How to get employees to care 22% more about your change initiative

I could also call this post :"What to be clear about". That way it would be more brand-consistent. But I like the stat in the title. Below is where it comes from:

This is the interesting thing to consider if you're in charge of a change at your company: Odds are, your employees don't care about what you care about.

I'm just going to say that again:
Odds are, your employees don't care about what you care about.

So what does that mean to Henry?...

Henry's story:
Let's imagine Henry. You might recognise him. You might be him. Henry is in his early 40s, in reasonably good shape, and only wears a tie to the office when he's seeing clients.
Henry has a high-powered executive role in his company (like you, maybe) and he is sponsoring a transformation. He has arguments so people can spend full-time on it despite their day jobs because he knows it's important. He attends steering group meetings for it, and he is a hands-on helper to the programme manager. He's no fresh-out MBA graduate with no experience; Henry is well-respected. Henry is seasoned. Henry has been around. Henry has the character behind his eyes that tell you he's been there, done it, got the T-shirt. That means Henry knows a few things:

Henry knows change
He knows most change programmes fail. That's old news to him. He's read his Kotter (Leading Change, 1996) telling him 30% of change programmes succeed. He's read more recent stuff, like McKinsey's survey of 3,199 executives that re-inforced the point, saying only 1 in 3 change programmes succeed. That means that over the course of his career, he's come to believe in the value of deliberate change management. He has worked with consultants in his past, and he has also hired people with change skills. (Again, this might be sounding familiar to you.)

He has seen the models. He knows the change needs strong executive sponsorship with visible role modelling of the new desired behaviour. (that's why he's so personally involved.) He knows that internal processes need to be altered so they re-inforce the new way of working. He knows the importance of a good communications and stakeholder management plan. He knows the importance of just-in-time training and he has even seeded 'change champions' throughout the organisation to help embed the change. He's big on benefits realisation and he knows how he's going to measure the value of the change once the 'new way' is in place. Crucially, he even knows that
he needs to tell a compelling story, or have a strong 'case for change' so that all the employees who are going through the hassle can see the point of the change and agree with it. That puts him ahead of a lot of people running change programmes out there in business-land. Particularly because he knows the importance of communicating a compelling story, he is pretty confident that his change programme is going to be one of the 30% on the right side of the failure statistics. (If you have ever been Henry, so far you're thinking that everything sounds pretty well in hand. Read on...)

What's more, Henry has read (our clarity heroes) Chip and Dan Heath's book (Made to Stick) and his story about the change is going to follow their S.U.C.C.E.S.s formula: He will concoct his story so it will have a set of Simple messages. It may have some Unexpected elements, though this might be a bit harder. However, he will use Concrete examples and he will be believable and Credible. He will try to incorporate some Emotional elemts and of course since he's telling a Story, well, it will be a story. 5 out of 6 on the Made to Stick scale. Not bad going.

What Henry doesn't know though, is this: His story is going to be all wrong.

Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller, in their McKinsey Quarterly article "The irrational side of change management" suggest one critical, potentially success-enhancing or success-killing thing to consider when crafting our clear, sticky, well-communicated stories, and that thing is this:

What motivates you, the research suggests, doesn't motivate most of your employees.
Typical change story types
The story form that underpins most change management efforts, according to their research, tends to follow one of two types: The "Good to Great" story, or the "Turnaround" story. 'Good to Great' stories are the ones that go: ''We conquered the world with our amazing search engine and ad revenue model. However competition is nipping at our heels so we're going to pour our energies in to innovative new things for our next generation like cloud computing for business and government. That next wave will keep us in our rightful position on top!" 'Turnaround' stories are of the "We're in deep trouble now, and our competitors are getting ahead of us. (showing what happens if we do nothing.) Therefore, we're going to make this change to get our costs under control. This will free up the resources to do the new product innovation we've been planning, and with that we can become one of the top 10% industry leaders in the next two years." ilk.

Both sound good, both sound compelling and both sound like rational reasons to change. So our Henry will take his Turnaround story, communicate it to his employees, back it up with great visuals, carry it on with ongoing progress newsletters and keep people involved.

The pitfall:
But this, according to Aiken and Keller is where the pitfall can be:

Research by a number of leading thinkers in the social sciences such as Danah Zohar, (they tell us) has shown that when managers and employees are asked what motivates them the most in their work, they are equally split among five forms of impact:
  • Impact on society (like building the community, stewarding resources etc...)
  • Impact on the customer (providing superior customer service, for instance)
  • Impact on the company and its shareholders
  • Impact on the local working team (for example creating a caring environment), and
  • Impact on 'me' (development, paycheque, bonus, hours, type of work etc...)
This finding, they say, has profound implications for leaders.

What the leader cares about (and typically bases at least 80% of his or her messages to others on) does not tap into roughly 80% of the workforce's primary motivators for putting extra energy into the change programme.

Change leaders need to be able to tell a change story that covers all five things that motivate employees. In doing so, they can unleash the tremendous amounts of energy that would otherwise remain latent in the organisation.

So here's how Henry can change his story to get his employees more motivated:

The 22% improvement story:
Aiken and Keller point to the following example:
Consider a cost reduction programme at a large US financial-services company. The programme started [like our Henry's] with a change story that ticked the conventional boxes related to the company's competitive position and future. [only one of the five dimensions from above.] Three months into the programme, management was frustrated with employee resistance. The change team worked together to recast the story to include customers (fewer errors, more competitive prices), the company (expenses are growing faster than revenues, which is not sustainable), working teams (less duplication, more delegation), and individuals (more attractive jobs).

This [and this is the good part:] this relatively simple shift in apporach lifted employee motivation measures from 34% to 57.1% in a month, and the programme went on to achieve 10% efficiency improvements in the first year - a run rate far above initial expectations.

Clarity rule: If your'e going to be clear, be clear about the right things.


  1. That's a good point that I hadn't thought about much - you can use the SUCCES forumula all you want, but if it's not the right story, it's not going motivate somebody to action. Keep up the great work here!

  2. Steve - you've just said in two sentences what it took me a whole article to say. Very nice. Thanks for the comment.