What Really Persuades People to Make Touch Choices

By Heather Campbell

It’s now Week Six of coronavirus lockdown here in the UK. Despite the sunny weather and some frustration about the lack of freedom, overall, the majority of people continue to follow strict guidelines by leaving home only in very specific situations. And when we do go outside, we conspicuously give others the necessary wide berth that has quickly become both respectful and polite. Over sixty million people have been motivated to make major, inconvenient changes in a remarkably short space of time.

And my strong sense is that there is genuine engagement with these changes; it’s not simply grudging compliance.

Agility and commitment working together.

In my role as an Executive Coach and consultant, I am inevitably engaged where change is required. Not many leaders engage my services to maintain the status quo ?.

As such, I’m interested to observe such significant change in action as well as experiencing it personally, and I see so much that we can apply to the changes we lead at work. I hope that we never again have to go through the experiences we are living through right now. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn some really valuable lessons about how to lead change because, whether or not you agree with how it has been handled politically, it’s impossible to deny the significance and pace of the change itself.

Why have people changed so quickly, so willingly and so much? What can leaders learn?

This change brings together the three critical elements that really motivate people to change personally. These are:

  • Meaning – Does this change make sense to me and to my understanding of the world?
  • Impact – Will this change have a positive or a negative impact on me and those who are important to me?
  • Choice – Do I have choice in relation to the things that matter to me and those who are important to me?

When change has Meaning for people, when it has a positive Impact on people and when people have Choice in relation to the things that matter to them, they will engage and drive it forward. When the opposite is true, there tends to be strong resistance.

With the current situation, Meaning is powerful and clear for most people. We are coming together to fight the coronavirus, to save lives and to support the NHS.

But what about Impact? Surely that can’t be seen as positive? Well, Impact is often a case of balancing a range of things. While no-one wants so many freedoms taken away, this is balanced with the positive Impact of slowing the spread of the virus, protecting others and, hopefully, seeing restrictions lifted sooner as a result, as well.

And finally Choice. How has that played out so far in terms of motivating people to change? I was interested in how the Government messaging worked with this. The daily warnings before lockdown that if we didn’t comply with social distancing measures and continued to shop for non-essentials, lockdown would be tightened. And it was! Then, coming up to the Easter weekend, the constant warnings that lockdown would be tightened even further if we didn’t ‘stay home.’ This gave a sense of Choice over whether or not lockdown would become more stringent. We could flout the requirements and bear the consequences, or follow them and maintain the status quo. Not a great choice, but a choice all the same. 

There are other elements which have led us to make such changes so quickly. But these three factors have been central and will continue to be so as the situation develops.

For leaders, whether planning change right now or preparing for those that must surely come, it is always worth considering these three factors.

Take time to focus on creating Meaning around the rationale for any change; be clear about the Impact and consider at the balance of issues that people will weigh up; and give as much Choice as possible, even when there isn’t much scope to do so.

You will find that people will engage more positively and with greater commitment as a result.

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