Katri Ranta: Is motivation a sufficient change engine?

Executive coach and volition expert, Ria Parppei, was speaking to us at CCEA about volition. There is a long explanation for volition, but I use a short version here, a commitment and strive for action. Ria has researched this topic for several years and got into the core of it. She shared with us a great deal of interesting information. The main message for me was that enthusiasm alone doesn’t guarantee taking action or succeeding to complete a task. To get things done requires much more.

“30% of managers are in a frozen state. Their volition is impaired.”

Ria referred to the largest research done in this field (Bruch and Ghoshal in 2003), where they studied focus and energy levels of managers. According to the research, 30 per cent of managers were in a so-called frozen state. Their focus and energy levels were very low. Up to 90 per cent of managers had somewhat lowered focus or energy levels.

Freezing demonstrated, for example, as a difficulty in initiating action, implementing strategy or improving own performance. A rather worrying discovery, both for the companies and for the people. If a company is going through a transformation, managers are instrumental in taking the changes forward.

“Have a clear goal and ensure good self-confidence, focus and energy level during change.”

Fortunately, volition can be strengthened. According to Ria, it requires that people have a clear and meaningful goal, self-confidence, good energy levels and are able to keep the focus, The goal should be well understood and somewhat meaningful. This often requires proper discussions about the goal and possibility to interpret what it means to you in your work.

We often have several projects going on at the same time, with tight deadlines. Prioritizing and getting the job done is not easy. We should be able to rely that our skills and resources are sufficient to achieve the goal. If we are asked to change something in how we work, even slightly, it requires energy and persistent repetition. Rather than getting into action, we may end up postponing it to the next day or week.

Volition, and factors maintaining it, may get weaker along the way, even if having them present at the beginning. The goal may get blurry and self-confidence may deteriorate. Perhaps there was some negative feedback or work has not progressed as expected. There is a great chance to slow down work or loose commitment completely.

“Preserving volition is a prerequisite for executing change successfully.”

We at CCEA have been working on a wide range of changes over 10 years. Together with the change leaders and project teams, we have planned how to implement changes successfully in their organization.

In a change, it is often a question of adopting new ways of working. When planning the change implementation, first step is to understand what change means for people: what are we trying to achieve and why (clarity of the goal)? Then identify key stakeholders and define what it means for them (meaning of the goal). Change leaders also need to have a big picture of ongoing changes in the organization – are there other big projects running at the same time and what is the impact to people. It helps to understand the realistic resources people have in taking the change into practice.

In the change execution phase, the focus is in communication and supporting people during the change journey. Managers are in crucial role to discuss with their team members what the change means to them and help preserve good self-confidence, focus and energy in the daily work.

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that motivation does not, after all, seem to play such a major role in getting things done. Motivation is undeniably important, when you set yourself in action. It seems that other factors are even more important for reaching the goal. In a change situation, with good change management actions and by putting people into the center, it is possible to maintain volition and achieve the change goals.

Read more about Ria and volition.