The Science in Driving Change

Problems with Introducing Change

Leaders introduce change all the time. Sometimes it is very intentional like rolling out new sales training and wanting reps to adopt it, introducing a new sales initiative, changing a comp plan, changing territory assignments or quotas, etc. Sometimes leaders introduce change and don’t even realize it. They just feel like they are giving direction – “I want you to start focusing on…in your sales calls more.” At the time the change is made, people sometimes are excited and give you every indication that they accept the change. Or, they at least tell you they understand and accept it. Then change doesn’t happen. Why? Were people not listening closely enough? Were they just giving you lip service? The answer to that question is “No.” It’s simply human nature to resist change.

Take sales training, for example. You spend thousands of dollars to get a professional trainer to work with your team. Your team spends two solid days learning all about prospecting, asking better questions, building value, etc. Then 30 days later, you see somebody doing one or two of the things they’ve learned, but the rest of the material they were trained on seems to have disappeared. Gone, just like the thousands of dollars you spent. We’ve heard this hundreds of times.

Behavioral science will tell us that there are a few reasons people struggle with change. First, they don’t address the first rule in change management – addressing WHY is change happening. If people don’t understand why a change is being implemented, many will reject the change completely or complain about it constantly. If a leader rolls out sales training (or a comp plan or an initiative, etc.) and don’t address why we are doing so and what we want to get out of it, people will make up their own mind whether they should adopt the change or not. If they are not bought in, they will resist. We’ve heard plenty of sales people say things like “This is for the rest of the team. My system works fine.” or “Maybe I’ll get a nugget or two.” Think about that – you spend thousands of dollars on training and your salesperson might get a nugget or two? I want more.

A Better Way to Roll-out Change

If we look at the science of change management, we can learn that there are a couple of key elements – how we set up the change on the front end and how we reinforce the change on the back end. The vast majority of leaders spend all their time on the front end. We see them roll out change in meetings, they send out memos, go through trainings, remind people in emails, etc. These are all prompts or reminders to try to make change happen. However, they put much less effort into reinforcing on the back end. The behavioral people will tell you that this approach is exactly opposite of what really drives change. Adoption of change is always much more effective through reinforcement on the back end. Let’s look at both ends of the equation.

Front End:
Put yourself in the shoes of the person being asked to change. Think about what questions would you ask if you were being asked to do something differently. They might include “Why are we doing this?” “How does this affect me?” “When does this change happen?” “Did we evaluate other alternatives to this change?” etc. Spend some time on the front end with your team answering these questions and making sure everybody is clear on your expectations of them. This could be done in a meeting and reinforced in writing in an email.


  • New Comp plan – we talk about why we are changing it (address changes in market, focus on product/market/geography/growth/etc.), we explain how it works, we give the sales people a calculator with the plan so they can see how it works and how it will impact them, then we answer questions they have.
  • Sales Training – we talk about why we are doing this and the impact we are hoping to get. “We looked at several training programs, but picked this one because it matches our type of sales and we have a big focus this year on getting deeper into our accounts and increasing close rates within those accounts. We expect you to follow this methodology and I will expect to see use of the methodology and tools during my joint calls with you and during our account reviews.”
  • New CRM System – there are several reasons we are implementing the CRM system. We have seen issues with knowledge leaving the company when sales people leave, we have poor communication between departments about accounts and we want to provide our sales people with some tools that can help them be more productive in the field. We want to walk you through these tools and will talk with you each week about how you are using the system.

Back End:

This is the most important part. How will you reinforce the change? Some of the most effective ways of driving change on the back end are through 1 on 1s, team meetings and public or private recognition. The more frequent we can provide this positive reinforcement, the more effective we will be in driving the change.


  • “Jim, I liked the way that you used the Discovery process that we were trained on. You were able to identify some new areas we could sell into. How do you think that helped you? Would you be willing to talk to the team during our next team meeting about how you used it and what it did for you?”
  • Team meeting – “Everybody was supposed to bring one of their current opportunities to review. Sally, why don’t you walk us through how you used the process on XYZ Company?”
  • CRM – for one-on-one reviews, actually use the CRM to drive the discussion. “John, according to CRM, it looks like you only had 2 meetings this week. Is that the case?” “Why don’t you go update CRM so it is accurate and then we can have this meeting.” “Oh, it looks like you had 10 meetings which is above goal. Nice job.”

Unfortunately, these are not common approaches. More often we see very little reinforcement at all on the back end (followed by complaints about why people aren’t following direction) or negative reinforcement (do this or else). These approaches are rarely effective.

To really drive change, spend more time on determining the best ways to recognize people for doing the right thing – both privately and publicly. This reinforcement is the leader’s job and is a lot of work until the change is adopted. But the result of this work is better behavior and more buy in.

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