Reinforcing Transformational Change: Make The New Way Easy

Posted by Paula Alsher on Mon, Jul 09, 2012 @ 05:47 PM

One of the major dilemmas of transformational change is how to get people to adopt the new behaviors. How do you reinforce the change? It was interesting to note, then, that one of the research conclusions that Richard H. Thaler stated in his July 8 New York Times' article on "Watching Behavior Before Writing the Rules" was this simple, yet profound guideline:  "If you want to encourage some activity, make it easy." Make the New Way Easy

While Professor Thaler was specifically referring to getting people to adopt governmental policies, this is certainly also true of transformational change. While we talk often about the need to apply positive and negative consequences immediately following observed behaviors, we often overlook the power in making it easy for people to follow the new way. 

You can't expect people to be motivated to make the leap to the unknown (the pain of uncertainty is greater than the certainty of pain) unless there is a strong motivation to do things in the new way.  As we say, "The motivation to leave the present state has to be greater than the motivation to stay the same."

Thaler noted in his article that following this mantra has "guided many of our most successful interventions."  If the new process or new technology is much more difficult than the old way, especially at the beginning, it will be much more difficult to get sustained adoption at speed. 

If you're a change agent working on a transformational change, what can you do to make it easier to do things the new way?  For example, can you:

  • provide clearly written job aids written from the Frame of Reference of the performer that make it easy to follow a new process?

  • offer lots of practice opportunities to use a new system before it goes live?

  • sequence the change so there aren't multiple changes hitting the same Targets at the same time?  Heat maps are a great tool for identifying opportunities for better sequencing.

Change agents charged with implementing transformational changes will also benefit by paying attention to Professor Thaler's second piece of advice:  people are far more likely "to comply with a social norm if they know that most other people are complying." 

So if, for example, you can let people know that "75% of the employees affected by this change" are already on board, you will encourage the others to join their colleagues. 

To promote the migration from the old behaviors to the new behaviors for your transformational change focus on these basic principles of the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM):


  • decrease rewards for old; increase rewards for new
  • increase consequences for old; decrease any consequences for new
  • increase the level of effort for the old; decrease the level of effort for the new

Make it easy, and you are far more likely to be get sustained adoption of your transformational change.

Free eBook: Overcome the Challenge of Transformational Change

Topics: Transformational Change, Reinforcement