Some changes appear, on the surface, to be very easy.  Every indication is that it will be a fantastic success.  However, unforeseen circumstances can derail even the simplest change initiative.  Conversely, we’ve all seen the change project that seems to be headed for certain doom only to feel like Marvin the Martian saying, “Where’s the kaboom?  There was supposed to be an Earth shattering kaboom.”  While there are many factors, one of the most important may be trust.

What is Trust?

Trust is something everyone is sure they understand until they’re asked to define it.  Invariably, the definitions describe trustworthiness and not trust.  We place upon the other person the characteristics necessary for us to be safe to trust them.  However, that’s not trust.  Trust is taking a risk that you can predict someone’s behavior.  In short, the math equation that compares the impact of a betrayal and the values of trusting tilts to the trusting side.

Francis Fukuyama in Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order explains that trust is something we do because it’s effective.  We trust because we don’t have the capacity to approach every interaction with a lack of trust.  The goal is to figure out who we can trust and in what circumstances.

Betrayal or Poor Prediction

One of the necessary consequences of trust is that we will occasionally miss our prediction and therefore be betrayed.  However, this is a negative view of what could simply be described as a failure to accurately predict.  In almost all these cases, the problem isn’t that we misread someone’s character, values, or needs, it’s that we weren’t aware or didn’t consider their competing needs.  Steven Reiss in Who Am I? and The Normal Personality explains what he believes are the 16 motiving factors for humans.  He’s quick to say that we all have all of them in varying degrees, and it’s when two values come in conflict that we’re surprised.

Consider a slight variation on Mischell’s famous Marshmallow Test.  What if instead of just promising a second marshmallow (or treat) if the child left the one in the middle of the table untouched as he left, that he had them commit to not eating it?  Now we have the desire to remain honest, loyal, and agreeable set against the biological imperative for calories (including sugar).  Would it surprise anyone if the child ate the marshmallow?  It shouldn’t, because sometimes the pulls are too strong to fight – even with a positive commitment.

While betrayal has a strong negative connotation – and potential negative consequences – it should be a normal expectation when we see two values in conflict.

Building Trust

For change to work, there must be trust.  The greater the trust, the easier it is.  Those impacted don’t question motives or need all the details, they can proceed forward just on the trust of the individual or the organization.  Conversely, in situations of low trust, it may be effectively impossible to convince people of a relatively simple fact.  There will be questions about every aspect of the proposed plan and mistrust that the plan is just a ploy to “get one over” on those whose behavior is being requested to change.

Building trust is not particularly difficult.  You need only to make and meet commitments.  In those cases where a commitment can’t be met, you need to renegotiate.  (See Make, Renegotiate, Meet for more.)  However, there are nuances to the way that we trust.  Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace breaks trust down into contractual trust (doing what you say you’ll do), communications trust (communicating openly and honestly), and competence trust (being able to do what you commit to).  Building Trust offers different facets in terms of the types of trust: basic (unverified), blind (intentionally unwilling to accept input), and authentic (tested).

Trust is the great lubricator for change – but only when you’re willing to take the time to build it.

The most dominant view of an organization is that it’s a machine.  We think that our work as change leaders is to change out the parts and the connections inside the machine to reconfigure it to do something slightly – or radically – different.  The problem is that this view of organizations necessarily limits our view and minimizes the impact of human interactions.  It’s managing the transitions that humans make that is at the heart of change management – and is what fundamentally separates it from traditional project management.

Building Blocks

The mechanical model isn’t completely wrong.  After all, there are flows, as customers enter the organization with orders and exit with delivery of their product.  There are different parts of the organization that have different roles to fill like different parts of an automobile.  The radiator is designed to keep the engine cool – and without it, the car doesn’t run.

It makes sense that relocating the radiator will change the effectiveness of this job.  For cold-weather climates, you might even be able to reduce the size of the radiator or eliminate it entirely.  It’s possible that you could relocate it from the front of the car to the underside of the car or even the trunk.  These changes can change the efficiency of the car by allowing other components to be bigger and more powerful.

