It’s a familiar adage that if you are trying to persuade people to embrace or engage in some kind of change, you need to get to the heart of the “WIFM factors” – What’s in it for me? I’ve been helping clients understand, embrace and lead change initiatives for about 30 years.  This shows up in several ways:

  • Often the nature of my consulting work involves working with clients to create a business-IT strategy that must be sold to the organization.  Of course, collaborative approaches afforded by the Web 2.0 universe facilitate much more use of collaborative, appreciative inquiry, Future Search and similar whole systems approaches to change – pull versus push approaches, if you will.
  • Sometimes my work is about designing and helping clients to implement a new IT or shared service Operating Model.
  • Occasionally, I am teaching those in the role of “change sponsors” or “change agents” how to be more effective at leading or guiding organizational change.
  • And sometimes I’m asked to shed light on something gone awry, and usually to help get it back on track.

More and more frequently, I am personally on the receiving end of a change.  I learned many years ago that being trained and certified in a change management methodology does not immunize you from the stresses of change.  (About 15 years ago I went through many weeks of organizational change training when I was a partner at Ernst & Young and received the highest certification in their OCM methodology – a feat that involved rappelling down a sheer mountain in Jackson Hole, Wyoming – an activity that still has me occasionally waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat!)

My most recent personal change experience is trivial, but, I believe, quite telling.  I found myself in a discussion recently with several colleagues about web browsers in general, and Mozilla Firefox in particular.  I consider myself no laggard when it comes to technology adoption, but I’m no early adopter either.  I won’t lightly embark on a change unless I can:

  1. See a very compelling benefit to the change (in this case from MS Internet Explorer to Firefox)
  2. Understand and be comfortable with the risks of change (compared with the risks of not changing)
  3. Understand the path I’m going to take from current to changed state (in this case, learning a new browser, moving all my favorite links, etc.)

I’m pretty conservative with my work technologies.  Internet Explorer (IE) effectively came with my work laptop computer and seemed to work fine.  I particularly liked some of the new features such as tabbed browsing.  So, I asked my colleagues, who were all very enthusiastic about Firefox, why I should change to Firefox.  I heard a lot of “noise” – they were telling me about features that I either did not understand, could not visualize, or that simply did not turn me on.  I was sent a couple of links to evaluation sites.  I spent a few minutes on those, but again, could not see anything compelling that would lead me to undertake the risks of change.  After a few such conversations, I dropped the idea of switching, and continued with my good old IE.

A few days ago, I came across a comment about Firefox’s speed advantage over IE – now I was really interested!  In my personal value system as it relates to personal computing, I’m a speed freak!  I can’t explain why, but I crave fast response times.   I was one of the first to get AT&T’s U-verse broadband, and I’ve experimented with tricks such as Google Web Accelerator (which I’ve uninstalled due to too many conflicts with web sites such as delicious and YouTube).

So, when I learned that Firefox might be faster than IE, I took the plunge and installed Firefox.  This blog is typically not about software evaluation, so I won’t go there except to say that I’m absolutely delighted with Firefox and it is, indeed, noticeably faster than IE on my computer.  But the real point is a lesson in change management.  If my colleagues had known, or had flushed out my personal value system, and related the change in browser to my “need for speed” I would have jumped at the change – no hesitation.  Instead, they threw features at me, or benefits that I just did not relate to or was not interested in.

So, if you are trying to persuade people to change, one of the keys is the WIFM – and to help them understand what is in it for them, you need to understand their personal value systems – what are they looking for – what turns them on – then figure out how your proposed change gets to their value system.  It is said, “All politics is local.”  The analogy is that, “All change is personal!”