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How to Tackle Change & WIIFM!

ID-10018273 (2015_09_21 22_53_07 UTC)In times of change, “What’s in it for ME?” (WIIFM) is the “BIG” question everyone wants an answer to as soon as possible. Basically, we are all self-centered so this should be no surprise.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to see that the communications are clear, concise and authentic. Where possible, we need to understand another component in change and that is “What’s in it for “US” as a group?” The answers to question WIIFM can actually be included with a WIIFUS response.

In my experience, the biggest mistake most leaders make when trying to change something in the life or structure of the enterprise is to lead by announcement, by propaganda, or—worse yet—by executive dictate.

What may make perfect sense in your mind may not be understood so clearly by the rest of the organization. To you, the idea is completely logical. Trouble is, to win the support of others you must appeal to the intellectual and emotional bandwidth of people.

When confronted with unexpected change, most people have an internal alarm that goes off and shouts: WIIFM—What’s in It for Me? It is usually accompanied with an imagined bright RED light and a clanging sound to make sure it is not ignored.

Now, that’s not to suggest that most people are purely selfish. It’s simply a fact that personal context is usually the first filter we use to evaluate our environment. This is really true when we’re asked or worse forced to participate in some sort of change.

Change is nothing more than a movement away from the present. Ideally, change is movement toward a future that promises not just something different but, hopefully, something better.

The present is really a very dynamic concept but we like to think of it as a destination. It is our comfort zone. However, what we call the present is never firm. It is always in a constant state of tension between the desire to remain stable and the desire to evolve based on the inevitable adjustments of time and circumstance.

While people feel they are troubled by change, what they are really fearing is the transition from the comfort of the present to the unknown of the future, the journey.  Yes, change really is a journey and it is dynamic as we evolve, grow and expand.

Much of the complexity comes from the fact that change is always situational, which makes it much more difficult to understand and deal with. There are new team roles, a new manager, a new procedure, a new way of operating, a new location, etc. Transition is the psychological & emotional rite of passage during which people come to terms with the new situation (the change).

As a leader, your challenge is to provide vision, clarity and validate the journey.

In my opinion, every change begins with milestone in mind, not necessarily an endpoint or destination. As people, we will look at the present and try to compare it to the future by asking countless questions:

  • What am I losing?
  • Where are we headed?
  • What will the new place look like?
  • How will it be different from what I have now?
  • What about the work flow?
  • Who will be my teammates?
  • What will be the expectations for my contribution?
  • What performance metrics will be used?
  • What will it cost me?
  • What do I need to learn?

In other words, “What’s in it for me?” or WIIFM.

My challenge to you, as a leader, is to not only deal with the answers to the question WIIFM but also to create a dialog that focuses on the WIIFUS!

Every employee is asking the same questions so how you answer them will determine how the enterprise, environment and culture will change. Adoption is dependent on your ability to empower and influence everyone to participate and engage.

When you ask people to go from where they are to someplace else, your task is to create a vision they can understand and be willing to embrace. No one can define the future with absolute, irrevocable certainty, there are too many variables. However, you can be close. There will always be diversions and shifts required. You should try to paint a picture of it with as much clarity as practical and adjust the picture as it changes.

For example, does the change involve creating a new team? Who will be the team leader? Who will be the other team members? What will be the team’s tasks and authority? How will the team communicate differently? Having answers to these questions proactively is critical to success.

Does the change involve a new product or service? Do you have a clear picture of the need that will be fulfilled by the new product or service?  How will it differ from previous offerings? How will it be positioned with customers? What support will the marketing and distribution people provide? Have you determined a clear “WHY” around the change?

Does the change involve something ambiguous like “better communication”? If so, clarity is even more important. One person may define “better communication” in terms of open and honest dialogue and breaking down inter-departmental silos, while another may think only in terms of getting a new carrier for his cell phone service.

In defining the future, and the transition(s) required to get there, here are six steps that are, in my opinion, especially important:


One common ingredient of failed change efforts is that the people proposing and advocating the change ignored any viewpoint other than their own. Since they know where they are going they fail to turn on the lights for everyone else.

To overcome this, be thorough, open and proactive with your due diligence. Ensure that you gather comprehensive data, the good and the bad, on the change you want to promote. Be careful not to inadvertently (or deliberately) filter out information that contradicts your position. Acknowledging and respecting contrary views will strengthen your credibility. Pretending that contrary views don’t exist will make you come across as poorly informed, short-sighted or worse.

