Enjoying Your Work
Motives differ for those who accept change
We run low on key items that our customers need," Alan Percy told his employees. "We need a more efficient tracking system for the products we sell so that we can replace them from our warehouses."
Alan was the manager of a building supplies company that sold directly to contractors. He felt that he was disappointing too many customers who left his store without the products they needed, and that he was losing too much business to his competitors. He felt that change was needed.
So he introduced a new tracking system for items sold that was based on the use of small hand-held computers. He organized training sessions during which employees learned to use the computers.
Three months after the new system was introduced, Alan called a meeting with his employees so that he could receive feedback about the changes. Afterward, Alan commented to his assistant, "People seem to be using the computers, but I get the feeling that not all of them are doing it for the same reason."
Alan is probably correct. People follow the directives of authority figures for various reasons. Harvard University's Herbert Kelman has investigated three reasons.
» The first is compliance. People accept the directives of authority figures so they will gain rewards and avoid punishments. But they don't necessarily think that the directives are reasonable or helpful.
» The second reason is identification. People change their behavior -- in this case use of the small computers -- because they desire a positive relationship with the authority figure who issues the directives.
» The third reason is internalization. People change their behavior because they genuinely feel it is wise to do so and that they will be better employees if they follow the lead of their managers.
Compliance may be the easiest to understand since everyone engages in some behaviors to gain rewards and to avoid punishments. Children learn not to play in the street to gain the approval of their parents and to avoid disapproval. Employees accept some company directives to reap rewards such as salary increases, promotions, and the approval of managers.
But if employees are following directives only because of compliance, they will behave in ways of their own choosing if they no longer receive any rewards. A new manager may introduce another tracking system, and employees are likely to use it, if accepting the new directives leads to rewards.
When people change their behavior because of identification, they do so because they respect the person who suggests the change. They might say to themselves, "We wouldn't adopt the new tracking system if it was up to us, but Alan has been a good manager. We want to have good relationships with him. Let's give his suggestions a try out of respect for him."
The danger with change due to identification is that it is tied to one individual. If Alan leaves the organization, employees may abandon his policies.
With internalization, people change because they think that the directives of authority figures are consistent with their personal values, such as the importance of customer service. They will continue to use the innovative method because they are convinced that company goals are being met more efficiently.
In the case of the tracking system, employees will use the system even if Alan leaves. Further, if the employees move to another organization, they might suggest use of the same technology to their new managers. With internalization, people behave in ways that they think about in positive terms such as valuable, efficient, helpful, and intelligent.
All three change processes can occur after authority figures issue a directive. Especially during their first months on a job, employees might use a new tracking system just to avoid the punishment of being terminated during their probationary periods. They might show more enthusiasm about using the system if they discover that their manager usually makes good decisions. Then, they might internalize use of the system if they discover that it makes them good employees who are better able to serve their customers.
The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office at email@example.com