At the center of any change effort, large or small, sits the need to connect a vision to specific tactics and actions. We often hear that 70% of these efforts fail to deliver the desired results. This number seems to be so widely cited that it is on the verge of becoming an urban legend. You know, Mikey died from a combination of Pop Rocks and soda, Mr. Rogers was a Navy Seal, and 70% of change efforts will fail on some level.

However, a peek behind the curtain on this number is actually somewhat shocking. 70% was the number that Kotter introduced in 1995. Fifteen years later, after all the research, literature, and focus effective change received, 70% was still the number that McKinsey’s researched confirmed. Does this mean that a 70% rate of failure is inevitable and we are all just jockeying to be a part of the 30% that succeed?

Much attention has been paid to the importance of striking the right balance between IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) when launching any change effort. Conventional wisdom tells us that if we can win the battle for employees’ hearts and minds, we’ll end up in the 30% camp. With all the great work being done to build alignment and clarity on the desired state and the focus on ensuring we address the emotional aspects of change, you’d think that we might expand the size of the successful slice by at least a few percentage points, right?

So what’s missing? Our experience has shown us that there is a third component that not only complements, but actually exponentially increases the benefits derived from all the work being done to win the hearts and minds of people. The magical ingredient? Purpose. Gut. Conviction. An intrinsic and emotional belief that the benefits of this effort really matter and are worth pursuing. This transcends the feel-good belief that the battle for the heart might produce. Purpose is the thing that provides the compelling reason to take the necessary risks, give the discretionary effort, and tirelessly work to overcome obstacles and barriers. Purpose can be a very powerful multiplier.

All too often purpose gets lumped in with “What’s in It for Me?” based on the belief that people will aggressively act in their own self-interest. True, the WIIFM is an important component of purpose, but it is not the only aspect. Each person draws their motivation from a unique combination of how the following stakeholders benefit from the change at hand:

  • Society (Mission)
  • Customer
  • Organization
  • Team
  • Me

The challenge is that rarely does a one-size-fits-all message allow for people to define the purpose through their evaluative lenses. Often these messages are heavy on the benefits to the business and lightly accented with some benefits to the individual. We have to provide people with enough insight into the benefits for them to be able to create their own view of the benefits to the stakeholders that are most important to them. A WIIFM message needs to include a holistic view of the payoff that encompasses all five of the critical stakeholders.

When organizations and leaders create clarity on the purpose of the strategic changes being sought and their people are able to connect their version of the WIIFM to that purpose, the odds of their next strategic change being a success dramatically increase.

October 25, 2012


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