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CQ is essential for motivation and reinforcement of change


By Anna Balk-Møller, Principal Consultant

Utilising cultural intelligence (CQ) to choose the right incentives to motivate and reinforce change will increase the chance of successfully changing an organisation. It is not rocket science to adapt drivers and incentives to the cultural setting. It’s just that doing it without the thought of the cultural setting can lead to counterproductive results.

It is one month after ’golive’ of a new system in your company. The change managers have left and you’ve celebrated the successful implementation. Though everyone has received the proper training and heard the key messages the recommended 5-7 times, system reports reveal an unacceptable number of workarounds. New projects are already in the preliminary phases and the focus is shifting. Still, you acknowledge that reinforcement efforts must be taken up a notch to realise all the benefits of the project. But how is reinforcement most effective?

Changing human behaviour requires a process:

  1. Understanding of what is changing and why.
  2. Desire to change.
  3. Knowledge of what to do differently.
  4. The opportunity to practice.
  5. And last but not least, sticking to the new routines.

This method for managing change is called ADKAR and was develop by Jeffrey M. Hiatti.

Incentives adapted to cultural preferences

Two of the five ADKAR steps posit incentives to change. To achieve desire for the change, the incentive to change must be – well, desirable. But, incentives are even more openly used when the changed behaviours are to be reinforced to make the change stick.

Reinforcement of change is basically socialisation as we know it from the academic field of Sociology. Socialisation can be rewarding and appreciative or punishing. Both strategies send a clear signal of the desired behaviour. Socialisation can be either explicit with blatant praise or reprimand or it can be implicit such as by delegating more responsibility to someone displaying the desired behaviour or disregarding another who shows unwanted behaviour.

Just as you are not likely to serve prime steak to a vegetarian dinner guest, it is equally essential to pay attention to how the incentives you provide matches the cultural context. Especially if you are implementing change in a culturally diverse setting or are managing a change in a culture different from your own. But how can you identify what is desirable for individuals from unfamiliar cultural mindsets?

Geert Hofstede (1928) developed a method of making the highly confusing area of cultural challenges manageable by placing cultures on scales of different cultural dimensions. He identified five relevant dimensions such as high/low power distance and masculine/feminine cultures. All national or industrial cultures can then be ranked and placed on scales. The approach is disputed for numerous reasons, amongst others for delivering a static reflection of cultures reduced simply to national or industrial traits. However, used thoughtfully the dimensions are helpful when navigating to find  the right cultural fit with incentive structures.

In a recent best practice study by Prosci, Change Management challenges were mapped against cultural dimensions. When looking at incentives for reinforcing a change, two dimensions are highly relevant.

Opposite incentives motivate people from individual vs. collective cultures

One dimension divides cultures on a scale from highly individual to highly collective. In individual cultures, people are expected to take initiative, strive for goals, and ensure their own contentment. At the other end of the scale, in collective cultures, people are expected to act in alignment to the interests of the group. In return, the individual expects that their personal welfare is being looked after by the group.

By keeping this knowledge in mind, it seems logical that acknowledgement of good behaviour in an individual culture is motivational when the rewards focus on the individual. For example, it would be fully acceptable to bring out one person’s extraordinary results as a model to be followed. However, doing the same in a collective culture would be an enormous mistake as it would have the opposite effect. People would feel extremely uncomfortable with individual acknowledgement. Here, it would be motivating to reward or acknowledge the entire team or group effort.

In between these poles lies a vast range of cultures with traits leaning towards one of the dimensions but without clear affiliation. A safe way to ensure drivers for cultures in this grey area would be to portray the message that “together we are one company and together we must make the change to succeed”.

Performance orientation drives people towards different goals

Another dimension relevant for motivation is performance orientation. This is how to encourage or reward performance and give honours. In cultures with low performance orientation, the focus is primarily on social relations. Here, formal feedback and acknowledgement will be perceived as judgemental and uncomfortable for the individual. It is far more beneficial to allow the employees to choose their own drivers or rewards – and they might not even be business related. Consequently, the incentives can be highly individualised.

Where performance orientation is high, employees are expected to continuously improve their performance and more direct methods of communication and incentives are far more common. Resistance to change is often about the individual not being able to see their personal gain from spending energy on changing their practices. Remember that this is energy that could otherwise be used on achieving individual goals. Here, it is imperative to tie together personal performance goals and adaptation to a change. Performance measurement is a highly motivating factor and can be used directly in a reinforcement plan to ensure commitment to a change.

Again, there is a grey area between the dimensions. In cultures in-between the poles, change managers often encounter a lack of ownership from the employees. Resistance to measurable performance mechanisms is also common. So, if the cultural setting in which you are managing a change is not overtly a high-performance culture, performance management drivers is a dangerous tool. It is far better in less distinct cultures to provide personal acknowledgement for desired performance or early adoption.

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