When we are making organizational changes, we’re changing parts either in size, capabilities, or function.  At a rational level, this makes sense.  However, the changes that we make don’t always result in what we’d expect, because people aren’t machines, and the problems that we’re addressing are complicated.

Steel Axes Lead to Prostitution

It seems like a good thing.  Approach Stone Age Australian Aboriginals and offer them steel axe heads.  What could go wrong?  We’re simply replacing an inefficient part – a stone axe head – with a more efficient one.  The problem is that the introduction of the steel axe head led to a breakdown of the society.  Men were prostituting their wives for the coveted steel axe heads.  This was, of course, completely contrary to what the Christian missionaries were trying to accomplish.

The missionaries missed the relationships between elders, young men, and young women and how the stone axe heads formed the framework for those relationships.  It turns out that the actual item wasn’t as important as the rituals and relationships that it was a part of.  The relationship was much more intertwined and organic than was predicted.  (For more on this story, see Everett Rogers’ excellent book, Diffusion of Innovations.)

Other Models

Before impacting people’s livelihoods and lives, it’s worth considering other ways to view the situation to minimize the potential for unintended consequences.  Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization suggests that there are several other ways to view organizations as:

  • Organisms
  • Brains
  • Cultures
  • Political Systems
  • Psychic Prisons
  • Flux and Transformation
  • Instruments of Domination

While some of these are less positive than others, Frederic Laloux, in Reinventing Organizations, makes it clear that there are more and less effective management approaches.  Richard Florida, in The Rise of the Creative Class, explains that, as a society, we’re moving to a more creative and heuristic set of workers who need to be motivated and managed differently.  That means if we’re trying to change them, we’ll have to do more than learn from the experiments done nearly a century ago at Hawthorne Works.  (See Management and the Worker for more on Hawthorne Works.)  We’ve got to find approaches that recognize the greater flexibility and creativity of today’s workers.

Joseph Rost, in Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, encourages us to let go of the industrial model that sees everyone as cogs in the system, because people aren’t cogs.

You’re about to start the job of your dreams, and you’ve got a bit of trepidation and fear.  What if it’s not exactly what you expected?  What if you’re not successful?  What if you don’t even like it?  Even in changes that we believe have the most promise, there is always a possibility of problems – and that means there’s a degree of uncertainty.  The degree of uncertainty is the degree to which we fear, and therefore resist, the change.  (See Why People Don’t Resist Change and Frozen in Fear.)

Minimizing Uncertainty

If you want to accomplish your change, then the first step is to minimize the uncertainty.  Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations addresses five factors that lead to adoption: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability.  Of these, observability creates the ability for others to see the success and therefore minimize their uncertainty that this idea will work for them.

That’s why large companies have case studies and why our internal change efforts need success stories.  Everyone needs to observe that this really works, and they can be successful, too.  Two of the others, compatibility and trialability, speak to the ability of people to try the item with minimal loss.  In other words, they’re free to try it and, if they don’t like it, move back.  This minimizes the risk associated with the uncertainty.

Agile software development has recognized for a few decades that it’s impossible to eliminate all the uncertainty surrounding the development of complex software.  The solution this problem was to continue to take a set of small steps.  No one misstep is so large as to create a major problem.  The iterative nature of agile software development minimizes risk and creates safety around a degree of uncertainty.

Agile software methodologies vary but are common in the idea of a small test – often called a spike – that can help to determine which ways are safe and which ways may be fraught with unforeseen problems.

Accepting Uncertainty

In truth, there’s no way to remove all uncertainty from our world.  As much as we can and should minimize it, zero isn’t really possible over the long term.  Nassim Taleb elegantly explains in The Black Swan that it’s not possible to eliminate all possible conditions of risk.  You can only address those that you know about.  However, despite this rather grim sounding prediction of things to come, all is not lost.

