What Makes Them Tick?

Ella Ingram


Change agents universally work with colleagues, administrators, internal and external partners, and others. Let’s take as a given that these individuals have priorities and interests about which they are highly motivated. One change strategy that we as change agents can use is describing opportunities to engage in a change project in ways that are motivationally attractive. But first, we have to know what makes them tick.

In his classic essay “Carrots and Sticks”, Jon Wergin described a simple model of faculty motivation in four parts: autonomy, community, recognition, and efficacy (ACRE). This model combines elements of self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci 2000) and what psychologists know about extrinsic motivation (classic reward systems). Although the ACRE model specifically calls out faculty, it gives us direction and tools for creating and framing change activities in ways amenable to the broad community of academic professionals.

First some definitions. Autonomy is the freedom to experiment, to do things without fear of consequences, the power to grow, and to follow one’s own lead especially in ways that add to the common good. Not surprisingly, community is described by participating in the assembly of scholars, belonging to a place and system, playing an important and unique role, and giving and receiving nurturing from colleagues. Recognition comes in any form that causes the individual to feel valued both privately and publicly, to know that one’s work has worth to others, being paid attention to, or holding regard as a professional and scholar. Finally, efficacy means having an impact on the (academic) environment, contributing to the betterment of society, improving oneself to do good and add to quality of life, and escalating skills and abilities. Continue reading “What Makes Them Tick?”

Change Requires Trust, So Build It

Ella Ingram


I recently read the paper Change Recipients’ Reactions to Organizational Change by Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis. The authors analyzed 60-years’ worth of research on how the people affected by change experiencing change, with the goals of describing the features of this body of work (like organizational contexts studied, psychometric scales used, sample sizes acquired, etc.) and finding major themes of reactions. They highlighted one implication that stood out for them among all others: “the consistent finding concerning the link between organizational trust and support for change highlights the special significance of trust in times of change” (p. 516). This implication points change agents toward trust-building as a critical tool for making change happen.

The action step emerging from Oreg et al.’s work is for a change agent is to ask herself “What strategies can change agents build trust with those who will be affected by change”? This topic is addressed occasionally in the pages of higher education leadership resources (e.g., the Chronicle of Higher Education Administration 101 series, Magna’s Academic Leader newsletter). However, it appears regularly in the Harvard Business Review. With just a bit of mental effort, academic change agents can adopt the recommended business-centric guidelines and apply them to great effect.

Robert Hurley describes seven situational factors and associated questions that can influence the Decision to Trust (also the title of his article). Security, number of similarities, alignment of interests, benevolent concern, capability, predictability and integrity, and level of communication represent factors that, when addressed appropriately, increase trust given to managers, and by extension to change agents. Let’s look at just two of these factors: “alignment of interests” and “predictability and integrity”.

When change agents work to gain trust through alignment of interests, they must sincerely engage in understanding the interests of the people their work will affect. Superficialities will not suffice in this arena. Change agents need to know what things their colleagues need to be successful in their goals. Then, ask yourself “How can I bring my work into alignment with these desires?” For faculty, a major goal is often related to professional productivity, things like papers, conference presentations, invited talks, etc. Can your change project create opportunities for this goal to be met? Do you have social capital emerging from your change work that could be contributed to colleagues? For example, if your change efforts increase the funding available to your area, offer to sponsor professional work that simultaneously advances productivity and the interests of the project (e.g., a publishing effort about the change project itself, supported by research assistants, software tools, or a writing retreat). Finding points of alignment is a way to say to people “We are in this work together and can both be successful”.

Predictability and integrity begin with doing what you say you will do. People need to know that your words have weight. Statements like “I’ll send you that article” or “I’ll invite you to that important committee meeting” or “I’ll champion your application for promotion” are implied promises that the person you promised will remember. Deliver on your promises when you say you will, or don’t make them. Other types of implied promises include accepting an appointment request (so don’t miss a meeting without lots of notice), agreeing to contribute to a blog series managed by a close colleague (so don’t blow off the deadline), and offering to buy lunch out next week for a junior colleague who asks mentoring-type questions (so don’t put it off for two months). These example spring to mind because I’ve done all of these trust-harming behaviors. No more. Change agents can’t afford to have their predictability and integrity questioned.

