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“What’s in it For Me?”

At Harbinger, there are a few things that are said every day. One of them is that change starts at the individual level. Sure, we see entire departments come together to restructure, or a company-wide change of implementing new software, but while that is an organizational change, it couldn’t happen without the individuals being willing to change on a personal level.

Humans, by nature, are self-fulfilling individuals. We protect ourselves, make decisions for ourselves, and prioritize our well being. The notion of “what’s in it for me?” is not one that is lost on us. We want what is best for ourselves and what will bring us the most satisfaction.

By understanding this, organizations may be able to take a more tactical approach to addressing change within a business. When you want to drive change, you must first understand what it is that motivates individuals and what are the drivers for reactions of people. Then, you must invest in the mechanisms to encourage them to change.

Accept that people may not come on the journey

While it may seem rare, it is possible for people to act in the interest of the collective good. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a shift in human behaviour — acting not only in the best interest of themselves, but also for the greater good. We were working together to reduce transmission by staying inside, avoiding unnecessary outings, and collectively praising our healthcare workers. We shifted from the “What’s in it for ME” mindset to one of “What’s in it for WE?”

But this greater good mindset was challenged, and the optimism that there was a societal shift was met with resistance by some individuals and groups. As rules and mandates shifted, so did many attitudes. Sometimes, there is just an immovable block of a population that does not want to change.

This same population is often found in organizations going through change. Some employees dig their heels in and resist the change, whether this be through an obvious outward display of rejection, or a less obvious internal choice to not take the necessary steps for a successful transition.

Regardless of the change, there will often be someone who does not come on the change journey. While it is important to understand what motivates individuals and invest in processes that encourage them to adopt the change, there comes a point when the intended benefit of the change needs to be weighed with the cost of retaining an immovable individual.

How can we address the “me”?

An organizational change likely means that individuals are going to have to learn and do tasks that they have never done before, leading to additional work. Therefore, the sentiment of “for the greater good” may be a hard sell for the individual putting in these hours.

Organizations must identify and communicate the real benefits of the change for the individual. There needs to be transparent communication with employees, firstly introducing the what and the why of the change, the benefits at the organizational level and then the benefits at an individual level. For example, if a change results in increased efficiency, the benefits at the organizational level might include an increase in profits and customer satisfaction. But the benefits at the individual level may be more along the lines of additional time to spend at home with family or less stress on the employee. The question of, “Why should I care as an individual?” is one that needs to be answered to address the human nature of self-prioritization. Along these lines is also the importance of addressing what may happen to that individual if they do not adopt the change. Perhaps the individual does not want to fall behind as the organization adopts a new change journey.

Additionally, organizations should be cautious of using statements that communicate that employees do not have a choice in adopting the change. Individuals should be led to adoption through proper communication, education, and support. The more an employee feels that they have no choice or no sense of participation in the change, the more resistance they may feel. To avoid pushback, organizations should ensure employees feel heard and that proper education and support is offered.

Change is complex and resistance from some individuals is inevitable. While some may choose to stay behind and not come on the change journey, it is crucial that those who do, understand why it benefits them. By identifying these benefits and demonstrating how adopting the change is in their best interest, organizations can minimize resistance and reap the intended outcome of the change.

To learn more about combatting change resistance, view Harbinger’s FREE downloadable resources, including Applying a Coaching Mindset to Support Change Resistance.



Gregory Roth

Managing Partner




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