Barriers to Change: Ignorance

If teams genuinely don't know how to operate in a different way, it can be hard to motivate them without coming across as a jerk

As a change leader, you’re probably always on the hunt for a better way, staying abreast of developments and catching up with peers for the latest and greatest. You may have also moved around in your career and seen how things are done differently (sometimes better, sometimes worse) at other organizations. So it may come as a surprise to encounter teams that truly don’t have an understanding of what “better” looks like. They genuinely don’t know that there are alternatives or that what they’re doing is holding them back.

How do you motivate a team to do better without coming across as a jerk?

The main reason this occurs is they don’t have points of comparison, usually because:

  • They’re a more junior/less experienced team
  • They’re more experienced but they work in a field/organization where people don’t tend to move around a lot—this is the only thing they’ve ever known
  • The company isn’t focused on the competition, either because it sees itself as singular/the best, or because it doesn’t see itself as having competition (e.g., governmental agencies)
  • People want to defend the organization as the best because it’s a part of their social identity (and acknowledging that it’s not great would be a blow to their ego)

As a high achiever and change champion, this can be understandably frustrating. How do you motivate a team to do better without coming across as a jerk? As best you can, take a moment to try to understand the root of this feeling, whether it’s ego or simply understandable ignorance, and cater your approach to what you’re seeing:

  • Bring in outside examples. Invite guest speakers or hold “road shows” or demo days so that teams can see examples of how others work together and what they could do differently. 
  • Rotate people through teams or set up more cross-functional meetings. Get people from different parts of the organization working together. Even within organizations, there are usually sub-cultures; no two teams do everything exactly alike. Having them see what’s different is a good way to get them to question their current status.
  • Hold retros and customer sensing to get them thinking about “what ifs.” Flex those reflective muscles: get people regularly thinking about what could have gone better, or what they see changing for the customers and how they need to prepare in advance. 
  • Find out what they want on an individual level. Use 1:1s to delve into more of their aspirations. How do they want to grow? What do they want to learn? Connect those development goals to the growth of the organization, and the organization’s larger purpose. 
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Barriers to Change: Ignorance
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