Alignment and integrity are just two important ways a change agent builds trust. A future post will look at the other situational factors that contribute to trust-building.

Some features that affect trust can’t be influenced by the change agent. Risk tolerance, level of adjustment, and relative power of the person giving trust will all influence how much trust she puts in you as the change agent. But, these three factors can be counterbalanced by the situational factors that influence a person’s trust in the change agent. By asking the trust questions regularly, change agents will find that they are led to act in trust-building ways.

So, what will you do in the next day, week, month, and year to align interests, be predictable, and demonstrate integrity? Take action now; you won’t regret it.

Hurley, R. F. (2006). The decision to trust. Harvard Business Review, September, 55-62.

Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47, 461-524.

Always go sleeveless

Steve Chenoweth, RHIT

At some point in promoting change, we epiphanize that all the commitment, energy, processes, logic, and artifices put into our effort don’t guarantee success.  Change is not, after all, a sure thing.  Highly compromised ideas, other priorities, and inertia could still win the day.  What to do now?  Time to back off, get away, and reflect.

At Synectics,[1] where I once sought frequent idea help, we would stop thinking about our conundrum on purpose.  They call it an “excursion.”  After a long ordeal of trying to make the important thing happen, you Excurt by getting involved in something completely different:  Go for a bike ride, getting lost in Boston traffic.  Learn to play “London Bridge” on the accordion.  Switching your mindset eventually brings you back with fresh focus on the problem.

As a result, you may realize, perhaps, that everyone else at your institution possesses a mindset when it comes to your desired change, a mindset many won’t spontaneously leave behind just because you advocate for your change.  They may even relish engaging you in dear old academic disputation about it, winning points for their perspective by poking at yours.  Remember, these are your co-workers.  You respect one another.  Yet, for them, “new” equals “threatening,” in the Kurt Lewin[2] sense.  Their perspective is grounded in weak assumptions and anxieties more than by broad critical thinking, at least from your point of view.  So, wouldn’t it be helpful to inspire them to take an excursion too?

Continue reading “Always go sleeveless”

That’s Perfectly Normal

That’s Perfectly Normal

Kay. C. Dee

I once announced to a psychologist that during that day’s session, we were going to play a game called “That’s Perfectly Normal.”  I would tell him something that I was thinking or feeling, and he would respond with “That’s Perfectly Normal!” and then describe why.  It was a reassuring (and entertaining) game, and I recently found myself playing the other side of this game with a colleague who has been leading a major curricular change effort.

In this short blog venue, I can’t fully describe the amount of energy, effort, collaboration, communication, and social/political capital that my colleague has invested in this change effort over the past two years.  As I am writing this post, their institution’s faculty assembly is preparing to vote on whether or not the change will be implemented.  As a change agent navigating their way through a great deal of peer judgement about their project, my colleague has been thinking and feeling a lot of Perfectly Normal things right now.  For example:

  • My change project is being held to standards that are far higher than are expected of any existing project.  I resent that.  Some of the people calling for additional assessments, information, and review processes sound hypocritical to me.
  • Others are using my change project as political leverage or a bargaining tool to try to achieve their own goals.  I am bewildered by this.  My project has nothing to do with Program X’s ability to hire an administrative assistant, or whether Program Y’s proposal for a second major is likely to be approved.  Why is my project being dragged into these discussions?
  • People with no expertise in the subject matter of my change are challenging my experiences in and mastery of that subject matter.  This makes me feel resentful and disrespected.
  • I’m being told that people who I thought supported me and the broad goals of my project are saying negative (and untrue!) things about me and my motivations for undertaking this project.  This is disappointing and painful.  I don’t want to get involved in gossip, but at the same time, I want people to think well of me and to understand my actual motives for this change.
  • People who aren’t aware of all the constraints I have been working under, and who have never championed a similar magnitude of change, are telling me that I should have handled things differently – and that if I had done so, I would not be experiencing the current level of consternation over the proposed change.  This frustrates me.  I think it’s meant to be helpful constructive criticism, but I guarantee that I did the best I could with what I had to work with.  At this point, I kind of just want these people to shut up!

