Charlotte Rush23 August 2021

Science-backed strategies to unleash change in your people

Ex-Chairman of General Electric, Jack Welch said: “I’m convinced that if the rate of change inside the institution is less than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight.”

There has been a lot of change thrust upon organisations over the last 12 months. But, as Welch highlights, this change must be seen as an imperative to speed up the rate of change that you and your people are creating within your organisation.

But maintaining motivation to continually change, adapt and evolve can be tough. So, here are three science-backed strategies to boost motivation and unleash change in your people:

  1. Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

Picture this: You are the CEO of a large organisation that has been in operation for 100 years. With increasing competition, you realise your organisation needs to change – it needs to become an innovation powerhouse. You understand the key to success is ensuring your people can deliver groundbreaking innovations. So, your first step is to ensure you remove all roadblocks and focus on making it easier for your people to execute innovation more successfully, right?

Wrong. Research conducted with more than 3500 executives over six years found that most executives do not feel personally responsible for coming up with strategic innovations and instead focus on facilitating the innovation process. In contrast, executives in the most innovative companies (which made up 15% of this sample) didn’t delegate innovation – they did it themselves.

Why? Reflect on the activities and tasks that you have delegated over the last week. Are they the most important aspects of your role? Probably not. When you delegate a behaviour that you are trying to instill in your people, this sends a strong signal – “This is not important for me”.

Once you identify what change you are trying to unleash in your people – whether that be to “be innovative”, “prioritise mental health”, or “reduce unnecessary meetings” – Do-It-Yourself – demonstrate how you are doing the behaviour you wish to cultivate in others.

  1. Find the challenge sweet spot 

All too often, managers default to allocating people to projects by asking – “Who has capacity for this?”. Which really means, “who can complete this quickly, without too much fuss?”. The problem with this approach is that we end up working on projects that we can execute with our eyes closed – which isn’t very motivating.

A better approach to motivate your people is to ask: “Who will feel challenged by this project and has the capacity to rise to the challenge?” By providing a challenge, we tap into an innate desire to experience mastery, one of the three pillars of intrinsic motivation in humans.

In addition to this, research by Silvia da Costa from the University of the Basque Country found that when people are put in a role that challenges them, 67% will demonstrate above-average creativity and innovation in their performance. By allocating people to challenging tasks, and providing the support or resources to help them rise to that challenge, managers can boost motivation as well as encourage significantly better outputs.

  1. Implement your intentions 

When was the last time you intended to do something, and didn’t subsequently end up doing that thing? In the field of health behaviours (e.g. exercising or abstaining from treats), research suggests that intention matches up with our behaviour only about 30-40% of the time. The reason why is often because of a lack of planning – as they say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

An effective technique is to set an “implementation intention” which takes the form of an “If… Then…” statement. A 2005 meta-analysis looking at 8,155 participants across 85 studies found that those who set implementation intentions did better than 74% of people on executing the same task who didn’t set one.

Use this technique to help your people implement the changes they commit to. At the end of a meeting, ask everyone to complete this sentence: “I will do <insert behaviour> at <time> on <day>”. Linking a behaviour to a specific time of the day is a great way to ‘trigger’ a behaviour – you can always rely on that time to roll around (unlike our behaviour)!


Charlotte Rush is an Organisational Psychologist, Certified Coach and Inventium’s Head of New Product Development.