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Chapter 3: Motivation to Change

Initiating Change

One of the most important factors in initiating change is helping learners explore their reasons for wanting to change. Equally essential is that learners need to own and want the change. As a coach you can help an individual explore the options but ultimately individuals have to make up their own mind that they actually want that change. Everyone is different and so as a coach you need to be able to help all your different learners progress at the pace and speed that suits them. As part of this process it is important that you understand the process of change.

One of the biggest issues for individuals is time; they simply do not believe that they have the time to achieve what they want. There is also a constant juggling between what they would like to do and what they feel that they have to do, and personal development often drops down the priority order in the list. This is not just an issue for individuals; it is often reflected in the ways that organizations charge individuals with meeting business goals rather than achieving a balance between personal and organizational goals.

One very important part of any change process is the motivation to change. From an individual, team or organizational perspective, if the motivation to change is low, the chances of success are going to be limited. Individuals also have different approaches to change. In relation to the stages of change below, some individuals will be proactive while the approach of others will be more considered.

Some individuals will be enthusiastic about change; others will be more cautious. When faced with options and choices some will be able to create their own solutions while others will need more support. Some people prefer to work on their own, while their colleagues may be naturally more collaborative. When faced with overcoming setbacks some individuals will feel overwhelmed and want to give up, while others will rise to the challenge and look for solutions. For a coach working with individuals or teams it is important to identify the potential different responses so that you can support individuals by helping them to recognize where their preferences lie and how to respond best to the opportunities and challenges presented by the change process.

When trying to make significant changes in work or life it is all too easy to express a desire to change without the underpinning motivation to make it happen. In an ideal scenario the organizational and team goals should complement the personal development goals of an individual. Where there is synergy, individuals feel much more motivated to respond to the challenges and opportunities in their working environment.

The Change Process

Many people make heartfelt comments about wanting to do things differently yet fall at the first hurdle. By gaining understanding of the key stages in the change process and their own capacity to adapt to changes, individuals can develop a personal change strategy. There are a number of models that describe the process of change. For the purposes of this chapter the model that I have adopted is the one shown in Figure 3.1.

The change process

Figure 3.1:  The change process

We will examine each stage in turn.

Overall Vision

In order to achieve a significant change it is important to be able to rise above the immediate situation and to see the potential benefits of changed circumstances or behaviour. Organizationally it is important to be able to articulate a clear vision of how the future could be and invite your employees to unite behind a common goal. Individually the ability to identify your own work/life goals, or shared goals with your life partner or work team, is an important part of your own personal development. There are a number of different approaches to setting a vision. You may prefer to take a practical approach, for example this statement may apply to you: 'I like to think through all the practical implications before I start something new or different', or alternatively you may prefer to spend time imagining how things could be: 'I like to dream of possibilities.' Whichever approach you use it is important eventually to identify what you're trying to achieve, ideally to write it down and to commit to achieving it within a time-frame.

Determination to Change

As well as having an overall vision it is important to have an underpinning desire and determination to change. With this desire there also needs to be an inner resilience to enable you to achieve the change. Organizationally this can be critical because those charged with managing and implementing change need to be able to keep going despite what may be an apparent lack of support and sometimes strong resistance to change from others, some of whom may be in positions of authority. At this stage it is important to be focused, to be able to identify your hopes, dreams and aspirations and express them in a series of focused objectives, which can form the basis of a real plan of action. As well as stating the overall goal, the objectives need to be able to be measured and to follow the principles of SMART (Specific, Measured, Achievable, Realistic and Timed). This applies to life as well as work goals. Again there will be different approaches to being determined to change, particularly related to the speed of change. Some people take a more considered and future approach: 'Although I set myself goals, I sometimes find it hard to motivate myself to keep working towards them', while others have a more direct approach: 'If I want to do something differently I often want to start right away.' It is important to set goals that are realistic and achievable; otherwise you could be setting yourself up for failure. This can apply to individual goals or organizational targets.

Exploring Options, Developing Alternatives

Some people prefer to wait for change to happen to them while others want to be more in charge of their own destiny and sometimes can almost be guilty of instigating change for its own sake. In the exploration stage a coach can act as a very effective sounding board, enabling a learner to explore and chart the options. Some people are also better at harnessing their own creativity and generating options and choices. Often those who are looking for an opportunity to change will spend time thinking and planning a number of courses of action. Useful as you may be as a sounding board it is critically important that the individual takes ownership of the change, particularly if it has far-reaching consequences; without this ownership the individual cannot really move forward. For some people, finding solutions to difficult situations presents a real challenge: 'When I have a problem, I often find it difficult to see beyond the immediate situation' or 'When I have a problem or issue I tend to rely on past ways of trying to resolve it.' Others are more creative: 'What someone else might see as an impossible problem, I see as an opportunity' or 'I often have more ideas than I can actually implement.'

Personal Commitment and Drive to Make it Happen

Any change requires effort from the individual. Of course it is possible to sit back and let it happen, but those who have the personal commitment and drive to make it happen will often find that the change is more fulfilling because they have a level of control over the pace and pattern of change by being able to negotiate how it happens. 'When I believe in something I become passionate about it' or 'If I really want to do things differently I can make it happen.' In a coaching scenario this stage really helps to identify those who are prepared to take action compared to those who are unable to move their dream from theory to reality. As illustrated below there is a point that needs to be reached before an individual is really ready to take the first step. As a coach you can help them take that first step, but the individual must have the necessary momentum to carry on. Equally at this stage it is important to keep in touch, as some individuals may also lose confidence after they have taken the first step and, like babies learning to walk, may suddenly sit down and be unsure how to get going again. 'I sometimes give up too easily' or 'I often find it hard to give myself permission to do things differently.'