Just because there are unforeseen circumstances doesn’t mean that your change effort must be frozen in fear.  Amy Edmondson’s The Fearless Organization speaks about how we can reduce the general fear in organizations and thereby increase tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty.  When people feel generally secure, they’re more willing to take more risks.  In Find Your Courage, Margie Warrell shares that courage – the kind of courage to proceed in the face of uncertainty – is about feeling safe enough to take appropriate risks.

Moving Forward

If you can minimize uncertainty as much as possible and then work towards increasing base-level feelings of safety and security, you may just be surprised about how much energy people will put forth towards changes even where there is some degree of uncertainty remaining.

There are two great causes of organizational death: poor execution and lack of innovation.  They both rely on change management skills but different ones.  Knowing the situation that you’re in and which set of change skills should be used can help keep your organization alive.

Operational Excellence

The lack of operational excellence is a friction that slows down organizational progress and can eventually threaten to stall an organization and ultimately bring it crashing down.  The goal of operational excellence is taking the edge off the rough edges.  It’s following Michael Gerber’s advice in The E-Myth to systematize everything.  It’s finding the most efficient execution of any process, then ruthlessly revising it.  It’s leveraging Deming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle for that continuous process of improvement.  Ultimately, organizations that can create operational excellence have more resources to invest and can therefore often accelerate quicker than their competitors.

Change managers and change agents in organizations with strong operational excellence execute the system and then evaluate its effectiveness, having made after-action reviews routine.  Despite Emerson’s concern for “foolish consistency,” they seek for wise consistency and therefore efficiency.  Change in an organization that’s seeking operational efficiency is instilling the desire for continuous gradual change and the impetus to avoid stagnation.

When moving operational excellence forward, change managers need to execute themselves well, including their communications and their after-action reviews.  A lack of solid, consistent, and comprehensive communication creates the kind of confusion that leads to organizational friction and inefficiencies.

After-action reviews are often overlooked, because people are on to the next thing, whether that’s being reassigned operational responsibilities or launching the next change.  When the opportunity to capture the learning that happened during the project is lost, it prevents further improvement and ultimately the ability to continuously improve the operational excellence.


We live in a world of disruption and change.  Even the most efficiently run taxicab operation can’t complete with the market forces of Lyft and Uber.  The best run hotel chains in the world find themselves monitoring VRBO and Airbnb as they erode the number of customers and therefore profits.  Even the most amazing incandescent light company would find itself struggling as consumers have started demanding LED lights.

Innovative change is necessarily disruptive, and disruptive change is scary for everyone.  The disruption necessarily changes the status quo, which threatens our ability to predict our future – and that’s scary.  When working with innovative changes inside an organization – including those changes created by merger and acquisition as well as those of a radical rethinking of the business or a part of the business – the key is less about creating motivation and more about managing fear, concern, and doubt.

Tools like effective communication help alleviate the fears of those who are prone to playing at the professional level of worst-case scenarios.  Reassurance and reinforcement become required of anyone in the spot of innovative and disruptive change.  However, the key skills of the innovative change manager are their ability to facilitate difficult conversations and their ability to create agility.

Facilitating conversations isn’t easy when people have different values and perspectives.  However, this is exactly the kind of situation that The Difference explains has the most potential.  But it is also a recipe for conflict that the skilled change manager must carefully navigate to reach understanding – if not complete agreement.  Strong facilitation skills create safe spaces and opens everyone to the idea that they can express their experiences and their beliefs to the group.  The result is often unexpected ways of working that no one could have predicted.

People often confuse a lack of structure with chaos.  Controlling projects is seen as the way towards success.  The truth is that we can’t have all the answers when we start.  Successful change managers help the organization with which decisions need to be made irreversible and where their options need to be kept open while possible.


Change managers who can bring all these skills together – and more – can help their organizations deliver on the promise of change, whether it is incremental or innovative.

