The Key to Successful Change - Focus on Motivation

motivation, incentiveFor complex organizations like Federal agencies, undergoing change can be very difficult. As the recent report by Management Concepts and Human Capital Media, “Successful Change Management Practices in the Public Sector” found, Federal agencies have a mixed record of achievement as they struggle to deal with changes arising from organizational realignment, new technology implementation, and changes in the Federal workforce. Despite this mixed record, the major elements of a successful change management are now well understood, and require a comprehensive approach that includes having a vision of where the organization wants to go, making sure individuals are skilled in change management, providing sufficient resources to support change management activities, as well as creating and sticking to a detailed change action plan.

Vision + Skills + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan = Change

However, there is one additional area that is singularly important when it comes to executing effective change management initiatives; finding levers to motivate people to buy into and embrace the change. Too often we see organizations that fail to address motivation incentives early enough or at all. Motivation incentives can include: interesting and expanded roles and work responsibilities, pay, opportunities to advance quickly, training and development opportunities, etc. If the desired organizational change is in conflict with existing incentives, the organization risks creating unnecessary resistance, and achieving no change as people seek to protect the status quo.

Vision + Skills – Incentives + Resources + Action Plan = Resistance

In my experience, an effective structure of incentives is the single most important part of any change because if you create the desire for a critical mass of people and parts of the organization to pull in the same direction, motivation and momentum builds and issues are more easily overcome.  By motivating to become change agents, the organization can focus on moving forward without having to spend as much effort overcoming resistance.

If people are motivated towards change everything else becomes easier, they will:

  • Easily develop and stick to a vision for change because more people can see themselves in the new situation, and understand how it impacts them in an overall positive way
  • Seek to develop and hone their own change management skills, rather than wait to be sent to training they don’t actively engage with
  • More freely provide resources for change management rather than holding on to them to protect their own interests
  • Create and execute Change Management plans easily because everyone is aligned and committed to delivering their assignments and sticking to deadlines.

Changing the incentives removes resistance and helps everything else work better.

However, I recognize that Federal agencies face challenges in providing incentives that private businesses often do not. In private business, compensation structures and organizational structures can be changed to align with business priorities. For the Federal government, pay and organizational structure are mandated by statutes and managers have limitations on changes they can make. However, Federal managers have a toolkit of potential things they can do to increase motivation and drive incentives for change. These include:

  • Appeal to a sense of connection to the wider agency community by invoking  a public service ethic and overall agency mission
  • Offer future opportunities to work using new technology tools that are more effective and efficient
  • Develop opportunities to master new skills in the new environment and receive training that can lead to future career progression
  • Establish job enhancements such as increased flexibility autonomy, increased area of control, or new job tasks

The Federal manager may have to be more creative, but often non-financial rewards can be as effective as financial ones. The Federal government is full of employees who are highly motivated towards effectively delivering their agency’s mission for the public.  If they want to see effective change management they can best achieve this by focusing on ways of incentivizing these employees, helping remove resistance, and creating change agents who can support the change.

Richard Lashford contributed to this blog post.

Written by:
Jim Sowers
Leadership & Management
Media Type:

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