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Monday, February 26, 2024

Fear is Poor Motivator for Business Transformation

Those of us who are familiar with Continuous Improvement programs all know the term “burning platform”, an expression used to describe a situation where a company or organization needs to take drastic action to survive. The concept has gained popularity as an effective way to motivate employees and stakeholders to make a real change.

In general, a necessity to change – the burning platform – will create higher stress levels which affect the attitude and behavior of employees towards the upcoming change. The more critical and urgent the need for change, the bigger the chances for stress levels. This triggers negative and defensive reactions like fight, flight or freeze.

Too often, we see high stress levels result in internal fights, pointing fingers, pushing problems to other teams and the best talents moving to other companies.

Maybe, these negative sentiments can be transformed into a more positive and bonding attitude within teams for a while, but not for long time.

My view, however, is different. Even though fear is a strong motivator, it only works for a limited time. And should never be applied on a personal level. Fear causes stress, decreasing performance levels and motivation in the long run. Typically, as soon as another option is available, people find ways to escape the unpleasant situation or environment.

To sustain a transformation journey, shifting from a burning platform to a burning ambition is absolutely critical. Leaders’ personal ambitions are surpassed by the lasting impact they wish to have on their organizations, their customers, their industries, and their communities. Burning ambitions provide far greater leverage than burning platforms to keep leaders on track. Clarity of personal and organizational ambition allows leaders to reorient their focus in spite of these competing pressures and allows them to accept short-term pain in the pursuit of longer-term gain.

Moving from a burning platform to a burning ambition is a necessary first step toward organizational transformation. Because this shift allows leaders to become calmer, more purposeful, and more responsive to the inevitable challenges they are going to face. Secondly, it is not only vital for a leader to articulate the organizational reasons for change, but they need to delve deeper and establish very compelling personal motivations for change. Finally, the fire or the ‘Big Why’ is a crucial part of how leaders transform.

The better option is what leading and dynamic manufacturers do very well: they rally their employees, their clients and their partners with a strong and compelling purpose, which makes continuous innovations and change the natural, logical and compelling thing to do.

In essence, if there are compelling reasons and not too many obstacles, people will change and drive innovation to improve. They do not need a crisis or burning platform to change. After all, that is the only reason the world is changing so rapidly.

However, too many organizations do a bad job in providing compelling reasons and a good job in creating obstacles. That is the reason organizations struggle to keep up the high pace of the changing world.

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