Motivation for the Masses


Suppose you run a company or a department, division, office or branch and you need to move your people from point A to point B. Point A is where you are. Point B is the desired outcome that you want to achieve, or perhaps that's been imposed upon you. You increase your success of moving from Point A to Point B by effectively managing a campaign to do so.

During the campaign, processes are in transition. People don't feel comfortable. They resist the feeling. The campaign represents many upset people; it is a departure from what they were doing. The effective transition manager accepts the challenge and helps people to adopt new operating procedures, exhibit new behaviors and develop new attitudes all in support of the desired outcome.

Crossing the Pain Threshold

In Managing at the Speed of Change, author Daryl Conner notes that keeping a campaign moving forward "is only possible when the pain of the present state exceeds the cost of the transition state." For example, it would be exceedingly costly to abandon your car if it were stuck on a railroad track. As a train approaches, it would be even more costly to not flee rapidly and abandon the car!

In business, many companies want to keep offering the product or service that has brought them healthy profits in the past. Yet, as competition strives to offer superior products or services, and as the marketplace becomes more aware of opportunities to upgrade products and services, there is simply no standing still.

Is it expensive to develop new products or services, particularly on a continuing basis? You bet. However, it is more expensive to stay where you are.

Moving On in Discomfort

Even when people fully and intellectually embrace the need to adopt new behaviors, the tendency to slip back to what they were previously doing is powerful. The keystrokes you're familiar with or the buttons you used to push no longer get the desired results. What's worse, you're not sure what will give that result.

Your reflexive action in the face of change is to gravitate back to what did work – the old software. At least you knew where you stood when you pushed this button versus that one. However, what if the keystrokes you're familiar with or the buttons you used to push no longer give the desired results?

Skilled project managers – and by osmosis, their targets of change – who prove to be effective in executing a change campaign understand and accept the need to move on even when it's uncomfortable.

The Great Motivator

Some people regard pain management as the greatest single motivator for people to achieve what they want. By extension, pain management applied to a team may be the greatest single motivator for the group to achieve the desired objective. Unless you associate sufficient amounts of pain with your current situation, one month or one year from now, you will likely be surrounded by all of the unpleasant aspects of your current situation, because you won't muster sufficient impetus to break through the transition state to get to the desired end result.

Within an organization, division or department, change campaigns are initiated by sponsors who inherently feel some level of pain. Thus, it behooves the sponsor to convey an appropriate level of pain to the project manager, who will then convey the appropriate message to the troops.

What if an organization, department or team seeks to change because they will lose out on a fun or interesting opportunity otherwise? Will the level of pain be sufficient? In most cases, the answer is no.

If failing to make a change will result in some minor upset, hurt feelings or other temporary negative situation, then once again, the pain level is insufficient to sustain a campaign that will be carried all the way through to the desired end.

Had Enough?

What then, constitutes appropriate and sufficient pain? How much is enough to motivate a sponsor to initiate change, to cause a project manager to feel the heat and to pass on the intensity to the targets of change on whom the responsibility falls? As it turns out, the answer is not clear. Pain is subjective.

The amount of pain and the form it takes impacts people differently. In business, frustration and dissatisfaction can show up as a result of loss of market share, loss of industry position, and even loss of prestige.

Frustration or dissatisfaction? – The owner of an under-achieving baseball team, who is frustrated with the team's performance and is dissatisfied with being the "cellar-dwellers" of the league, has more than sufficient incentive to make drastic changes. A new manager is hired. Expensive trades are in the works to get top players.

Sports fans already know that more off-season trading is done among clubs who did poorly than among those who did well. In basketball, in the 1990s, during the heyday of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the nucleus of the team remained intact for several years. Only the role players seemed to come and go.

In baseball, perhaps the owner feels he isn't getting sufficient support from the fans, and by moving his ball club to a more attractive location, he could enjoy a larger fan base and more revenues, and hence better players could be obtained.

Fear at Bat

Never underestimate the power of fear as a motivator to change. Psychologists will tell you that following a person's divorce, he or she has the greatest incentive to get back into shape if more than a "few pounds" have been added over the years. The newly divorced person fears that he or she will not attract a suitable mate.

While married, this same person might have had little incentive to shed pounds. Once he or she is back in the singles market, the pounds come off relatively easily compared to any previous weight reduction campaign.

So too, organizations that fear for their long term viability are primed for change. Initiating sponsors have fewer hurdles to clear to launch a campaign. Sponsors more readily have the ear of project managers, who in turn more readily have the attention and participation of staff.

An organization-wide fear can be harnessed by sponsors and change managers to great effect. It is not as if they brought about the situation, but they can make use of what has occurred. Sometimes, pain comes all at once, such as in these scenarios:

  • An advertising agency loses a major account after many years.
  • A manufacturer faces a crippling law suit from a well-prepared adversary.
  • An airline CEO discovers his major competitor has acquired another airline and now will easily dominate in several key markets.

Sudden pain is often the hardest for firms to handle. The immediate inclination is to "do something" and to do it right away. No one likes to be caught flat-footed, but even with the best of ongoing intelligence reporting, sometimes it happens. Such situations call for measured response, not knee-jerk reaction. Often, the reaction merely exacerbates the problem.

Frustration and Dissatisfaction, versus Shock and Surprise

Suppose you experience a growing realization that your competitive advantage is slipping away – the plant has been operating for too long above optimal capacity and is straining at the seams. Or, perhaps the level of customer complaints is rising. This form of pain falls someplace between frustration and dissatisfaction, and shock and surprise.

Slowly building pain can be difficult to grapple with. Change sponsors hope that with a modification here and a twist there, problems will subside. Sometimes, a growing realization about a troubling situation that is not dealt with at the appropriate time can turn into full-fledged frustration or even shock. Yet, it could be argued that the situation should never have been allowed to progress that far.

If a company is losing major market share or profitability, or otherwise bids farewell to what it regards as vital, then the pain level is sufficiently high. It's the sponsors' responsibility to initiate a change campaign as soon as they feel, or even anticipate, sufficient pain.

Waiting too long to initiate change can be fatal. If a company decides to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn, especially after the competition gains a tremendous lead, the marketplace has shifted, and technology has been upgraded, the pain may be extraordinary and felt all the way down to the lowest levels of an organization. Yet no magnitude of change campaign may be sufficient to salvage the situation.

Copyright © Jeff Davidson

About the Author
Jeff Davidson

Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is the internationally recognized expert on work-life balance and holds the registered trademark from the USPTO as the "Work-Life Balance Expert"®. Delivered with passion, Jeff has offered his cutting edge, hands-on strategies for a balanced career and a balanced life to audiences worldwide. He is a five-time state winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration's "media advocate of the year" award. Jeff's breakthrough books and articles have made him a favorite, repeat interview subject of USA Today, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and the Career Weekly of the Wall Street Journal. Jeff can be reached via his web site at

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Managing Change in the Workplace

Do you need help managing resistance to your change program? Check out our resource kit, Managing Change in the Workplace. Its tools, exercises, techniques and tips cover every aspect of managing change. Visit the Managing Change in the Workplace information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using this practical change management guide and workbook today.

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