming from inside people.

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