Lakshmi is the Hindu Goddess of wealth.  The problem is that if you chase her, she’ll avoid you.  Sarawati is the Hindu Goddess of knowledge.  If you pursue Sarawati, Lakshmi will get jealous and chase after you.  So, if you want wealth, the best strategy isn’t to pursue it directly.  The best strategy is to pursue knowledge and let wealth come to you, or so the story goes.

When we’re trying to change our organizations, lives, or anything, sometimes the direct path isn’t possible.  Sometimes the best – or even the only – approach is the indirect approach.

Gravity Assist

One of the amazing things that humanity has done is to have launched a probe beyond our Solar System – or rather to have launched two of them, neither of which had enough power alone to escape the pull of our Sun.  Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 both used a technique called gravity assist to accelerate beyond the solar system.  They used the pull of planets to accelerate them on their journey.  Through the mechanics of gravity, they took a relatively little amount of momentum and turned it into much more and escaped the pull of the Sun.

Sometimes our change efforts seem to be weighed down by the past successes of our organization.  These bright spots – successes – invite the question, “If it’s working, why change it?”  We know, of course, that what has worked won’t always work and cringe at the thought of doing nothing until we become organizationally extinct.

Challenging Beliefs

Sometimes belief in the truth – or the truth of the current approach – can be so powerful that it can’t be escaped directly.  It may need an initial disruption and then a redirection.  One way to do that may be to take us back to our childhood.

Santa Claus

It’s a fantastic story.  One man with an army of elves and flying reindeer travels to every house across the globe and deposits presents for all the good boys and girls in a single day.  The mathematics are staggering.  Even accounting for the rotation of the Earth, the rate of present placement simply can’t be done.  However, you can’t tell that to a starry eyed three-year-old whose parents and grandparents have assured them of this fantastical story.

By about ten, most of us have heard the news.  Our parents and grandparents deceived us.  There is no Santa Claus.  Parents across the globe give their children presents and pretend they’re from Santa Claus.  It’s deception to be sure.  It could be called the largest conspiracy that the world has ever known – except it’s done to keep the magic and hope of life alive, so we all accept it.


Sometimes, the belief isn’t based on a deception.  It’s just a misunderstanding.  It was believed in ancient times that the Sun and all the planets circled the Earth.  Geocentrism was defended by the Church, and the heretical ideas of Copernicus and Galileo that the planets – including Earth – circled the Sun resulted in Galileo’s conviction and his house arrest.

It wasn’t that there was any intentional deception, but ideas which we held dear were eventually invalidated.

Other Changes

Once there’s an initial burst of energy as people recognize that not everything that we know is certain, we can begin to gently evaluate some of the tenets that we hold dear inside our organization.  Instead of clinging to an outdated notion that we’re in the movie rental business, perhaps we can recognize that we’re in the business of enabling entertainment, whether or not there’s a VHS cassette or DVD involved.

Perhaps, we can challenge seemingly immutable beliefs that we have to be in the office to be efficient or that teams can’t be remote.  There are dozens of hidden beliefs that can prevent us from accomplishing our change directly.  To be successful, we’ll have to find and dislodge these beliefs first – we’ll have to accomplish our change a bit indirectly.

“I just don’t understand it.  They won’t do anything to move forward with the change.”  It’s a familiar lament by change managers who are trying to help organizations reach their potential.  We’ve all encountered people that seem stuck or frozen, and too often we overlook the obvious problem, because it’s not obvious to us.


Fear is a powerful motivator.  It can drive people to amazing efforts and accomplishing the seemingly impossible.  However, as a motivator, fear is dangerous.  Like a pressure vessel, you never know how it will explode in unanticipated ways.  Instead of a pressure to move forward, the person explodes – or freezes.

The unfortunate reality about fear as a motivator is that it is unpredictable.  Sometimes it will drive to the right conclusions, but too often it leads somewhere else – including nowhere.  We’ve all seen possums on the road that are no longer playing dead.  We’ve seen deer that have frozen as the car headlights sweep across the road and on to them.  Because fear is so unpredictable, few people use it to motivate people any longer.  However, there’s more to fear than the fear that’s an attempt to motivate.

