How to motivate people to adapt to change — Part 1

How to motivate people to adapt to change — Part 1

As teams and organisations fail to deliver desired results, instigating a change in process, structure, and/or behaviour becomes critical. However, change can only be successful if teams are motivated to adapt to it. I have found the Regulatory fit theory (E. Tory Higgins) and Expectancy value theory (John William Atkinson) useful at this point to motivate teams to adapt to change (you can find out more in The Lean Mindset, Ask The Right Questions” by Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck).

Regulatory fit theory:

In Higgins words, people have either a promotion or prevention focus. Trying new things, exploring new ideas and taking more risks are key characteristics of promotion-focused people. Being vigilant, detail-oriented, pessimistic and less likely to make mistakes are characteristics of preventative focused people.

According to Higgins, although most people have a blend of these characteristics, still they usually favour one focus over the other, calling it their “chronic focus”. Given the challenge of change, people will be motivated to accept the challenge if it aligns with their ‘chronic focus’, if it does not align with it, the acceptance will be lukewarm at best.

Taking cue from this, the way that the challenge of change is presented should differ according to the team composition:

Presenting change to Promotion focused teams:

  • Change should sound aspirational: ‘This change will take us to the next level’

  • Goal should be meaningful and possible

  • Gain from change should be significant for the organisation as well as for the individual

  • Wording should be positive and motivational.

Presenting change to Prevention focus teams:

  • Change should be presented as something that is reactive rather than proactive: ‘This change must happen for us to survive’

  • Threat of failure to adopt should be real so that people care

  • Emphasis of wording should assure no change in the as-is state

  • Wording for bringing the change should be neutral, concerned or even slightly negative

Challange of change that is framed according to team composition can significantly improve the acceptance for the change and motivates people to adapt to it.

Expectancy value theory:

The Expectancy value theory says that people are motivated to pursue a goal based on expectancy and value.

motivation = expectancy × value

Expectancy: How likely it is that a wanted (instrumental) outcome (goal) is achieved through the behaviour or action

Value: How much the individual values the desired outcome. Value can be monetary or emotional

According to this theory, people are motivated to embrace change if the likelihood of ‘SUCCESS’ due the change is high and it brings the ‘VALUE’ which they desire. Motivation is large when both expectancy and value are high, but disappears when one of these factors equals zero. It’s worth noting that expectancy of success and the value it delivers are subjective and depend upon a person’s nature, competency, desire etc.

Proposing change where the expectancy of success is high and the value brought by it is valuable, not only to the company, but, for the individual as well, will lead to high motivation among the teams to accept and adapt for it.


Combining these two theories ‘Regulatory fit theory’ and ‘Expectancy value theory’ gives you a strong recipe for motivating people to accept, align and work toward the change you are looking for. In part 2 of this blog, we will explore how this can be applied to software teams using a couple of theoretical examples.