When it comes to change management, there are times when discussion is appropriate, and times when it isn’t.

For example, if the fire alarm is sounding and you’ve been ordered to leave the building, no one is interested in your objections to going outside. Even if you’re heading into the middle of a monsoon…

From a manager’s point of view, that’s the perfect model. There can be no argument, because:

  • It’s a quick win
  • It’s highly visible and easily measured.
  • And it doesn’t cost very much.

In fact it simply requires the slick application of carrot and stick. (In this case “Would you like to stay alive?” and “Oh, so you’d prefer to die, then?”)

Of course, most issues can’t be resolved quite so easily. Conformance is all very well, but if it’s a grumbling, resentful and rebellious conformance then you are simply creating problems for the future.

You need to think about hearts and minds as well – even if you have a sneaking sympathy for Nixon’s famous remark that if you grab someone hard enough in an (in)appropriate place, their hearts and minds will follow.

‘I insist you will like this…’

Gerard Hoffnung’s words were intended to be ironic, but some managers seem to take them literally. And the truth is that if an action needs to be done just once, or on a very few occasions, then conformance is all that’s needed.

People don’t have to think about it. And they don’t have to like it. They just need to do it.

The same does not apply to actions that must be regularly repeated. Here the simple application of sticks and carrots is rarely going to achieve the change you are looking for.

That’s when you will need commitment.

And you will also need to understand how commitment can be recognised, and the inevitable problems involved in asking people with ingrained habits to change their behaviour.