Let’s not beat around the bush: we expect our employees to do what we want them to do. And preferably with enthusiasm, energy and great ideas about how we can achieve our goals more quickly and effectively.

To make this work, we offer our team friendly colleagues, clear responsibilities, competent managers, a warm smile every morning, reduced membership for the gym down the road and, of course, an appropriate salary.

Surely that’s enough, right?

In normal times, such a plan may well be enough to motivate your employees to deliver acceptable results. But what happens during periods of change like crises, after mergers and acquisitions or when implementing a new company strategy? Suddenly, day-to-day management is no longer sufficient, meaning we need to realign our management style in order to stay abreast of the new situation.

The following applies whenever you plan to make changes: employees will only leave behind the comfort of the familiar, established system when it’s worth it for them. Habits and operational processes will have become deeply ingrained in the company’s DNA. Although it’s both reasonable and necessary to expect your employees to leave this comfort zone, it would be naïve to think that they’ll do so without any resistance.

Managing change and employee resistance can feel like this

This resistance may well be neither active nor conscious. Even once the new rules and the goals of the recently introduced measures have been discussed and understood, employees may unconsciously avoid or simply forget about the correct practices on a day-to-day basis. With every restructuration project, there are, however, also employees who purposely resist any reforms or changes. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.

This gives rise to the following questions: “How do we get all our employees, even the reluctant ones, on board? And how can we ensure that the new measures will be implemented across the company?”

Employees will be particularly inclined to leave their comfort zone when the incentives support them in doing so. It is therefore necessary to adapt the incentive system and to ensure that it corresponds to the new situation and new goals. Many managers’ first reflex is to offer a bonus for implementation of the changes. This isn’t wrong, and is far better than simply hoping to appeal to your employees’ better nature.

But be careful: if you hope to win your employees over with monetary incentives only, you have not fully understood what is at stake.

Handing out money doesn’t create culture.

Culture is about establishing new rituals and processes, which then turn into new habits. Such changes require motivation. But motivation can’t be bought, as Frederick Herzberg shows perfectly in “One more time. How do you motivate employees?”.

Managers create motivation when they both delegate and demand responsibility – when employees are treated as competent and they’re given a fair amount of freedom to make their own decisions. This is the only way for employees to come out of their shells, learn and grow. It’s what drives most people. Growth is good for us; it makes us feel prouder and more confident. These are so-called motivational factors. When you increase motivational factors; motivation, productivity and engagement will also increase in your company.

Micromanagement, control and directives have the opposite effect. Status, salary, work-life balance and social interaction are merely hygiene factors. These factors need to meet certain positive criteria (i.e., the atmosphere and salary must be right). However, once these criteria are met, further increasing these factors doesn’t lead to higher motivation.

Knowledge is power, but knowledge alone doesn’t get anything done. Especially change projects need to be thoroughly implemented. The right implementation method is as important for the project’s success or failure as the use of motivational factors.

Which is why my tip for all managers and leaders in change projects is as follows: don’t simply revamp your incentive programme, but also make sure you’re implementing it consistently. Employees who act against the new changes must be sanctioned. It’s also important not to reward those who don’t achieve their change goals. And if no one achieves their goals, tough luck. This may be down to insufficient management or a lack of inspiring images and communication – meaning that you’ll also have to go without your bonus! That would certainly be the right thing to do, in order to boost general motivation.

If you fail to fundamentally modify your incentive programme to ensure it will lead to lasting change in your employees’ behaviour, then you are supporting internal resistance to your change programme. But nothing new can come about without change. New behaviour and the creation of new company cultures succeed thanks to adequate management, motivation and skilled implementation.

About the article: how company culture changes following a merger remains an unsolved mystery. At least, that’s what the multitudes of literature, articles and recent publications on the subject could lead us to believe. I find that excessive. Sure, big culture projects are a particularly challenging part of megamergers, but lots of my clients deal with much smaller projects. The question of company culture still needs to be dealt with seriously in these cases, but it’s possible to be pragmatic and practical, yet effective, by taking a few things into account. These things are what I want to talk about in this series.