Transformational Change: Are You Reinforcing the Status Quo?

Posted by Paula Alsher on Tue, Nov 19, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

Our change management consulting on transformational change-- whether it is IT transformation, HR transformation, or healthcare transformation--consistently points to one major change management flaw: Organizations reinforce the status quo rather than transformational change.  Don't Reinforce the Status Quo During Change

This is because the "rewards" for individuals making the change are designed in the context of the present state rather than the future state!  It is the application of rewards and consequences that drives the transformational behavior change.  If your organization's leadership is acting on the assumptions of today's organization, rather than being focused on the behaviors you are looking for in the future, the outcome is easy to predict:

You will get the same organization you have today, rather than the organization you are seeking as a result of the transformation!

Reinforcement drives the implementation of process changes, not the reverse.  The reinforcements you have in place today are perfectly designed for your current culture. If you don't change those reinforcements, you will get more same-- more of the status quo.

HubSpot Video

If you can remove the following "speed bumps" that get in the way of benefit realization for transformational change, you are far more likely to get faster adoption and return on investment:


Why Reinforcement is a Barrier to Transformational Change


  1. Transformation rewards reinforce the present state, not the desired state.  
  2. There is an over-reliance on formal performance management systems like performance appraisals and bonus systems to drive the transformation.  Not only are these designed based on the present state, but they are too slow in terms of their ability to measure progress.  
  3. Formal systems are too constrained and lack the flexibility you need to drive the transformation.
  4. Rewards are not seen as meaningful by the Targets.  Too often, the rewards are designed at the corporate level without an awareness or understanding of what will be seen as true positive rewards by the recipient.  There can be significant variations in what individuals and even groups view as "positive."  
  5. It's much better to get feedback on what will truly be seen as rewarding.  These can include both small rewards like "favorite candy bar" or a hand-written note from a Sponsor, and more significant rewards.  The bottomline, though, is that Change Agents should not make assumptions about what will be meaningful.
  6. By the way, the AIM Targeted Reinforcement Index is a terrific and unique tool for facilitating the conversation about meaningful rewards between managers and their direct reports.
  7. Managers are assumed to lack insufficient skills to apply the reinforcements either formally or informally. In our change management consulting we find that with a little training, awareness-building, and coaching we can fully prepare managers to handle this important responsibility with their own direct reports.
  8. Managers don't fully understand the reinforcement options that currently exist within the organization. For this reason, our change management consultants work with Change Agents to design a "menu of options" that managers can use within their own areas of responsibility.
  9. There can be too much reliance on negative consequences versus positive rewards, and this slows down the transformation.  It is just human nature for individuals to focus on the "negative feedback" rather than the positive feedback.  So managers need to apply far more positive rewards to drive the transformation at speed.  
  10. That said, in some organizations there are no negative consequences at all for non-performance.  In this type of culture (Healthcare, Pharma's, and Energy organizations are often examples) resistors to the transformation have learned to just wait it out and the change will go away.
  11. Expecting process changes that are essential to the transformation to be successfully implemented laterally across the organization's silo'd power structures when the reinforcement remains vertical and hierarchical. This is not a theoretical issue-- in most transformational changes we support with our change management consulting there are organizational silos with inherent power structures that pose a significant threat to successful transformational change.  The only way to address this issue is through a specific strategy for managing multiple Sponsors!


From a change management perspective, if you get your reinforcement strategy right, you will be way ahead of the transformational change game.

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Topics: Transformational Change, Reinforcement, Barriers to Change