Deepest Fears

Our deepest fears are not of heights, spiders, bats, or any of the first thoughts that we may have.  Our deepest fears are unspoken.  They’re our fear of rejection, ostracism, and feeling unimportant, unworthy, or impotent.  When we’re making changes in our organizations, we necessarily are creating disruption and risk to everyone’s security.  They may not feel competent and safe in their current situation, but they’ll feel less safe when there is change and the unknown.

From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense.  Rejection and ejection from the community was often a death sentence.  If we’re unimportant, if we don’t contribute to our community, and our family we can be replaced, removed, and forgotten.  We’ve learned that these fears aren’t the kinds of insecurities that you share with others.


The first problem with anything that we keep secret is that no one else can help us with it.  No one can reassure you that you’re valuable – just because you’re a member of the human race, if for no other reason.  No one can remind you of the resources and support you have if something does happen in your job.  There’s no way that anyone can reassure you that your insecurities, though natural, aren’t grounded in reality.

The result is that often people become more secretive about their insecurities, and they’re more focused on the threats that exist that may mean their insecurities will become truth.  More and more energy becomes consumed, feeding the fear monster so much energy that there’s nothing left for anything else.


From the outside, the lack of change looks like being frozen.  On the inside, it’s a battle royale, as the ego defends itself from the slings and arrows of insecurity.  Even if you’re unable to accept that the battle is going on and this is the core dynamic that causes people to freeze, you should acknowledge that people freeze when they encounter fear, whether internally or externally generated.

If you want to get people to change and they seem stuck or frozen, a good way to figure out what is keeping them stuck is to ask what fears they’re hiding.  Often these internal fears are undiscussable, and because they’re undiscussable, they’re difficult to address.

It’s no secret.  It’s not complicated.  And still, it’s not done consistently.  The data shows that even in acute care settings, professionals don’t wash their hands like they should.  Depending on where you live, the professionals that you trust with your health may only wash their hands one in five times that they should.  They’ve been told.  They’ve been lectured.  They’ve been threatened.  Despite this, they’re still not washing their hands when they should.

They’re not stupid.  They’re not uneducated.  But they’re not motivated.  They don’t see how it matters, and it shows.

The Command

One of the most annoying things about many infection control professionals is that they believe they can just command others to do something, and it will happen – even if they won’t do it themselves.  Tell others to wash their hands, but don’t always do it yourself.  The command should be enough – particularly when backed up with a threat of being fired – but it isn’t.

The CDC, National Institutes of Health, and World Health Organization have launched countless research projects, trials, and programs designed to improve handwashing.  Largely, these programs have been a moderate success in the short term and a colossal failure in the long term.  Many of the interventions create a short-term change in the handwashing rate but ultimately fail to make a permanent change in the amount of handwashing in the organization.

One may argue that they don’t believe in the consequences or that the consequences aren’t swift enough.  But what happens when you consider the case of seat belts?

Seat Belts

It’s 1964, and the prevailing thinking of the auto industry is that accidents are caused by idiots behind the wheel.  Ralph Nader writes Unsafe at Any Speed and works to shift the perception.  The result is more robust safety features in cars and the introduction of the seatbelt.  Fifty years later, we are still struggling to get people to wear them.

It’s an impressive number when taken out of context.  90.7% adoption.  That’s the percentage of miles driven where a seatbelt is used.  The problem is that this number is plateauing.  It doesn’t appear we’ll get much higher than this, because everyone knows about seatbelts, and they’ve formed their own opinions about whether they’ll be using them or not – regardless of the consequences.

The Consequences

Beyond the threat of death that the crash test dummies drilled into our collective consciousness, in the 1980s as a part of the public safety campaign, there’s the threat of getting a civil infraction – a ticket – if you’re not wearing your seatbelt.  In 49 of the 50 states in the United States, you can be written a ticket if you’re failing to wear your seatbelt.  The 50th state has the ominous state motto of “Live Free or Die.”

