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There is so much that gets written about organizational change, continuous learning, lean or nimble organizations, or design thinking.

As someone who’s done over a decade of hard, dirty work transforming organizations to be the most effective change agents that they can be, I find all of that literature interesting, but to me it comes down to motivation.

There was a study many years ago that compared the long-term outcomes for people who were voluntarily in in-patient substance abuse programs versus those on the waiting list.

Amazingly, those on the waiting list generally did as well as those in the rigorous program. How was that possible? 


It revealed a truth that many of us on the frontlines of organizational change know – that when there’s motivation for change – and that comes from discontent with the status quo and belief that things can be better – people engage their creativity, and the answers fly.

When people are motivated and have a sense that they’re allowed to try things and take chances, they will mobilize around fixing the issues that need fixing. 

The challenge, and it’s a very real one, is around motivation.

A lot of the first rounds of data seemed overly cheery and there was a general belief that people were lying out of fear of repercussions if their data was bad.

The data ‘looked’ good, and though no one said it directly, it was clear many were thinking, ‘maybe we keep what looks good and don’t go too deep’.

Ultimately, the leaders weren’t willing to do the hard work of changing the organization’s culture so that people felt free to have successes and failures, and data was for improving programs as much as showing how great the organization was.

The leadership wasn’t motivated to disrupt the status quo and change everything.  I understood.  It’s unfortunate, but likely, that it’ll continue this way until something goes very wrong. And if it does, I hope they have someone like me available to help them shore up their motivation to lean into change and begin the hard but critical work of getting better and better.