Change Leaders Focus on Feelings

Editor’s Note: This post is part of the series “Disruptive and Innovative Culture Change,” a weeklong effort co-hosted by Switch & Shift and the good people at Culture University. Keep track of the series here and check our daily e-mail newsletter for all posts. Don’t subscribe? Sign up.

Changing people’s minds and behaviors is hard. Have you ever, in a rational way, successfully changed the attitude of a psychopathic team member who hasn’t contributed anything useful since 1972? I thought so. To assume that change in organizations can be rational is, in itself, irrational.

Some experts use the metaphor of an elephant and a rider. The elephant is the emotional part of our brain, while the rider is the rational part. The elephant sees many things as bad and only a few things as good. It responds more strongly to threats and loss than to opportunities and wins, a phenomenon also called negativity bias. For example, in finance and gambling, the pain of losing an amount of money feels bigger than the pleasure of winning exactly the same amount. We often love things only because we have so much invested in them, and the more something has cost us in the past, the more we will love it now. (This is good news for your spouse, by the way.)

The rational rider can do very little about this. The rider cannot just decide to make a change and order the elephant to go along. The elephant is not that easily swayed. It fears the unknown and loves what it already has. To change ideas and behaviors, reason and emotion must work together, but emotion does most of the work. In fact, people usually form opinions and make decisions based on their emotions, and then, afterwards, they cherry-pick any rational evidence that supports the irrational choices they have already made.

To change ideas and behaviors, reason and emotion must work together, but emotion does most of the work.

Now that we know why changing a person’s mind is so hard, we can drop the rational approaches and take a more emotionally sophisticated approach. Information alone rarely sways people, but feelings do. Rather than focusing on facts, we need to focus on feelings and intrinsic motivation.

The Ten Intrinsic Motivators in Business

Everything we do these days is somehow connected to everything else. Therefore, the most successful people are those who are good at getting other people to do what they want. For that, you need to know what gets them going. In other words: What motivates them? Creatively borrowed from several sources, I have produced a list of intrinsic motivators that can move people:

  • Acceptance / Approval
  • Curiosity / Thinking
    Root Rectangle 0415
  • Food / Eating / Drinking
  • Family / Children
  • Freedom / Independence / Autonomy
  • Goal / Idealism / Purpose
  • Honor / Loyalty / Integrity
  • Mastery / Competence
  • Order / Stability / Certainty
  • Physical Activity / Exercise
  • Power / Influence
  • Relatedness / Social Contact / Friends
  • Romance / Love / Sex
  • Saving / Collecting / Property
  • Status / Social Standing
  • Safety / Tranquility
  • Fairness / Vengeance

The most successful change agents and business transformers understand that change is all about feelings and intrinsic motivation.

Considering that my focus is on organizations, I have decided to remove a few intrinsic motivators from the list because they seem not applicable in a business context. For example, I usually don’t try to convince event organizers to book a hotel room for me by using the motivators of romance or vengeance. I prefer to ignore the motivators that could be of great use in your marriage, or in your political party, but less so in a business context. It also makes the list more manageable, memorable, and mnemonicable. This is the condensed and improved list:

  • Curiosity / Thinking
  • Honor / Loyalty / Integrity
  • Acceptance / Approval
  • Mastery / Competence
  • Power / Influence
  • Freedom / Independence / Autonomy
  • Relatedness / Social Contact / Friends
  • Order / Stability / Certainty
  • Goal / Idealism / Purpose
  • Status / Social Standing

CHAMPFROGS is my mnemonic for the ten intrinsic motivators in business. We are all change agents and business transformers, transforming both ourselves and others; therefore, each of these ten motivators can be applied in two ways: to yourselves and to others.

For example, curiosity applies to change agents themselves, because the most curious ones spend time learning about change management, which makes them more effective than others. But curiosity also applies to the people whose behaviors we’d like to change, because by making our ideas remarkable and interesting, we attract people’s attention, getting them more interested in change. The same applies to each of the other ten intrinsic motivators of the Champfrogs model.

The most successful change agents and business transformers understand that change is all about feelings and intrinsic motivation. Stop convincing the rider and start focusing on the elephant. The Champfrogs model gives you some suggestions on how you can do that.

What other culture myths exist? What’s “the truth” that will help others understand how to effectively manage change?

Upcoming Culture Change Engaginar (aka webinar)

We are also partnering with Human Synergistics’s Tim Kuppler to do a free engaginar on the topic of innovative and disruptive culture change. Please join us for this insightful and powerful session. Seating is limited to 100 people. Register early to get your spot. Registrants will also get a free white paper on culture change from Human Synergistics. Register here.

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Jurgen Appelo is the most popular European leadership author, listed on Inc.com’s Top 50 Management Experts. His latest book Management 3.0 Workout, full of concrete games, tools, and practices, is available for free. Download it here: http://m30.me/wo

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