The consequences can’t be higher than your death or the death of someone you love.  They can’t be more tangible, real, and vivid than the consequences of driving without a seatbelt.  Despite this, there’s not 100% compliance.  If it’s really just as simple as telling people what to do, why can’t we get people to do what we want them to do?

The Solution

The solution to accomplish change is to help people understand why they want to do the behavior and then build supporting systems around them to encourage the right behavior.  Built in seatbelt warnings in cars were effective for those who didn’t remember to fasten their seatbelt and simultaneously emboldened others to resist people telling them what to do.

If we want to get people to change, we have to help them come to the idea that they want to comply –rather than they feel like they must comply.

I was never very good at carnival games.  I’d throw a dart to pop a balloon and end up skewering a goldfish in the next booth over.  However, I was always intrigued by the bowling ball game.  It required just enough energy to get over the hill, but not so much that the ball would come back to you.  It was a delicate balance between too much and too little.  It’s like navigating the change productivity dip.

The Productivity Dip

Every change manager knows that when you make a change from something old to something new, there is always a productivity dip.  The old way was automatic, natural, and routine.  The new method is different, awkward, and forced.  It takes time for the brain to adapt to the new way of doing things.  During that time, you can expect that everyone will be a little less productive.

Both the degree of productivity dip and the length of the dip vary with the change and the preparation that is done to minimize the impact, but it’s always there – and there are two ways to get stuck there.

The Wheels Fly Off the Cart

When I was young, I’d play with slot cars.  The cars would follow a groove on the track, and as the driver, you’d control the speed with a trigger in your hand.  You couldn’t just hold the trigger at full throttle, because the car would fly off the track during tight turns – and crash into the wall.  This is the first place that I learned that, if you went too fast, things would fly apart.  I learned the lesson again a few times – including once or twice in a real car, never knowing there was a problem until it was a bit too late.

Some changes can be managed this way.  Too much pressure.  Too much change.  Too few constraints.  The result has never been good, and in more than a few cases, it’s led to what I have often described as “explosive growth leads to explosion.”  Going too fast without enough control (or influence) has the tendency to end badly.  However, there’s an opposite problem: not going fast enough.

Failure to Thrive

In babies, there’s a problem called “failure to thrive.”  It’s when the baby just doesn’t gain weight like they should.  They’re not getting enough calories to grow at the normal rate.  It’s often a signal that the baby isn’t getting enough nutrition either because of insufficient feedings or because there’s a problem preventing digestion and absorption of their food.  If the situation is left unaddressed, the baby won’t grow into a normal adult.  They’ll face several developmental problems, the least problematic of which is a smaller size.

Our change initiatives can face the same fate if they don’t get enough energy to get them kicked off and over the proverbial hump that the productivity dip represents.  We know that people don’t evaluate events on their totality.  They evaluate them on their peak and on their ends.  (See Change Anything.)  If you never have enough energy to get past the productivity dip, the last experience of change is a failure – and you begin to expect it.

Just Enough

The trick to the carnival game and to the process of mastering the change curve is to go fast enough to get past the productivity dip without crashing into the wall on the other side and sending the bowling ball careening back at you.  The good news about change efforts is that you can adjust the amount of energy after you start, to increase it if necessary or apply the brakes if it feels like you’re getting out of control.

It’s 1968, and Fredrick Herzberg has the snarkiest of titles in the prestigious Harvard Business Review (HBR).  His article, “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” would go on to become one of the most requested reprints from HBR.  Behind the snarky title is research into what motivates people.  What causes them to stay with the organization, and what prevents them from leaving – and why are they different?


