Motivation Drives Our Change Success!


During many transformational processes, we spend a lot of time and effort in order to get things moving. As change agents and facilitators, we often get the feeling that changing people’s behavior is thankless and painful. Ultimately, we see frustrated people going around assigning blame about everything. Indeed, the story of “Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody” turns out to be true: It ends up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have. Thus, many people have secretly given up during the change process and only stay because of the fact that they are get paid for their time. They are far from being committed to the new way (whatever this should be – and sometimes they have only a vague idea of this way). What’s going wrong during transformational processes? How can we better motivate the people (and often ourselves) during these change processes? 


When I was considering these questions, I was asking myself why we are losing our motivation in a business context while, at the same time, we are spending so much time and effort on volunteer work? What are these communities doing better? We do not do volunteer work in these communities because we are getting paid for it. A certain belief is driving our motivation. We believe that this is meaningful and often has a positive impact on and makes a contribution to the society and/or the environment. We simply do things because we want to do them. Let’s look at our brain and what we know about motivation from neuroscience: The source of motivation is based in our brain. Indeed, in the place where neurotransmitters spark chemical messages to keep us alert and on-task. One neurotransmitter that plays a role in the science of motivation is dopamine. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways. The mesolimbic pathway, which comes from the middle of the brain, plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. When the rewards for completing a difficult task are high, the motivation to complete it will naturally also be high (and the other way around). One of the most obvious rewards in completing a task is monetary gain, but money itself is a bad motivator. The much better rewards are based on the dimensions of the SCARF Model; thus, e.g., achieving more autonomy in one’s daily work is a significant reward for our brain.    


Our brains are therefore designed to work as efficiently as possible. It focuses on making value-based decisions. The easier the task and the bigger the reward, the more motivated we are to complete it. There are two ways to increase our motivational level. The first is to reduce the perceived difficulty of the task and the second is to increase the perceived reward from completing the task. Agile methods, for instance, precisely follow this approach:  

  1. A product idea is broken down into user stories and sprints; while constantly reminding ourselves of our end goals, we stay focused on our end goals which will keep us motivated;
  2. After each sprint, we record small accomplishments; we can see our progress in small steps;
  3. During all sprint reviews, we communicate the achievements to the team; communicating the results means that others will recognize your work.

And very often–due to a better team spirit, teams celebrate together once they are able to complete a project. These positive moments are then stored in our brain and whenever we reach a difficult challenge in the future, we will remember the successes from the past. We cannot change the fact that the goals we have to achieve are getting more and more complex in a world full of volatility, uncertainty and complexity. But we can change the way we perceive the difficulty and the rewards for a task. We simply have to change our work methods in order to influence our level of motivation. 


Instead of investing in qualification programs for hierarchical roles, we should indeed spend our time (and money) on creating communication platforms in order to discuss questions with regards to organizational and leadership issues. It is all about developing the motivation of the workforce. Change processes are too often creating a complexity and difficulty that people simply cannot and will not follow. It is the task of the management and the change team to break down the transformation into small pieces which the people can follow. We always have to remember that the people themselves have to change (and nobody can do this on their own); as change agents and change facilitators, we can only guide them on this path. Guiding people through transformational processes also means motivating them as they move into a new world.