What is Your Appetite for Change?

One of the key elements of introducing change is finding a way to make the change “sticky” or pervasive in an organization. I have introduced a lot of change to organizations that hasn’t been adopted successfully. For some reason, the proposal didn’t seem to have that “stickiness” necessary for widespread adoption. I don’t think it was because the ideas weren’t good, and I think that often held meaningful benefit for the organization as a whole. However, when it came right down to it, people looked at the proposals and gave them a collective, “Meh…” and they moved on.

The floor of my proverbial agile workshop is littered with these ideas that never came to anything for certain groups. You recommend Test Driven Development, a very useful practice with many well-established benefits, and get a collective yawn from the crowd. There are lots of good reasons why ideas like this can fail. Legacy technology, cultural factors, time pressures, and dysfunctional management to name only a few. However, I think there is one fundamental thing that can overcome all of those issues and make nearly any change sticky: identifying the appetites of the audience you propose the change for.

Paul Herr wrote a fascinating book called “Primal Management” that explores the concept of appetites. He breaks appetites down into two categories: biological and social. It reminds me a bit of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, but with a bit more subtlety. The biological needs are fairly self-explanatory (nutrition, reproduction, breathing, etc.), so I’ll skip those, but the social appetites are much more interesting. He identifies the following key social appetites:

  • Self-Protection (feelings of security)
  • Innovation (curiosity and the eureka pleasure)
  • Skill Deployment (elation experienced with a win)
  • Competency (self-esteem)
  • Cooperation (warm family feel)

One thing to note is that each of these appetites is really an emotion or feeling that needs to be satisfied. In fact, you could use the term motivation in place of appetite, and I think you would be on reasonably safe ground. Herr argues that any change to an organization must satisfy one or more of these appetites or motivations in order to be “sticky” or have any reasonable chance of meaningful adoption. In fact, he argues, quite reasonably I think, that in order for an organization to be super high performing, it must find ways to satisfy all of these appetites or drives for its employees. 

There are different ways that we can measure or assess an organization using these appetites. Surveys and tools like I use for aggregating employee feedback can help us to get a rough idea of where we are in terms of satisfying each of these appetites. Herr has his own metric that he calls the horsepower metric. It’s an evaluation (no, it has nothing to do with horses) that tries to give an index on a scale of one to ten for each of the appetites. 

I think that this kind of information might be useful especially when we are thinking about multiple groups within an organization. We hypothesize from Willem Larsen’s Thermodynamics of emotion, that “Emotion is a current that move according to conductivity, just like electricity.” Based on this idea, we should be able to see appetites or drives conducted across groups of people in an organization. Feed that emotion/appetite/drive in one group and it very likely will be conducted to others. If we think of immediate moment theory, then these appetites are going to be what people orient themselves around (polarity) and anything that supports those appetites will be an attractive force. 

Using these emotional appetites could be a very powerful way to evaluate and introduce change that is most effective within an organization. I’m excited to see what comes of it. If you are interested in learning more, read Paul Herr’s book “Primal Management” and check out the Thermodynamics of Emotion conference http://www.thermodynamicsofemotion.com

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