The first category of motivation that Herzberg covered were hygiene items.  Without enough of these, people will leave.  If you don’t pay people a livable wage, they’ll find someone who can.  Each of the factors that Herzberg considered had some hygiene aspects to them.  However, the interesting discovery is that adding beyond the amount necessary to be “okay” didn’t motivate people more.  As Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, people are marginally less motivated by the second dollar than the first until there’s no appreciable change in motivation.

It’s not just money.  There are other factors, like the company’s policy and administration, that must be good enough, but it’s not like these factors will compel people to be more likely to stay.


The motivators are in an entirely different class.  While there may not be much in the way of these factors required to help people stay on the job, their continued satisfaction – and performance – was driven by things like achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement.  Company policy and administration wasn’t on the list.

This has important implications for how you motivate people towards changes.  You can’t use things like supervision, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, or salary to motivate people to change.  You’ve got to find the things that top Herzberg’s list.

We Need Stinking Badges

Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre spoke the line, “We don’t need no stinking badges.”  With respect to Mr. Bogart, we do.  We need badges.  A few years ago, learning and development professionals discovered gamification and started putting badges into every training they did.  The world caught on, and there now seems to be a badge for everything.  From a social psychology point of view, this is a good thing – and it doesn’t hurt with Rogers’ perspective on adoption either.  (See Diffusion of Innovations.)

Degenerates into Work

It was Peter Drucker who said, “All good strategy eventually degenerates into work.”  At the end of the day, the work that you’re asking people to do – the work after the change – must be enjoyable at some level or they won’t be happy doing it.

Responsibility, Advancement, and Growth

Our egos are constantly making a mess of things.  We consistently rate ourselves as better than we are.  (See How We Know What Isn’t So.)  A way that we combat this is to receive more responsibility – even without additional pay, more advancement, and opportunities for growth.  These motivators beg the questions of how will the people who are changing feel more responsibility, that their careers have advanced, or feel that they have a greater opportunity for growth?  If there’s no answer, then you’re probably not motivating them.

Accomplishing Change

If you want to accomplish change, you may find that the answers exist in a 50 year old text that talks about how to motivate employees – one more time.

Authority makes it easier.  It’s easier to get things done when you can just tell others to do it.  Of course, few people can do that.  Few people can really order others to do anything without their eventual rebellion.  If you can’t order people to change, you’ll be like most of the rest of us as we try to influence others – with or without authority.

Influence Without Authority

My first highlight in the book Influence Without Authority is, “Nobody has ever had enough authority – they never have and they never will.”  In short, all of us work without sufficient authority.  That means that we must find other ways of accomplishing our goals.

Gandhi was a powerful man to be sure, but his power didn’t rest in his authority.  It rested in his determination and his ability to organize non-violent protests, which led to real and lasting change – freedom from British rule.  It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  You don’t need authority to accomplish change, you need determination.  You need what Jim Collins calls the Stockdale Paradox in Good to Great – unwavering faith and the ability to continue to listen.

If you’re in an environment where you have no authority and you believe that you can’t accomplish change, you have the ability to look for influence instead of authority.  With influence, you have the opportunity to develop a small, committed group that can indeed change the world – or at least change your organization.

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Albert Hirschman wrote Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in 1970 speaking about how consumers could respond to deteriorating quality in the goods they were purchasing.  Later, he commented that these options – and a fourth – could be used in any situation.  You can exit the situation (leave your job), voice your concerns (complain), or remain loyal (persist).  The fourth option is neglect.  You could neglect your duties or your passions.  If you neglect your duties, you may be fired; if you neglect your passions, you may find yourself depressed.

Deciding which strategy you should employ is a personal decision based on your beliefs and experiences.  Great leaders often place the first three options on the table.  They exercise their voice, offer to exit, and remain loyal to the cause if not the situation.  Nelson Mandela could have expressed his anger for his previous imprisonment, but he chose to close his remarks at his next trial with, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Hopefully, you won’t have to offer to die.  There are, however, times when there are no-win situations at organizations, where your only option is to exit.  Before you go there, try your voice and see if there’s a way that you can still affect change without authority.