Don’t Focus on the Pain of Change

Leaders who have been coached to deliver change messages warning of dire consequences risk creating a culture of fear and compliance with the change. To gain commitment there is a new way of leading change, “the grass is greener.”

I was schooled in the premise that in order for people to change they needed to feel the pain of the current state in order to be willing to move to the future state. In change projects we would tell leaders that “since the change targets won’t change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, your job is to inflict some pain!”

While I do believe that leaders should be honest with their followers about the current state, I have been reading research that shows a focus on the pain of change does not lead to long-term change. People do respond to messages of pain. However, they usually comply with the change and default back to previous behavior when the pain subsides.

Rather than inflict pain on change targets, there is a better way. Lead lasting change by focusing on benefits. When people are internally motivated to change due to benefits (often referred to at the WIIFM – what’s in it for me) they become committed to the change.

So focus on explaining why the “grass is greener” to those who need to change and achieve commitment rather than compliance.

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