To activate behavior change within a team or organization, you need to enable inspiration to come from anyone, anywhere.

I recently participated in an ideation session with one of the world’s best known companies. Like many others in their weight category, they have taken some big hits in the last year, including having to let go of thousands of their people. On the plus side, however, they’ve taken the opportunity to reinvent themselves and commit to a new strategy. One that’s better for the company, and better for the world. The question is, how do you engage the tens of thousands of people who remain, when they’ve just said goodbye to so many of their friends? It’s hard for those who remain to hear a new message in that kind of noise. It’s hard for them to see a clear vision for the future, when they’re either feeling guilty for surviving the cull, or insecure about whether they’re staying.

Fortunately, this organization is focusing on the right stuff: purpose, trust, connection. The antidotes to a punishing year, and the enablers of a future that their people can build together. But there is another great enabler of change that organizations in this position should work on, which will accelerate their journey into the future: inspiration. 

To activate behavior change across a group of people, they need to feel inspired. And once-off motivational speeches from execs won’t do the trick on their own. 

Crowdsource your inspiration

Don’t get me wrong, visible executive support is necessary. A good example of this is a leadership program Cognician recently supported at a major beverages company. The program helped the top 600 leaders articulate their personal purpose statements. To show why leading with purpose was important, we filmed seven leaders telling their purpose stories. We then embedded these inspirational stories in seven self-coaching modules. Participants used the modules to craft their own purpose stories. The seven videos were great examples of the power of leading with purpose. Spine-tingling stuff! But they couldn’t compare with the impact of 700 insights that the participants shared with their colleagues while crafting their own purpose stories. 

When you enable participants in a change program to share their stories, you empower them to reiterate your vision. To reconstruct it for themselves and for each other. Their stories become artefacts of the change itself—the visible building blocks of the change taking shape.

Inspire at moments that matter

To do this effectively, we have to acknowledge that some moments in a change program have a disproportionate impact on the people involved. These moments are likely to relate to issues with deep, personal impact. Good examples are psychological safety, transparency, trust, autonomy, and fairness. If you recognize that any of these are issues in your audience, it’s your cue to give your people a voice. Let them share their thoughts, opinions, and stories. Let them express themselves with all the richness and detail of their own personal contexts and points of view. 

Now I’ve frequently sat in meetings where a client has said something like: “If we ask our people to share stories, they’ll just rant.” 

Well the truth is that if they are in a state where they need to rant, you need to find a way to let them do it. Otherwise, they won’t be receptive to anything you suggest. 

And yet, having said that, I can’t think of a single instance in Cognician’s history where we have given a change audience a voice and it’s turned into a rant. I suspect that’s because folks only really start to rant when they feel like they don’t have a voice at all.

Space out the inspirational moments

Your people will be inspired to be their best selves by the authentic stories of people they respect, both leaders and colleagues. These stories can show them what good looks like in your change program, or how to overcome challenges. But this is not a once and done activity. The impact goes up if you sustain the practice over time. Each new step in your change program is a new chapter. New stories become relevant. And if your people are sharing stories continually, they will continually be contributing to your change program.

Patrick-Kayton-Opinion-PieceAbout the Author: Patrick Kayton is Founder and CEO of Cognician, an award-winning international company that enables large organizations to activate behavior change at scale. He is a learning and behavior change specialist with 20 years of experience in instructional design and corporate learning. In 2010, he founded Cognician with his brother Barry to solve the problem of how to activate behavior change at scale through action and reflection. He became an Endeavor Entrepreneur in 2013 and accepted a fellowship in the Unreasonable Group in 2020.