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A Section from "The Continuous Improvement Development Guide"

Volume 2: Committing >

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Understanding the Motivation to Change

Basic Section Information

This section of our practical guide to continuous improvement explores the source of the motivation behind a company’s decision to embark on a transformative journey. The title of the section, “Understanding the Motivation to Change”, applies to any significant departure from the way you are currently doing business.

Why is it important to understand the motivation? In a nutshell, the path a company takes is dependent upon the reasons for the change. More importantly, if there is a shift in the underlying impetus for change, there is a risk of the project losing steam. In addition, the reason behind the change plays a role in determining how various groups buy into the new way of doing things.

The bottom line is that it takes an incredible amount of work to fundamentally alter an organization. The program leader must have a clear understanding about why the company will be investing its resources in doing something new if he or she wants to maximize the chance to build a successful business management system.


A program leader must be assigned prior to attempting this section.

Section Background

This is an early section for one simple reason. Without a nudge of some sort, nobody would even be reading this document. Sometimes, though, people act without a clear understanding of why they are doing what they are doing. We find that people are more successful at making lasting changes if they spend a bit of time gaining insight into their organization’s motivation.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: 1 Day. Note that you may have some scheduling issues when trying to speak to several key leaders, but the overall time invested is generally just a few hours.

Difficulty: Low. There are no special skills required to complete this section, but it helps to have an understanding of people and to be able to ‘read between the lines’ of what people say. Presumably, the program leader has already been vetted and will have no trouble with this section.

Risk: Varies. Some people are sensitive about probing questions, especially before they get used to the scrutiny that Lean places on processes and problems. This can strain relationships, especially when there is an imbalance in power.

Materials Required

  • No special materials are required for this section.


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Detailed Section Information

Failing to understand the motivation behind a change creates two basic challenges. The first is that it makes it difficult to create buy in with frontline employees. Continuous improvement initiatives rely upon employee engagement. If the team is not convinced of the need for a change, or feels like they are not being dealt with honestly, changes are unlikely to be successful.

The second issue is that if circumstances change, and the situation is not actively managed, a fledgling continuous improvement culture can collapse.

There are a handful of reasons that a company begins the process of building a new business management system. They include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • The company is in a crisis. When a company is inching closer and closer to bankruptcy, there is often a point where its key leadership realizes that business as usual has stopped working. Survival instinct kicks in and the company tries something new. Keep in mind that the “something new” is not always Lean.
  • The competition is winning. Every so often there is an upheaval in the pecking order within a market or industry. One company may suddenly become successful and others rush to copy it.
  • A current senior leader learns about something new. Many successful business people got that way because of their continuous focus on learning. Continuous improvement cultures can start when an executive studies up on some new concepts and begins implementing them.

The rest of this section is only available as part of a premium product. Individual and corporate licenses are available below.

The program leader should have an open mind when looking at the source of the motivation for the company’s transformation. As you investigate the sources of motivation, be careful not to step on toes of the people that you will be counting on for support.

Eventually, as a continuous improvement culture evolves, it will be easier to have open, frank discussions with senior leaders. At this point, though, you have probably not yet developed the trust that you will need to do this. Be especially careful about documenting your opinions about individuals.

The rest of this section is only available as part of a premium product. Individual and corporate licenses are available below.

It is dangerous to proceed with any change if you don’t understand the motivation of the people that are pushing for it. Human behavior plays a huge role in how effective your business management system will ultimately be. The level of motivation will determine the speed with which you will proceed and how hard you can push back against opposition.

In general, the more aggressively a change is pursued, the faster it will progress. The flipside though, is that… 

The rest of this section is only available as part of a premium product. Individual and corporate licenses are available below.

  • Motivation is the fuel you burn on your Lean journey. It is important to know what that fuel source is and how to properly manage it.
  • Motivation comes from many sources, sometimes even multiple sources within the same company. 

Supporting Content and Additional Information

This section is supported by the Transformational Change: Motivation Analysis Worksheet. It is available in PDF format with our individual license and in an editable Excel format with our corporate license. Instructions are embedded in comments on the Excel version.

This is a simple tool to provoke an introspective look at the source of your motivation and to communicate that thought process to other decision makers.

When filling out the form, don’t focus on specific actions in the development of your business management system. Look at the big picture of how teams will respond to the idea of change. At this point, you won’t have much information about what the changes, specifically, will be, or when they will be occurring. Stay focused on why a change is needed, not what the change will entail.

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