Evans Incorporated

The Human Element of Change Management: Motivation is Personal

by Dawn Stevenson

If your change initiative isn’t working, think about how you’re selling it. Are you trying to convince people to change, or are you actually motivating them?

A 2009 article in McKinsey1 argues: “…people are irrational in a number of predictable ways…the practice of change management is in need of a transformational change through an improved understanding of the irrational (and often unconscious) nature of how humans interpret their environment and choose to act.” One crucial aspect: change requires buy-in from the people affected, and we aren’t all motivated by the same messages.

Change efforts that use one approach often fail simply because people are individuals, motivated in different ways. People are motivated by five kinds of impact: 1) on society, 2) on the customer, 3) on the company, 4) on the working team, and 5) personal impact (such as pay or professional development). Framing the change story in a way that appeals to all five motivations—what the article calls “telling five stories at once”—gives you a much greater chance of success.

If telling five different stories sounds complex, think about it as crafting a message that appeals to both logic and emotion. Logic takes care of itself, but the human element is something you need to think about. For example, let’s say you are introducing a new process that will streamline tasks. Emphasize the frustration of a slow manual process where steps can be missed; Compare it to not only the efficiency and peace of mind that automation supports, but also the freedom it gives employees to focus on their other tasks. You might ask employees to participate in a scenario that evokes the stress or waste of the current process and relief of the new process. A change initiative is likely to connect with more people and create energy for change by adding an emotional element, because it will tap into several sources of motivation.

Focusing on motivating people to change rather than trying to convince them to change is part of what’s called Next Gen Change Management. A recent article from Implementation Management Associates on this shift in approach notes that this means a communications plan isn’t enough but requires reinforcement.2 To motivate change and see lasting results, it’s essential to appeal to what actually motivates people, which varies from person to person.

This is the human element at the core of Evans’ work, which we focus on particularly because it’s so often overlooked. A human-centered approach to change recognizes that people aren’t fully rational and have cognitive biases; a purely technical change initiative isn’t likely to connect with people. As our website states:

“Evans’ Change Management and Communications approach centers on ensuring the right balance between the technical solution and the behavioral solution with respect to change. At Evans we believe it is people that achieve great outcomes.”

You can learn more about our human-centered approach to change management and communications in the next few weeks and in our webinar on July 26.


1Keller, Scott and Aiken, Carolyn, The Irrational Side of Change Management (2009) https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-irrational-side-of-change-management

2Alsher, Paula, 8 Trends for Next Generation Change Management (2018) https://www.imaworldwide.com/blog/8-trends-for-next-generation-change-management

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