Continue reading “That’s Perfectly Normal”

When Change Means Loss

When Change Means Loss

By Julia Williams
Interim Dean of Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities

Writing for the Mind/Shift website (where the focus is on K-12 education), Katrina Schwartz takes up the issue of how school principals and administrators can help teachers and staff deal with change. In summarizing the work of psychologist Robert Evans, Schwartz suggests that change for many people isn’t about “growth or capacity-building or learning; it’s about loss.” Evans has written extensively about change, but his observations are somewhat surprising: “Resistance to change is normal and necessary . . . If you are part of some big change in your school and you aren’t expecting resistance, there’s something wrong with your plan.”

How often do we as change agents expect a positive, enthusiastic reaction to our plans for change? Working on our own or with a team, we devise a new approach, program, or initiative, and we expect others to be as excited about it as we are. Then we are surprised when we encounter initial resistance. We may dismiss the concerns of others with phrases like “They just don’t get it!,” or “They hate change!”, or “They will appreciate all of our hard work once they see the change in action!” The tendency of many change agents is to drive on, discounting this resistance, maintaining focus on the change itself and disregarding the associated interpersonal issues that surround it. In the end, the change might be in place, but the price paid by the change agents can impact any future effort.

Continue reading “When Change Means Loss”

The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Keeping Score

The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Keeping Score

By Kay C Dee
Associate Dean for Learning & Technology

This post is the second in a two-part series on executing strategic initiatives. Read the first one here.

In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the authors claim that “People give less than their best and finest effort if no one is keeping score — it’s just human nature” (pg 155). I may be revealing too much about myself when I confess that I had a small fit of impotent fury over this (to be honest, brief fits of impotent fury are not uncommon events for me), but the claim in question sounded like an evidence-free assertion at best, and ‘begging the question’ at worst. While constructing fierce internal philosophical arguments on the question of whether one’s best and finest efforts can be intrinsically inspired, I began to mentally challenge the assertion that people “play differently when they are keeping score” (pg. 155).

I am mildly chagrined to report that it does appear that people play differently when they are keeping score. For example, a meta-analysis by Harkin et al., published in Psychological Bulletin and freely downloadable, found that monitoring progress toward a goal promoted the attainment of that goal. Furthermore, “…monitoring progress in public and physically recording progress had larger effects on goal attainment than monitoring that was done in private and not recorded” (pg. 219).

This aligns with suggestions in The 4 Disciplines of Execution about keeping a compelling scoreboard. The authors suggest that the individuals working toward a goal should be the ones who design and use the scoreboard to record/monitor progress (instead of, for example, the person to whom these individuals report). The authors also suggest that these individuals should all be able to see the scoreboard change quickly as measures of progress change.

Continue reading “The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Keeping Score”

Do the Right Things

Do the Right Things

By: Ella Ingram,
Associate Dean for Professional Development

This post is the first in a two-part series on executing strategic initiatives.

Change agents are faced with endless options for what to do next. Draft that strategic plan? Plan a team meeting? Read that new national report? All are important, and all are relevant to achieving the desired change, but it’s hard to decide where time is best spent. McChesney, Covey, and Huling’s Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) gives us some guidance in answering this question. Lasting change – the kind change agents aspire to – must occur during the whirlwind, the authors’ term for the daily press of work centered on keeping the organization operational. The 4DX model addresses how to make change occur as the whirlwind continues. Although 4DX comes from the business world, it has been used successfully by academic organizations (see the 4DX website for examples).

The first discipline of 4DX is an easy one for change agents: focus on the wildly important, meaning the one strategic goal that matters more than all the others. In 4DX lingo, the Wildly Important Goal (WIG) is the outcome that everyone has bought into. Professionals driven to accomplish the hard work of change know where they are and where they want to be, what 4DX frames as “from X to Y by when” when defining the WIG. With a solid WIG in place, the second discipline – act on lead measures – is where the work of change agents really begins.

Continue reading “Do the Right Things”

A Workshop to Develop Change Agents in Higher Education

A Workshop to Develop Change Agents in Higher Education

There have been many calls for change in higher education.  Successfully implementing change – especially broad change – requires faculty and administrators to develop new competencies.  Our ‘Making Academic Change Happen’ (MACH) workshop was created to bring research-based change strategies and skills to higher education faculty and administrators.

Continue reading “A Workshop to Develop Change Agents in Higher Education”