Purpose – it crushes resistance to change

Motivating negative employees by instilling a sense of purpose

Empirical research shows that 70% of all complex, largescale change initiatives fail to achieve the expectations set for them. Research published by McKinsey and Company describes reasons for this that include ‘a lack of employee engagement, inadequate management support, poor or non-existent cross-functional collaboration, and a lack of accountability’. Its report discusses how sustaining the impact of organizational change ‘typically requires a major reset in mindsets and behaviors –something that few leaders know how to achieve’.

In this article, we explore how providing your employees with a sense of purpose could be the key that unlocks successful change management.

How does resistance to change snowball?

John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger found that there are four situations in which resistance to change takes hold and snowballs. These are:

  1. Self-interest
  2. Misunderstanding and lack of trust
  3. Different evaluations
  4. Low tolerance for change

Low tolerance for change is often the result of change fatigue, where employees are subjected to an avalanche of change projects with none being completed successfully. However, the first three situations that lead to increasing resistance to change can be summarized as follows:

  • Self-interest, when people focus solely on their own self-interests and not on the collective best interests
  • Misunderstanding and lack of trust, caused by a lack of openness and transparency that is often accompanied by toxic water cooler conversations
  • Different evaluations, where people assess the impact of transformation differently to their leaders

Motivating negative employees with a sense of purpose

A sense of purpose is the glue that makes change stick. Instead of telling people what needs to be done to execute change, involve them in the why. Connect your mission statement to the change project and its expected outcomes.

Your values and purpose should resonate through all messages related to the change project, reinforcing the connection, and helping to explain why change is needed and the risk of not changing. However, developing this collective purpose is only the beginning of instilling purpose as a motivator of change.

 Giving individuals a sense of purpose

People perform better when they feel a real purpose in what they are doing. Change managers must help individual employees to see the impact that their efforts and contribution make to the collective effort and achievement of change objectives.

Everyone wants to know that they matter, and that they are making a difference. Managers should ensure that the organization’s vision and values are discussed in team meetings and one-to-ones. It is critical that employee performance is related back to mission and values.

When assigning tasks, managers should explain how successful completion of that task will help toward maintaining momentum toward organizational goals – thus helping to connect the organization’s purpose, its mission, what the employee is doing, and the objectives of the change initiative.

How purpose affects performance

People with purpose perform very differently to those who feel disconnected. Here are four ways in which purpose positively impacts performance of individuals and teams:

1.      Purpose produces energy

People with purpose exude energy. They are more positive and enthusiastic about their work. This energy rubs off on those around them, helping to engage colleagues and teams in the change program.

2.      Purpose empowers pride

Purposeful employees are proud of the work they do and the organization they work for. When people take pride in what they do, they are more willing to go the extra mile, seeking ways to improve what they do and pushing their own performance. They are not willing to settle for ‘that’s good enough’.

3.      Purpose engenders teamwork

People with a collective sense of purpose are more likely to be team players. They will deliver what they promise, beat deadlines, and help their colleagues achieve their best work by sharing best practices and working as a team toward collective goals.

4.      Purpose delivers motivated and happy employees

If you want commitment to the cause, ensure your employees are instilled with purpose – both collective and individual. Purpose delivers happier, more highly motivated employees who are more likely to be fulfilled in their work and less likely to leave.

5.      Purpose delivers connection

People who feel connected to your organization’s values, vision, and mission are more likely to perform at their peak, and be brand advocates and ambassadors of your change initiative. They will be more fulfilled, enthusiastic, and energetic in their work.

Explain why the change is necessary, what it means to individuals and teams, and make it personal and collective. To do this, give your people a sense of purpose and reinforce that purpose at every opportunity.

To learn more about creating a change-ready organization, connect with Forward Focus today.

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