Business & Leadership Behaviors

What’s Your Motivation for Change?

I came across a man sitting on a porch with a dog at his feet. The dog didn’t seem too happy as he was moaning quietly.

Me: “What’s wrong with your dog?

Man: “He’s sitting on a nail.”

Me: “Why doesn’t he move?”

Man: “I guess it doesn’t hurt that bad.”

When I was in college, I heard this anecdote from a professor during a discussion about resistance to change. As humans, we seem genetically resistant to change. Very few of us seem to be gifted with natural excitement and enthusiasm when it comes to change. Most of us need some level of motivation.

Sometimes we only need a little motivation to change direction – like free donuts in the office kitchen might alter our eating plan for the day. Sometimes we need a lot – like when not-so-great feedback from a doctor (see earlier donut motivation) might get us back into the gym and eating better.

Resisting change isn’t entirely a negative. I think some of it is protective – like that healthy fear that keeps us from touching a hot stove. But there needs to be a balance. Just as giving fear too much power can have an undue influence – a propensity to resist change can also really hold you back.

The companies that we work in don’t seem to be any less resistant to change. This isn’t necessarily a surprise since all organizations are built by and comprised of people. So just as we bring our positives to the team, we bring our humanness too.

At HLG, our solutions are all about creating efficiencies – and as such we are often the ushers of change. Usually, the motivation for our clients to change has happened or is on the horizon – and is often is the result of a recent or an anticipated negative event.

Generally, our client motivations fall into three categories – People, Process or Profit (or some combination of the three):

People – We no longer have enough staff to meet our needs. We don’t have the money to hire more staff. (Or worse) we need to cut back staff.

Process – The way we do the XYZ process is no longer fast enough. Too many mistakes are resulting from the XYZ process. The staff is constantly working around the XYZ process instead of doing it as defined.

Profits – Our margins are shrinking. We can’t keep our doors open if we don’t increase our income. If we free up some money from our budgets, we can invest in new ___________.

These are all pretty strong motivations. And still, we frequently find resistance to change (even when that is exactly why we were brought in).

Part of our job is to help clients overcome their fears of change and the resistance it brings. Then we can guide them and get them where they want to be. It took some level of motivation to entertain the idea of change (remember those People, Process, Profit motivations) – but actually taking action can mean even greater pushback. Just because you join a gym, doesn’t mean you’ll use it.

The next phase of motivation usually combines a few approaches to calm fears & get them started:


Frame the Picture

This may start with reminders of the reasons that they sought change in the first place. Next, expand on those reasons to consider the impact of what not changing might look like down the road. Doing nothing now may seem appealing – maybe even the better option – but at what cost later. I like how Seth Godin frames the costs now vs. cost later lesson – with a metaphor on cheap shower curtains.

The main goal here is to ensure that they are stepping out of the emotional side of the situation and into the practical.


Baby Steps

Breaking efforts into pieces might make changes a lot less scary for some teams. When you learned to ride a bike – you didn’t go directly from your tricycle to tearing around the neighborhood, did you? You started with training wheels. Then maybe your dad held your bike and ran with you while you pedaled. Then you took off on your own. At least that is how I did it.

Piecing things out allows your team to learn – and get a little more comfortable with some results. As they get a little more confident in the changes – they get a little more motivation to start the next round.


Plan B

The “What Ifs” can be huge challenges to change. What if we fail? What if it’s worse? What if I’m associated with this catastrophe? “What Ifs” can fuel fear better than nearly anything else – and be the driving source of absolute roadblocks.

Denying the possibility of the “What Ifs” will not motivate your client to change – but acknowledging the possibility and building contingency plans might appease the fears enough to move forward. Backups, redundancies, failovers, etc. go a long way to motivating those that seem paralyzed by fear of change – to take a risk and make it anyway.

Change can be overwhelming and stressful – but it is also inevitable. And it is something that, as humans, we’ve been dealing with throughout history. Running out and embracing it may not be in the cards for you, your team, or your clients – but it doesn’t mean change can’t happen when you have the right motivation.


What have you seen as good motivators for change? I’d love to hear all about it – let’s talk.



Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile inventory management, RFID, and supply chain solutions. She manages our client engagements, helps with sales and marketing, and is often motivated to go to the gym after being motivated by the donuts in the kitchen.