To Promote Change, Appeal to Your Team’s Values
February 23, 2023
Leaders often scour for technical information to promote a change initiative, but what if this is the wrong focus? To motivate a team to accept change, appealing to values that reinforce their identity is far more effective.
People are motivated more by emotion than by information. There are countless examples of employees resisting changes that made perfect business sense. To understand why, consider the emotional weight that change must overcome. Luciana Paulise wrote in Forbes Magazine that,
“Change is like grieving a dear family member, you need to let go of something you loved, something you were used to: a team, a role, an office, or even a salary. Nobody enjoys grieving, it is a hard process that cannot be rushed, that’s why it is so difficult for teams to overcome change.”
The people’s side of change must be considered, which is why human-centered design is a helpful change management framework. No matter how much evidence a leader can compile, battling emotion with information is a losing strategy.
Conversely, change efforts are more successful when leaders utilize emotion instead of fighting against it. Harvard University faculty members John Kotter and Dan Cohen explained in The Heart of Change that,
“…the core of the matter is always about changing people’s behavior, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings…In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.”
The question is how leaders can use emotions to their benefit when pushing for change. One solution is to appeal to the values that form a group’s identity.
The Switch Strategy
In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Stanford University professor Chip Heath and his brother Dan Heath, a Senior Fellow at Duke University, showed how this strategy saved a vanishing Caribbean parrot. Paul Butler was a conservation adviser hired by the forestry department of St. Lucia in 1977 to revive the dwindling population of St. Lucia Parrots. Butler recommended the government take several legislative steps to protect the bird, but before officials implemented any changes, Butler focused on creating buy-in among St. Lucians. He did so by making the bird more visible on the island through puppet shows, T-shirts, musicals performed by local bands, dressing volunteers in parrot costumes, and even printing parrot calling cards.
Butler realized he needed the public to care about his cause before legislative change could occur, but he did not try to make an economic case for the bird’s importance or dictate a new way of life to the St. Lucians. Instead, the authors argued, he appealed to their national pride and invited the public to behave in accordance with that value. In other words, he did not ask them to change their ways but rather to act in alignment with their identity. As a result, public support for the bird skyrocketed, the forestry department passed Butler’s recommendations into law, and the population of the St. Lucia Parrot increased dramatically.
Appealing to a team’s values successfully persuades them to accept a change, especially since employees want to work for companies whose values align with theirs. To implement this strategy, leaders must show how a change promotes the team’s existing values. This way, employees do not feel threatened so much as inspired — leaders do not ask them to change who they are but to act in greater alignment with their identity.
How WBD is Helping
As a leader in the government consulting space, Washington Business Dynamics (WBD) knows the importance of strategic business process improvements and the value of change management strategies, including Prosci’s ADKAR model.
WBD is proud of our work with the Department of Defense (DoD), where we developed a crowdsourcing platform, Waggl, which garners insights on barriers to change and measures the rate of adoptions across the enterprise. Several Fortune 500 corporations have adopted the tool, and over thirty organizations across the DoD apply the Waggl for change management insight. The platform allows WBD to generate qualitative and quantitative information that provides senior officials with real-time, automated graphics illustrating change readiness, barriers, and best practices.
WBD helps its clients make better decisions by implementing new systems, technology, and processes and developing bespoke change management solutions with data-driven results.
Author: Gerry Flood, Senior Associate at WBD, is a financial consultant professional engaged with the firm’s Procurement and Business Analysis award with the Department of Defense.