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Change is structural. What impact do things have on your desired change?

BY : Carey Kurten & Josh Hayman | Organisational Development Portfolio – BKCOB Employee Relations Forum (ERF Committee) 

In a series of articles on Organisational Change, we have challenged leaders to consider the motivation (willingness) and ability of those who are going to make the change stick. Willingness and ability of both individuals and groups within the organization, influence the speed and sustainability of the change you want to make. In this article, we consider the third source of influence – Structural Motivation (things).

There is an Ethiopian saying “Fish discover water last”. We don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish. Often we become so accustomed to our workspaces that we don’t see the obvious. When it comes to change, we just don’t think about “things” as our first line of influence. In our work as consultants, we encounter many different spaces. We approach each one with fresh eyes. This perspective often means seeing a very simple structural change that can have a huge impact on accelerating the behavioural change required by our clients.

Here are two important questions that will challenge you to see ‘things’ in your own workspace with fresh eyes:

First: What structural changes to the physical environment might be needed to enable this change?

Joseph Grenny in his book Influencer, asks readers to consider the subtle influence of your dining-room table on your family togetherness. This physical object facilitates interesting conversations and face to face contact. An obvious, but often overlooked way of changing human behaviours, the physical environment, needs to enable the desired change.

The physical environment is perfectly designed to get you the results you are currently getting. Start by examining the non-human elements in your workplace – buildings, sound, sight, space. Instead of seeking to change the people, consider the impact of things like the size of the room, charts and graphs on the walls, or the effect of a boardroom table. Even those with the best of intentions can have physical barriers that make the change impossible.

Second: What systems and processes will reinforce the change?

There must be consequences for change. Where positive behaviours are rewarded, and negative behaviours are sanctioned, change is more likely. Interrogating existing systems of recognition is an important part of organizational development. Most often, the outcome or result is what is rewarded. Masaaki Imai in his book Kaizen shares a secret used in the Japanese culture… reward effort, not the outcome. Organizations that reward the process, know that if you reward the actual steps people follow, eventually the results take care of themselves. This requires a deep understanding of what behaviours will impact the results you seek.

When trying to optimize the power of things such as rewards, perks and bonuses, be careful not to use incentives to compensate for your failure to engage personal and social motivation. These two forces of influence were the foundation we shared in the previous articles in this series. Always make use of personal and social motivators FIRST. Then design rewards and ensure accountability.

Join us in our Business at the Hub sessions where we unpack these concepts and share insights from our experiences in helping businesses lead change.