Why should I do this?

Let’s face it and be honest with ourselves.  At the end of a long road, a road that was filled with hardship and obstacles, we want to know that the risk was worth the reward.  We want to know that the effort we put forth was consistent with both the internal and external validations that we received.

It’s okay to be a bit selfish, and it’s not a bad thing to have a ‘what’s in it for me mentality’.  After all, when managing complex change, you must want something completely different than the current situation, and we all want the biggest return on investment as possible.

Therefore, the incentive component of managing complex change is the thing that motivates or encourages one to do something.  It’s important to point out that nowhere in the definition does it use the terms money, financial gains, or increased revenue.  While these three can be incentives, they are not always the driving force as incentives are often drawn from various life experiences.

For example, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $115 million to date.  This simple task of pouring a bucket of ice water over your head has allowed for medical breakthroughs and advances in finding a cure for ALS Syndrome.  When Chris Kennedy first poured a bucket of ice water over his head, do you think the incentive was to make $115 million for himself?  Hardly.  On the contrary, the incentive was to raise awareness for a disease which desperately needed funding.

When the decision was made in Brown vs. Board of Education¸ do you think the black families were concerned about receiving a financial return for the tormenting their children faced in the school systems.  Hell no.  The incentive for these families was that their children, and their children’s children would be seen as equals in the eyes of white society.

In the previous two examples, the people involved in managing and implementing complex change knew the struggle was real – they knew it would be damn difficult.  But you know what?  They did it anyway, because the incentive for them far outweighed any obstacles along the way.

How to Incorporate Incentives into Complex Change

Be it managing change in your own life, or within an organization, I believe there are four key principles to keep in mind:

1. Incentives must be specific to a person or group of people

It’s okay to have overarching goals for yourself or a large organization, however, the manner and criteria in which each person is evaluated needs to be different.  More importantly, the incentive must not be all encompassing.  How do you do this?  Get to know people (even yourself) by asking questions and finding out what makes you/them tick.  Incentivize yourself and others based on something they enjoy.  Not everyone wants a financial kickback.  What if the incentive was a gym membership for a year?  An extra week of vacation?  A weekend get-away?  All of which will likely equal less than the monetary reward.

2. Incentives must offer an intrinsic or extrinsic return

Stemming from the first principle, an incentive must elicit an internal or external validation.  People often ask me why I enjoy running marathons, despite the grueling training regimen.  For me, it’s the internal feeling of physical and mental accomplishment after an exhausting race (believe me, the body isn’t designed to run 26.2 miles).  It’s the validation that I did something that less than 1% of the world population has completed.  On the other end of the spectrum, people need the external validation.  Yes, sometimes it’s a large bonus at the end of a great year, but it can also be something much simpler.  An extrinsic incentive could be receiving employee of the month honors, or it could mean being recognized at a quarterly meeting.  For these types of people, it doesn’t always mean they are being arrogant and want attention, but perhaps this is the manner in which they know they are achieving their full potential, and otherwise may never know the true extent of their capabilities.

3. Incentives must be consistent with your values or the values of an organization

Personally, we all aspire to live our lives according to the values on which we have stressed importance.  Organizationally, businesses and corporations (should) operate according to their values and mission statements.  The incentives bestowed on an individual, or handed down by a company, must be consistent with what the said company considers to be of greatest value.  From a personal standpoint, if you value a simple life and commute to work on your bike, then you would likely not see the value in treating yourself to a new car for achieving all the goals you reached at the end of the year.  Professionally, if a company values employee retention, then a consistent incentive might include quarterly trainings specific to individual roles.

4. Incentives must be attainable

Personally, I believe this principle to be the most important.  Why?  If an incentive isn’t attainable, then individuals or people will likely not work hard towards achieving it.  They will ask themselves the question, ‘what’s in it for me’, and they will answer with, ‘nothing’.  It’s at this point the person will not see the value (see principle number 3) and productivity will decrease.  While it must be attainable, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be challenging.  Overcoming challenges only increases productivity and makes the incentive more desirable.

Incentives, when used properly, provide the motivation for why people and organizations do what they do.  Incentives are what allow people to deal with the obstacles they face and continue pressing forward towards the vision they want to see implemented.  And without them, the small challenges become never ending mountains.  As a result, the physical strength and mental willpower to continue on will to lessen.  At this point you, will face resistance.

e7ec50f1-1e78-4d0f-8a87-4ac9d073327d-originalVision + Skills + _______ + Resources + Action Plan = Resistance

It’s the point in time when have run into the brick wall over and over again, only to see the same results.  No longer does the reward on the other side of the wall outweigh the pain and heartache of continuing to put forth your heart and soul into something, only to receive little to nothing in return.

This is a difficult idea to grasp for one person, but imagine the downward spiral that could occur if hundreds of employees within an organization didn’t feel valued.  Think about the implications that could result from these feelings.

This is resistance.

This is when people wake up in the morning not wanting to go to work.

This is when people do the absolute minimum that is required of them.

This is when the status quo remains the status quo.

This is when exceptional people settle for comfort and complacency.

This is when people move onto something new, exciting, and rewarding.

This is when people find themselves counting down the minutes until their day is finished.

This is when people decide to go half-ass in their training programs for a race.

This is when people give up on a diet after two weeks because they don’t believe it is worth the effort.

These are examples of a struggle.

These struggles are real.

More importantly, these struggles will be present when you don’t see a strong enough incentive (value) at the end of a long road of complex change.

What Does this Mean for You?

When you, or someone you know is on the brink of commitment, being incentivized will be a determining factor in whether you choose to commit yourself ‘all in’.

Being incentivized is a determining factor in whether someone is going to commit themselves entirely to the process, or they will not see the reward as outweighing the risk (challenges), and they will move on.

So, remember that change must be…

  • Specific to the individual person
  • Intrinsic or Extrinsic
  • Consistent with your values, or the values of an organization
  • Attainable for all whom are being incentivized

When you begin setting goals for yourself or your organization that require a system of complex change, keep your vision in mind, utilize specific skill sets, and develop incentives that have yourself and your organization saying, “How can I help; let’s do this.”

2 Comments on “Managing Complex Change, Part Three: Incentives

  1. Pingback: Managing Complex Change, Part Five: Action Plan | Building United

  2. Pingback: Managing Complex Change: Summary and Review | Building United

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