Do not try to hide any facet of the change! Lay all the cards on the table. Answer WIIFM questions as if you are answering the WIIFUS questions. If you hide any issues, then be prepared to sacrifice trust within your organization.


Many people in many roles will be affected by and instrumental in the change you’re promoting. It’s important to understand and deal with some of their needs throughout the change journey.

Here are some potential CAST MEMBERS –

CHAMPIONS: These are people who want the change and work to gain commitment and resources for it. They are the ones you can count on to pass the message along and execute their parts very effectively. They are vocal and demonstrate their support with action.

ACTIVE AGENTS: They carry out and manage the change. For the most part they support the change and can see the vision as provided by the leader.  They are extremely good at the process side of the equation.

LEADING SPONSORS: They authorize, legitimize and demonstrate ownership for the change. Sponsors come in at least two varieties. They possess sufficient organizational power and/or influence to either start commitment of resources (Authorizing Sponsor) or they promote the change at the “local” level (Reinforcing Sponsor).

CHANGEE’s: Everyone is a changee but there is the larger group who are called on to alter their behavior, emotions, and practices that may not be involved in leadership, sponsorship or in opposition and willing to make the alterations.

ANTAGONISTS: People who are actively against the change and hostile to any activity that they feel is an infringement on their perceived rights or other’s rights. Typically, they may not understand the vision, mission or goal of the change, therefore participate in opposition from lack of knowledge.

There also may be those antagonists’ that have another agenda with a philosophical and emotional agenda that is outside the normal group dynamics of the enterprise.  These will take a lot of work to understand and mitigate.

LURKERS: This is the group that wants to wait and see if you are really serious about the change. They are never fully committed but they are also not disconnected.  They are there to do their job and see what happens.

EXTERNAL POWERS: This group consists of external entities or individuals that may not be part of your enterprise yet feel they have a vested interest in seeing that the change may or may not succeed.  Examples can be suppliers, unions, competitors etc.

People in different roles have different needs. Staying aware of those roles will help you with your messaging, coalition building, and every other aspects of your change work.


Individuals in the boardroom have a completely different perspective from the folks in the office or on the factory or shop floor. Now, I am not suggesting that one group is more or less intelligent or valuable than another however it’s vital to remember that frame of reference must always be considered.

  • Senior managers are likely focused on big picture issues like market share, customer satisfaction and competitive advantage.
  • Mid-level managers and supervisors may focus on the meaning of the change for their budgets and span of control.
  • Office & Line workers will want to know how the change will affect their schedules, their work processes, and the availability of tools and other resources.

Some concerns about issues like job opportunity and pay are of course universal. Just remember to package your message in audience-appropriate language, analogies, and examples that allow people to relate.


Goals and milestones drive any change effort so the use of the SMART goal approach outlined by many other contributors is a vital ingredient. You may not be able to have every facet covered by a goal but where you do make sure the Future you define is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

This approach will help you “position” the desired change journey, it will help clarify your thinking about it in the first place and improve the communication details that will be necessary.


Simplify the message as much as possible. No matter how smart the people you’re trying to influence may be, take special care not to bury them with too much data. Data overload can be more damaging than lies in some cases and lies never help the situation.

Less really can be more, especially when it’s carefully targeted. No amount of economic double talk could complete with the persuasive simplicity of plain language and humble actions. Always focus on the common good of the change and how it will affect everyone, not just select groups, unless it is a small single team change.


Even the simplest change effort is likely to be met with some resistance. Part of your vision and mission must be to validate the journey, therefore you must have a compelling answer for each of the three most common kinds of questions:

WHAT? What exactly is the change you’re advocating? What will it entail? What will it require people to give up? What will be involved in moving from the Present to the Future? What kind of inconvenience or discomfort can people expect to experience? What does it mean for the “US” in addition to the “ME”? Don’t hide or try to confuse, the BS meter will trigger and the attention is lost resulting in failure.

WHY? Why is this change proposed? Why is it necessary for the organization’s stability, growth, or survival? Why now? Why not some other change instead? Why us? Why not someone else?

WHAT IF? What if the organization or the team simply sticks with the status quo? What if the proposed change is postponed? What if the change were incremental instead of a clean break with the past? What if we get locked in analysis-paralysis?

When you’re planning any group trip, it’s important to make it appealing to the people you’re inviting to get on the bus. Similarly, as you validate the journey of your change effort,  it’s critical that you carefully tend to all the “What’s in It for Me” details for the people affected and build a foundation for an attitude of “WIIFUS”.

If you would like assistance with preparing for your companies change journey, please check out my website at Transformative Leadership Group or give me a call at 630-454-4821.