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How to Motivate Change in Your Employees

It’s a new year, often a time to vow to change. People do this, of course, but so do employees and businesses, as part of business strategy and business leadership.

We’re all familiar with how hard change is, though. Employees often resist change. They either don’t see the need for it or do not want the discomfort that change can bring. Businesses resist change in multiple ways.

If you want to motivate change in your employees, what’s the best way to do it?

There are actually two types of employee change: moving from negative to positive behavior, and embracing positive change that the company wants to see. Let’s look at them one at a time.

Long journeys start with small steps.

One Small Step at a Time

If negative behavior from one of your employees needs to be changed, Forbes suggests that managers (or human resources) focus on motivational interviewing. In a nutshell, motivational interviewing focuses on changing the viewpoint of the employee, from not understanding either how the behavior is negative or the consequences of behavior to embracing the need for change.

Say that you have a consistently underperforming employee who misses deadlines, for example. You, or a human resources consultant, should have a conversation in which you ask open-ended questions to elicit the reasons for missed deadlines.

If the causal factors are lack of training or understanding, you can then fix the problem with more training.

But if the problem requires employee change, you need to point out discrepancies between good work performance and what is occurring.

Are deadlines missed because the employee spends too much time socializing with coworkers, for example, or too much time on social media or e-mail? Point out discrepancies by saying things like “So you understand that deadlines are crucial, but you seem to spend a lot of time after lunch chatting with Coworker X. If you cut that short, you’d have more time to work on your projects.”

The employee also needs to understand that there will be consequences for not changing, including termination.

Set up a series of small, achievable steps in a performance plan. Set interim, micro-achievements on the way to achieving deadlines.

The principal of small and achievable steps underlies a lot of human change. Setting up a larger goal, like always being first to meet deadlines, may feel overwhelming to someone who has difficulty hitting one at all, even if you are using sharepoint alerts to help them with reminders. But having projects A and B done on Wednesday on the way to meeting deadlines on Friday is easier, and thus more achievable.

Make It Easy

Make it easy to change by facilitating the conditions for it.

A Harvard Business Review article takes a different tack, pointing out that humans all tend to follow the Principle of Least Effort. If a recycling bin is close, people will toss their bottles and newspapers in it. If it entails walking a relatively long distance or going to another floor…good luck, because they won’t. As Green That Life shows, it takes a lot of hard work to change human behavior.

So if the change you desire in your employees is more team-focused communication, for example, make it as easy as possible for the team to get together. Sponsor happy hours. Create flexible and comfortable spaces where the team can hang out, without the possibility of scheduling conflicts or interruption.

Change can be difficult. Motivate change by making sure people understand what has to be changed and what the consequences are. Set up small steps to achieve a larger goal. Make it easy to change by facilitating the conditions for it. Here’s to motivating change the right way in 2018!