Gaining Support, Being Resourceful

This is another important stage. Handling change on their own can be a lonely and challenging experience for individuals. Building and using a support network can be a much more positive experience. A coach can be a valuable source of support at this stage by helping people network and identifying other resources. It is important to recognize where someone is coming from. Some creative people find it very difficult to relate to others: 'I often need personal space', 'I would rather not be responsible for other people' or 'I prefer not to share my feelings with others', while others are more collaborative in their approach: 'I have a network of professional people that I use to help me achieve my goals', 'I enjoy coaching other people to help them to find solutions' or 'I have a close group of friends to relax with.'

Responding to Challenges, Overcoming Setbacks

Throughout the whole change process there is an important difference between accepting and challenging the process. Challenging does not necessarily mean conflict, but what it can mean is the ability to take a proactive stance through either instigating the actual change or at least taking an active part in the activities and dialogue surrounding the change. 'If I commit to do something I will see it through to the end', 'I am prepared to take risks' or 'I really do see problems as an opportunity to find a solution.' For others, responding to challenges is much harder: 'If someone strongly challenges me I tend to back down' or 'When faced with a problem I often want someone else to solve it for me.' An interesting contrast between the two styles is what happens if something doesn't work out: 'I can sometimes feel overwhelmed by defeat' versus 'If I have tried every solution and it still doesn't work I am not afraid to give up on an idea and look for other opportunities.' For a coach, helping people to take control in difficult situations is an important part of the personal growth process.

Breaking The Cycle

One of the reasons why people do not achieve their goals is that they never really focus on doing anything about it. It is often much easier to do nothing than to set yourself a plan to achieve your goals. If the people you are coaching are finding it hard to get started you may want to ask them to identify answers to the following questions:

  1. What is stopping me?

  2. What would I do differently?

  3. What could I do today to help me take the first step towards achieving my vision?

  4. What help will I need?

  5. Who do I know that I trust to talk to about what I want to achieve?

  6. What will happen to me if I don't get started?

  7. If I decide to wait what are my reasons?

  8. If I am going to wait when will it be the right time?

  9. What have been the best successes in my life?

  10. What can I learn from these successes to help me achieve my current vision and goals?

The answers to these 10 questions could help individuals to move forward to achieve their vision. Each question is designed to help them to think more deeply about the reasons why they want to achieve their vision and goals. There may be a very valid reason why now is not the time for them. This does not mean that they have failed or are not going to be successful. By understanding why they are waiting and the potential consequences, you have enabled them to take control of the situation and make a realistic assessment of their current circumstances.

One of the most fundamental questions they should ask themselves before they embark on any set of goals is: do I really want to do it? If it is a goal that has been on their action list for a while, it is even more important for them to ask the question: do I still want to do it? Sometimes realizing that they can walk away from a goal and set a new one can be a huge release.

As they firm up their ideas they may like to test their readiness to achieve their goals by answering the questions in Table 3.1. Use this checklist to assess their readiness.

Table 3.1: Checklist of individuals' readiness to achieve goals




Can they describe their goals in one or two sentences?


Have they really researched the idea?


When they have spare time does it readily come to the forefront of their mind?


Have they refined their goals over a period of time?


Are they happy to talk about it?


Could they share the achievement of this goal with someone else?


Have they got all the information they need about this goal?


Have they got a network of support?


Could they overcome challenges in the achievement of their goals?


Do they really want to do it?


If they have answered yes to all 10 questions then this indicates that they are ready to start to pursue the achievement of their goals. If they answered no to some of them this will indicate areas that they still need to work on.

The secret is: Don't Give Up!

In reality the achievement of their goals may require individual learners to overcome difficulties. The action plan below is designed to help you work through the issues with them and to take positive action to keep going.

Don't Give Up! Action Plan

  1. Make a real assessment of the problem. What is it? Why has it happened?

  2. Explore options. What alternatives do they have?

  3. Remember the theory of right time, right place. Is one of the parts missing?

  4. Encourage them to think about their original plan. Have they deviated from it? Have their circumstances changed?

  5. Encourage them to make a risk assessment of continuing with their plans. Think of the potential impact of stopping.

  6. Encourage them to talk to people, take advice and if necessary ask for professional help.

  7. Encourage them to be realistic, to identify what is the real issue. Can they solve it? Can they draw up an action plan to deal with the problem?

  8. Encourage them to put the plan into action.

  9. Encourage them to monitor their action plan closely and review it regularly to check that they are still on course.

  10. Encourage them to think positively, even if they are pulling out. Also encourage them to make plans to re-energize themselves.

Getting Started

One of the hardest parts of trying to achieve a goal is actually getting started. It is very easy to drift, putting off making a start. Often people use external triggers like New Year to try and start a resolution to do things differently, which is fine as long as there is a follow-through strategy in place. It is not just about saying that tomorrow will be different; you need a plan to identify how you will make it different. Setting yourself a target date is also important, using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) objectives. SMART objectives can be used with any ambition, whether work related, aspirational or personal:

Putting It Into Practice

If you follow the SMART principles you can set yourself an achievable list of goals. If you do apply this technique it is sensible to review your goals so that you can identify if you are on target. There is also a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when you can see that you have achieved something. This illustrates the importance of setting SMART objectives. If they are un-SMART they are likely to be more frustrating than motivational. The bigger your ambition, the more focused you need to be. You need to protect yourself by building around you people who will offer ongoing support.

Far too many people are stopped from achieving their ambitions by others' jealousies or insecurities. This is particularly true in partnerships, whether business or personal. This is where it is important to meet with like-minded people, to have a network and a mentor and especially to know yourself. Everyone I have met who has achieved an ambition has hidden depths. It is partly self-belief, but it is also that ability to self-talk, to say to yourself, 'I can do it!'

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