Andy Kanefield – What motivates your people?

Andy Kanefield

Andy Kanefield, founder, Dialect Inc.

During a recent client engagement, we were discussing the need for a “burning platform” in order for the necessary organizational changes to grab the attention and get the buy-in of the employees. At one point, a Dialect colleague reminded the group that we need to consider what the burning platforms should be. This was a helpful reminder of what we all know to be true, but often don’t apply: People have different fundamental motivations — especially in their work. 

While a senior leadership team may be motivated to significant change by the board or key shareholders in a public company applying pressure to boost earnings, the second-shift worker fixing the broken pump at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night may not be as concerned about that pressure. Tapping into the satisfaction of doing more excellent work or the pride of a higher quality end product to your customers may be the best way to light a fire for change in the heart of that employee.

In his books on change, John Kotter, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, has put creating a sense of urgency as priority No. 1 in leading change. Whether one calls it a “sense of urgency” or a “burning platform,” it is important to remember that for any given change effort, there isn’t just one — there need to be several. Not only must there be several storylines of the need for change, these storylines also need to be rolled out in ways that are different for various stakeholder groups and individuals.

Take one of Kotter’s examples from his book, “The Heart of Change.” Recognizing the need to drive down purchasing costs by $1 billion over five years, one organizational leader knew that the first step toward the necessary changes was to get management to see the opportunity. After assessing the magnitude of the problem with one item (gloves used in the company’s factories), leaders were gathered into a boardroom and shown the 424 different types of gloves that the company was buying through its purchasing department. 

Seeing that similar gloves purchased by the same factory could cost either $3.22 or $10.55 left these leaders speechless. Presenting the issue in concrete terms — 424 variants of essentially the same thing piled onto a board room table and being purchased with widely variant prices — was all the leaders needed to see to convince them that change was essential.

This illustrates an important principle: When addressing the “why” of change, it’s often insufficient to say costs are too high, show a bar graph, and say, ‘Let’s go cut costs.’  Showing people concrete examples of how the problem that needs to be addressed or the opportunity that needs to be seized connects to their role needs to be one of the storylines. Not everyone will need that particular storyline, but many will.

Here are some other principles that need to be observed or considered in your large-scale, organizational change initiatives. These principles can be applied to both groups and individuals:

  • Who has the credibility to introduce the changes and the reasons for them?
  • What kind of information do they usually find helpful?
    • Big-picture rationale
    • Details of implementation
    • Effect on metrics (financial and non-financial)
    • Effect on customers
    • Effect on employees
  • When do they need/want to be informed of the changes?
  • Have they been given enough time to process the changes?
  • Have you, as leaders, given thoughtful attention to their analysis of the short- and long-term implications of the changes?


While there is much more to managing change than the principles we’ve outlined here, we believe that these are essential considerations to getting your change initiatives off to a good start.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense:  One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to get greater alignment behind systemic organizational changes, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or [email protected]