One of the topics that often comes up when talking with clients about making improvements is “how do we make sure that people really engage with the new ways of working?” When I probe, I get comments like “I think they understand why it matters, but their heart doesn’t really seem to be in it” or “why can’t they understand it’s a much better way of doing things, surely it’s obvious?!”  Which, of course, it is – to those planning the improvement. They’ve really got behind their ideas and the plans they’ve developed. They’re really passionate about it all and seem surprised that other people don’t feel and act the same way. So what’s going on?

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of having a clear “why”.  People need to understand the reason that things are done in a certain way or why a particular change is being proposed as well as knowing what they’re expected to do. And, for many, that’s all that’s needed. They readily buy into the idea and throw themselves into making it happen.  Yet for others that doesn’t seem to be enough. You get the sense that people “get it” and understand your “why”, but it still hasn’t really translated into more than the essential action.

The message reaches the head but not the heart. They’re convinced but not yet committed.

Similarly – as we pile an extra portion of fries on to our plate – we know that exercise and the right diet are good for us. Yet far too many of us (myself included) are way too good at finding reasons why we’ll go for a run “tomorrow”.  As I write this, my excuse for today is that it’s just far too hot outside!  It’s far easier to accept the theory on an intellectual level than to put it into practice. We know that, in such cases, we’ll stick to the plan or the diet for a while, or while someone’s watching us but, deep down, we’d still rather be on the couch!  So what makes the difference between Conviction (knowing why) and Commitment (actually taking consistent action on it)? How do we get the idea to move from the head (getting something in our heads) to the heart (really internalising it in our values and beliefs). I’m sure psychologists and neuroscientists can explain this far more eloquently and quote the research but, put simply, it’s when we move from thinking we “have to” (compliance) to we “want to” (commitment).

In other words, we find the motivation internally rather than externally.

Understanding someone else’s “why” isn’t enough, we have to find our own. All too often our focus remains on the past – what we have to lose – rather than on the future – what we have to gain, and that holds us back. Or we get stuck thinking how difficult it’s going to be to change things. We need to shift our focus to thinking about the positive consequences and benefits of our course of action (or, sometimes, the negative consequences if we don’t change); it’s there that we find our personal “why”.

Now, how does all this relate to people not engaging with our improvement plan, even if they come to accept that it makes sense? They can see why it matters to the organisation and yet are still merely compliant – doing just what they have to. The problem is that they haven’t made the connection to why it matters to them.

I like to think of it as “connecting the whys”. This sounds similar to what’s often referred to as the WIIFM factor (What’s In It For Me). However, this idea is often applied very crudely in terms of financial or other tangible rewards, which can still be very much “carrot and stick” and won’t have lasting impact.  What I’m really suggesting is that you need to go deeper, understand the desires and motivations of the individual and then connect those to the desires and motivations of the organisation.

From head to heart.

I wish I could give you some simple, easy-to-follow set of actions here, but I’ve never found them. However, in my experience, if you take the time to really understand the people you need to engage – their beliefs and values – you’ll find ways to make this happen. And when it does, people will truly give much more than they “have to” because they truly “want to”. I read recently that, in a “have to” culture, you’re only getting about 20% of the potential of people, so there’s much to gain!

So, if we do all of this, are we there yet? I don’t think so. Everyone may have got the “why” and be fully committed, but still progress is not maintained. Anyone who’s tried to diet or exercise regularly will tell you that it can still be easy to give up even if you are really motivated. Another step is required, and that’s the topic for next time.

Harvey Leach is Principal Consultant with The Consultancy Company. With over 30 years’ experience of leading improvement in industry and as a consultant, he works with clients in both the private and public sectors to help them do things better, faster and at lower cost. By employing simple but effective structures and tools, staff at all levels are engaged in improvement activities that deliver sustainable results that bring real benefit to the organisation.

If you have a challenge implementing your improvement ideas, please get in touch with Harvey via ku.oc1529412175.ycna1529412175tlusn1529412175oc-eh1529412175t@hca1529412175el.ye1529412175vrah1529412175 to arrange a chat to see how we can help.

If you’ve found this blog interesting/useful, please ‘like’ or ‘share’ on your favourite social media channel so it can help others too. This blog is part of a series on creating the right environment for engaging employees in making effective and sustainable improvements in your business that will make a real difference. This blog is the first of a new series looking at specific challenges with implementing effective and sustainable improvement. To view our original series on creating the right environment for improvement, click on the links below.

Overview: How do leaders create the right climate for successful continuous improvement?

Vision: Why won’t people engage with improvement plans?

Values and beliefs: How do our beliefs about others affect the way we work with them?

Values and beliefs: What beliefs are essential to improving performance?

Capabilities and behaviours: What capabilities do you need to turn beliefs into effective action?

Behaviours: Are you afraid to let others make mistakes?

Behaviours: Is your attitude to failure putting your business at risk?

Behaviours: Do Deadlines Matter?

For a broader look at whether your organisation is creating the right climate for everyone to work on how to do things better, faster or cheaper, click here to download a “self-audit” that gives you a full range of statements to consider.

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