G is for People Making Changes When They Have Something To Gain  


There are many views about what motivates people to make changes in their lives and work. One view is that people take such steps when they have something to gain.

Some people make changes because they want to feel better. They want to feel more pleasure or experience less pain. Some people make changes because they want to be more productive or want to make more profit. Some people make changes after having a shock and then focusing on their life goals.

A person may choose to give up smoking, for example, after having a health scare. They decide that they want to live longer and see their grandchildren grow up. They don’t want to greet them through an oxygen mask.

People with deeply held values may choose to follow these rather than compromise in critical situations. They believe being true to themselves will be beneficial in the long-term. They pursue the path that enables them to live with themselves, even if this may involve short-term pain.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you made changes in your personal or professional life? What triggered you to take these steps?

You may have believed you had more to gain and less to lose. If so, how did you come to this decision? Did you make it on a feeling level, a factual level or a combination of both?

You may have aimed to be healthier, develop your skills, increase your employability, improve your performance or whatever. What did you do to translate your desire into action? What happened as a result?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you made changes because you had something to gain. 

Describe the specific things you did to make the changes. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

The psychology of encouraging people
to make changes rather than
telling them they have to change

Imagine that your role involves helping people to achieve ongoing success. You may play this role as an educator, coach, mentor or trusted advisor. This may involve helping individuals or groups of people:

To clarify their picture of success.

To build on their strengths and follow their successful patterns. 

To, if they wish, also help them make changes that enable them to achieve ongoing success.

There are many approaches to taking these steps, but sometimes it is important to be wary of the word ‘change’.

The change industry – including some therapists, change agents and coaches – sometimes overlook people’s strengths. They start off by trying to convince people they must change.

This may take the form of a therapist starting a session with a person by saying: “What do you want to change?” Or it may involve people in organisations going to change programmes where they are told they need to change.

Sometimes this approach can work. Looking back at my early career, for example, I ran programmes for people who wanted to change their behaviour. The people were motivated to take these steps, however, because sometimes it was a matter of life or death. They wanted to give up drugs, stay alive or live happier lives.

Change programmes in organisations have a chequered industry. One reason is because such programmes often fail to build on people’s existing strengths and bombard them with messages about how they should change. This can have the opposite psychological effect. People dig in and increase their resistance.

Some therapists and coaches make a similar mistake. They fail to acknowledge the person’s achievements in life and instead urge them to change. This is like telling a person they are failure and the only solution is to change their personality.

Bearing these things in mind, how can you help a person to make changes? One approach is to encourage them to channel their personality – rather than change their personality – and enable them to achieve ongoing success.

You can start by clarifying their strengths and successful style. One approach is to explore: a) The times they have succeeded in the past; b) The principles they followed then; c) The things they can do to follow these principles – plus maybe add other skills – to succeed in the future.

You can then, if appropriate, show the benefits of making some changes. It is up to the person to decide whether they want to take these steps.

It is a different case entirely, of course, if a person is choosing not to follow the agreed professional principles in an organisation. If you are a leader and guardian of the culture, you will act. If the person chooses to continue to behave in unprofessional ways, then they need to accept the consequences.

Imagine, however, that you are helping a person or a group of people who are prepared to make changes. Here are some steps you can take.

This highlights a crucial point regarding how we use the word change. Telling people that they must change as individuals or as a group of people can lead to resistance.

Another approach is to invite people to decide whether they want to make changes to gain something. This can produce a more open response.

These guidelines do come with a caveat. Sometimes leaders need to implement changes quickly. This calls for more radical solutions.

People may then need to change the way they behave in order to keep their jobs. Alternatively, they may need to take this step to build a successful organisation. Bearing this in mind, how do you shift a culture in an organisation?

Some leaders start by explaining the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success. They explain the big picture, give people context and outline the strategy for going forwards. They explain the What, Why, How, Who and When.

Such leaders then invite people to decide if they want to work towards achieving the goals. If so, they make clear contracts with people about how they can make their best contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

The Three Waves approach is another way to shift a culture. This involves taking the steps described in the following slide. You can discover more about this approach via the following link.

The Three Waves Approach

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may have something to gain by making changes? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may aim to gain a greater sense of control in your life, take more care of your health, do more satisfying work, be better at managing your energy or make other changes. What would be the benefits of taking these steps?

Looking ahead, what are the real results you want to achieve? How could you do your best to achieve these results? What are the strategies you could follow? How could you take these steps and follow good habits? What will be happening that will show you have achieved your picture of success?

If you wish, try tacking the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to make changes because you have something to gain.

Describe the specific things you can do to make the changes.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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