The five motivators of successful change

Understanding five crucial levers of change can help make your business transformation project successful.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor on
My research studying and analyzing IT failures yields one strong conclusion: communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing are the critical factors for achieving project success. Although many organizations use project management tools and measures, successful change management remains elusive and projects continue to fail at alarming rates.

For that reason, I invited innovation and transformation expert, Barbara Kivowitz, to share her views on successful change. Barbara is a seasoned consultant and author, having worked with companies such as IBM, Lotus Development, Novartis, Genzyme, General Motors, Sun Life Financial, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Harvard Vanguard/Atrius Health, Lancaster General Hospital, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Change transformation and innovation are among the most crucial contributors to running successful IT projects. This post describes five crucial levers to use on any business transformation project. Apply these carefully, and your projects will be successful.

Thank you to Barbara Kivowitz for writing this guest post. Barbara welcomes your views in the comments, or you can reach her at bkivowitz@post.harvard.edu.


One of the most formidable challenges an organization faces when implementing new technology is simply getting employees to use these tools and the new processes they support.  Senior management budgets development costs and software training, but typically under-invests in the change management efforts needed to turn technology into the strategic transformation the business expects.

IT organizations, including CIOs and project managers, often pay insufficient attention to truly motivating business users and sustaining broad adoption.  Underestimating the impact of technology-driven process change on employees is a key factor in IT project failure, even when deploying excellent technology.

Overcoming this problem requires a well-constructed change management strategy that includes five fundamental motivators of behavioral change. When activated, these motivators offer a foundation for deriving expected value from business transformation initiatives.

Social networks: Social networks consist of formal and informal connections among people across boundaries and outside of hierarchies. Although employees belong to a team and department, their social systems also include trusted colleagues, go-to experts, connectors (who forge relationships), and activists (who make things happen).  These social networks can become dynamic channels for quickly disseminating information and driving change.  Smart organizations access these social connections to accelerate communication among workers involved in business transformation projects.

One approach to using the power of social networks is to identify key social connectors - those who serve as "hubs" and regularly connect to many others. By engaging them as change activists, you can set in motion waves of influence that can more rapidly foster broad acceptance across the organization.

WIFM: The value of WIFM (what's in it for me) in encouraging adoption of new processes and technology can hardly be overstated, but is often misunderstood.  Too often the WIFM is equated only with money.

WIFM value can take many forms: increased financial benefit, formal and informal status elevation, career advancement, availability of learning and growth opportunities, access to expertise and/or senior management, recognition in social networks, increased ability to influence future directions, contributing to social benefit, and so on.

Recognizing the importance of the WIFM factor and matching the incentives to the people are necessary to shape genuine and long lasting change.

Inclusion: Inclusion of employees in decision-making is a significant element in creating successful change. Employees are far more likely to embrace change when management invites their meaningful participation in making decisions and shaping the change.

Judicious use of social business tools such as wikis, blogs, and collaborative spaces can promote transparency and inclusion. However, management may fear that inclusion means decision anarchy and that they will be inundated with unwieldy information. To mitigate these concerns, it is necessary to develop appropriate strategies and protocols so that employees clearly understand how they can best contribute.

Leadership: Leadership is largely about change - recognizing the need for change, pointing out the directions for change, mobilizing the change agents, and engaging the organization in transformation.

When the change initiative is significant, a high-impact intervention leaders can make is to reach out directly to stakeholders and employees and personally explain, listen, and respond. This emphasizes the importance of the change and of the role of the employee.

Although concepts and styles of leadership have shifted over recent decades from autocratic to participative, when change is urgent and transformational, there is no substitute for direct dialogue with the people affected.

Fear: Although awkward to discuss, fear often lies at the heart of technology transformation. Fear says, "If we don't make this change, we will suffer serious consequences, won't be competitive, will lose market share, won't attract top talent, will be forced into layoffs, and so on."

In many situations, these fears are realistic and underlie the necessity for business transformation. Nonetheless, senior management is often reluctant to introduce fear into change communications to avoid demoralizing employees. However, the harsher truths (when balanced with hope) can be important motivators of behavior change.

When management pulls back the curtain to show employees not only the benefits of the change but also the negative consequences of remaining static, employees may respond to the full honesty and rally, and even come up with their own innovative solutions.  When combined with careful messaging and a clear strategic context, fear is a truthful message that can help motivate change.


Change management is an essential ingredient in major business transformation initiatives. CIOs who recognize this are likely to be successful leading transformation and supporting business goals. Conversely, pushing change management exclusively back to the lines of business deepens divides between the business side and IT, which ultimately weakens the CIO's position.

Change requires partnership between lines of business and IT, which makes it an excellent vehicle for close cooperation across organizational boundaries. Viewed this way, change management creates opportunity for innovation and value creation - two important goals for any CIO and key elements of IT success.

A change management strategy, carefully designed in partnership between IT and the business, not only increases the likelihood of project success, but also earns and keeps the good will and motivation of the work force.


Thank you to Barbara Kivowitz for writing this guest post. Barbara welcomes your views in the comments, or you can reach her at bkivowitz@post.harvard.edu.

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