How to Stay Motivated When Leading a Change Management Initiative
Hey there! I’m Sonya Siderova, CEO and founder of Nave. I help managers consistently deliver on their commitments while growing happy, engaged and motivated teams. This week, I wanted to share a pick-me-up message to help you power through tough times in your change management initiative.
Navigating a change management initiative can be tough, especially when you’re just getting started.
Results don’t come overnight. Sometimes, it feels like things are actually getting worse than they were before.
Even though this is actually normal (have you heard about the J-curve effect?), why do we still struggle to shape our heads around it?
Your tolerance levels feel low, the pain of change is high, and you find yourself losing motivation and getting discouraged, while your wheels are just spinning round and round.
Have you been there? I’m pretty sure that’s a rhetorical question.
We’ve all been there.
Let’s talk about motivation.
Motivation is the fuel that keeps you going through challenging periods. It gives you the energy to do the work you need to do.
We need motivation to be able to change our (and our teams’) old habits and build new healthy ones. Your motivation is your “why”.
You need to be able to go back to your “why” every time things get tough and you get discouraged.
So, let me ask you: what’s your “why”?
What keeps you motivated, what enables you to stay optimistic, tweaking your systems and management practices, even when you don’t see results right away?
Is it the short term benefits?
Some people will say that the best motivator is urgency. “We have to deliver in 2 weeks,” is obviously a better motivator than something like, “We need to improve our delivery speed.”
There’s just one (big) problem with using urgency as your motivator…
Urgency doesn’t work in the long run.
It’s hard to build effective practices and sustain them over time when you’re working against a deadline. When you’re only focusing on delivering the most immediate tasks ahead of you, it’s easy to get tunnel vision.
You won’t be able to focus on the road ahead and look for opportunities for improvement. There is just no time and space for that.
Urgency won’t lead to lasting results. But it will (most likely) lead to anxiety, overwhelm and eventually burnout.
Here is the thing, your motivation should not be dependent on external factors (including deadlines!).
“Fair enough, Sonya,” you might be thinking. “What should my motivation be, then?”
To answer that, I’m going to ask you another question:
What is it that drives you towards hitting your targets?
Now, before you protest that I’m using some sort of circular logic on you, hear me out:
When we tap into what really motivates us, and understand what’s necessary to deliver on our commitments consistently, it keeps us emotionally activated and fuels the daily decisions we make.
Your answer has to be more than simply, “because it’s my job.” You need to understand how the concept of “delivering on time” applies to your life as a whole. Because “it’s my job” will keep you going in the short run. But it’s not a powerful enough reason to keep you going through the pain of change.
When you put together your goals and identify the motivation behind achieving those goals, that’s when you come up with a complete, holistic solution.
You want to see the whole forest, not just the dense, individual trees.
Why do you want to make a change? Maybe it’s to manage happy and engaged people, maybe it’s to make realistic commitments and meet them every time, maybe it’s to do the right things the right way, or to leave the company culture a little bit of a better place than how you found it…
To reveal your why, you have to dig a little deeper, think a little bigger.
Fact is, your “why” can be traced back to a basic, existential need.
In 1943, a brilliant psychologist named Abraham Maslow introduced an idea he called “the pyramid of human needs.”
When you look at it visually, you can see how (like in an actual pyramid) the most basic needs are at the bottom, while the most complex needs are at the top:
Maslow first came to his idea by observing monkeys. He noticed that when the monkeys were given a choice between food and playing, they would choose the food first.
What was interesting, though, was that when the monkeys had their basic needs met (like food and water), they would engage in more meaningful, profound behavior with each other.
As it turns out, it’s the same with humans.
We need to have our basic wants met before we can achieve more complex wants.
Now, think about where your motivator might be on the Hierarchy of Needs.
Changing your organizational culture, building credibility and reliability, growing engaged and motivated teams while making your clients happy – all of these desires are reflected in the Hierarchy of Needs.
When you look at each of the levels like “safety”, “belonging”, “esteem”, think about each of them in terms of where you’re at as a manager. For example…
If you’re struggling to deliver on your commitments, and the consequence is losing your job, then your motivator is “safety”. It’s hard to think about anything other than that if you’re having a hard time just meeting the bare minimum.
Or maybe you’re meeting the bare minimum, but you feel emotionally or socially isolated from your team despite your best efforts. In this case, I’d argue that your main motivator is “belonging.”
If you find yourself striving for a greater sense of accomplishment in your professional life, it’s very likely that “esteem” is your main motivator. Some of us need to be recognized and appreciated for job well done. We may even crave that recognition on a deep, primal level.
Do you find yourself falling short of reaching your full potential – are you prevented from making long-term improvements and doing the things that really get you excited because you have to put out fires all the time? Your motivator, in this case, is “self-actualization.”
If the answer is yes, then your goal shouldn’t be just to push it through that deadline with your next project. Your goal should be to build a decision-making framework that will enable you and your team to deliver on your commitments consistently and create an environment of continuous improvement.
It’s not about just learning the strategy of achieving sustainable predictability. It’s all about the meaning this achievement holds for you and how it fulfills a deeper desire you have as a human being.
Making this recognition is crucial because you can always come back to it every time when you feel frustrated or unmotivated.
We’ve all had those days where we wake up in the morning wishing we could just stay in bed, buried under the covers, instead of facing the next inevitable challenge. But hear me out on this: every failure is an opportunity for improvement. The more you manage to reveal and embrace, the faster you’ll achieve tremendous results.
Whenever you have one of those days, go immediately back to your “why.” It will put fuel in your emotional tank and give you the energy to move forward.
Here’s something you can do to get started on your “why” right now:
Once you do, you’ll gain deeper clarity on what your main motivator is for achieving your goal and keep moving the needle in your change management initiative. You’ll be able to come back to your goal, re-energized, focused, and ready to take the next step even when nothing seems to be in the right place.
And because summaries are always helpful… remember:
- Urgency (meeting deadlines) is not a good motivator over the long term. You need to see the big picture to be able to achieve lasting results
- Your “why” should be rooted in something that emotionally fuels you
- You can use Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs as a reference to understand what your motivator is
- When you feel like your initiative has taken a stall, go back to your “why” and look for the next step with a fresh perspective
I hope this article helped you find your “why” and get you the clarity you needed to move forward.
Remember, you have the power to make a difference. Use that power!
After all, continuous improvement builds over time, with one small win following another.
Commit to promoting evolutionary change and a culture of continuous improvement. Commit now.
Here is my question to you: What is the next small step you’ll take to meet your goals?
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.