Drive business transformation with positive motivation

Positive motivation is driving successful business transformation rather than relying on fear and force. Avoid transformation programs’ common reasons for failure and align development plans with the company's strategy and shared values with these tips.

I heard recently how an experienced corporate leader argued that fear is the best motivation for transformation. Even though he meant his argument provocative, challenging times might actually cause more corporations to use harsh methods to make the change when needed. We all know the term “burning platform”, an expression used to describe a situation where a company or organisation needs to take drastic action to survive. The concept has gained popularity as an effective way to motivate employees and stakeholders to make a real change.

My view, however, is different. Even though fear is a strong motivator, it only works for a limited time. And should never be applied on a personal level. Fear causes stress, decreasing performance levels and motivation in the long run. Typically, as soon as another option is available, people find ways to escape the unpleasant situation or environment. But what is then the best way to motivate employees and other stakeholders to change? How to drive successful business transformation?

Why transformation programs fail

One way to plan a transformation is to examine why business transformation programs fail to meet the success criteria. Based on different studies, the fail ratio varies from 30% to almost 90%, and unfortunately, Salesforce projects are no exception.

The most common reasons companies so often fall short of targeted results include lack of leadership and employee engagement, insufficient resources and capabilities, poor alignment between strategy and implementation, ineffective communication and an organisation’s resistance to change. People resist change for various reasons, including fear of the unknown, loss of control, uncertainty about the future, fear of failure, lack of information, and cultural and social norms. Understanding these reasons can help organisations implement change in a more effective and less disruptive way:

  • Lack of user involvement: Users are more likely to embrace and support changes when involved in decision-making. Users may only accept the transformation if they feel included or their input is considered.
  • Insufficient training and support: Adequate training and ongoing support are essential for users to feel confident and competent in using new technologies and processes. Inadequate training can lead to frustration and resistance to change.
  • Unclear benefits and communication: Users need to understand the benefits and reasons behind the transformation. If the benefits are not well-communicated or understood, users may not see the value of the changes.
  • Resistance to change: Change can be met with resistance from employees who are comfortable with existing systems and processes. Overcoming resistance through effective change management strategies is crucial.
  • Poor user experience: If the digital solutions are not user-friendly or intuitive, users may find it difficult to adopt them. A good user experience can encourage users to embrace the changes.
  • Lack of alignment with user needs: The transformation should address user pain points and needs. If the new technologies and processes do not align with user requirements, adoption may be low.
  • Cultural barriers: Organisational culture plays a significant role in user adoption. Employees may want to go along with the changes if the transformation aligns with the prevailing culture.
  • Fear of job displacement: Employees may fear that the new technologies could lead to job displacement or reduced job security, leading to resistance to the transformation.
  • Legacy systems and integration challenges: Integrating new technologies with legacy systems can be complex and challenging. Integration issues can impede the seamless adoption of new solutions.
  • Lack of champions and advocates: Having influential champions within the organisation who support and advocate for the transformation can significantly impact user adoption.
  • Data security and privacy concerns: If users are concerned about data security and privacy with the new technologies, they may be hesitant to adopt them.
  • Limited resources and budget: Insufficient resources or budget allocation can hinder the implementation of user-friendly solutions and robust support systems.

If we deep-dive into the reasons behind these pitfalls, we can mitigate the risk of failure and plan actions to support organisational change.

Design change with empathy

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” states a famous quote by John C. Maxwell. And that is why it is so important to focus on people and culture when managing organisational change.

To enable growth, we should (rather than scare the audience with unpleasant consequences) build guidance and walk stakeholders from awareness to desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. This model is called ADKAR.

The ADKAR model is often used as a diagnostic tool to assess where individuals might be facing challenges during a change initiative. It is very well aligned with the “design by empathy” approach. By understanding which stage individuals are in, organisations can tailor their change management efforts to provide the necessary support and interventions to move individuals forward toward successful adoption of the change.

The five stages of ADKAR represent the building blocks of successful individual change:

  • Awareness: This stage focuses on creating an awareness of the need for change among individuals. People need to understand why the change is happening, what the implications are, and the benefits it will bring.
  • Desire: Once individuals are aware of the change, they need to develop a desire to support and participate in it. This stage involves addressing any concerns, fears, or resistance that individuals may have and ensuring that they see the personal and organisational benefits of the change.
  • Knowledge: In this stage, individuals acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to implement the change successfully. Training, communication, and education are essential components to ensure that individuals have the information they need to adapt to the change.
  • Ability: The ability stage focuses on helping individuals develop the competency and capability to implement the change effectively. This may involve practice, coaching, and providing ongoing support as individuals work through the challenges of the change.
  • Reinforcement: The last stage is about reinforcing the change to make it stick. Recognize and celebrate successes, reinforce the benefits of the change, and create an environment that sustains the change over the long term.

Unfortunately, it sounds more straightforward than it is in practice. With tight deadlines and ambitious business targets, it might be tempting to boost things by forcing change with mandatory tasks and metrics and using fewer carrots for motivation. But for effective transformation, both are needed. As nicely explained in his famous book “Our Iceberg Is Melting”, John Kotter highlights eight actionable steps to walk people in any organisation from awareness to fully adopted change. He introduces methods on; how to create a sense of urgency and assemble a team of influential leaders, how to utilise a volunteer army and enable action by removing barriers and how to celebrate short-term wins and later anchor the change in the organisation’s culture to ensure long-lasting success.

It is also good to remember that the success of the different actions is always related to the organisation’s culture and business context. In some companies, people are, for example, much more custom and fit for a data-driven approach, whereas in others, employees might find personal KPIs and metrics intimidating. That is why aligning transformation plans and actions with the company’s business strategy and shared values is crucial.

As companies seek efficient and effective approaches to meet success metrics of organisational change, the use of sticks rather than carrots might be tempting. But based on experience of hundreds of implementations and business transformation projects, we can state that organisational transformation is always a result of motivated people. And a long term motivation is built by focusing on employee awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement of the change rather than fear of failure or losing business. If you start by understanding the audience and design with empathy, you can expect the results to follow.

Elina Peuhkurinen

Lead of Industries

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