Commitment Regression can be the Greatest Threat to Your Change

Have you ever seen someone ‘bristle’? If you’re not sure, tell someone to do something they really don’t want to do. You can almost see the hairs standing up on the back of their neck. Instant porcupine.

A colleague once said, the reason people struggle with change is that they don’t like being told what to do. It goes against our independent, ‘free spirit’ nature. Most people are complying with the request to self-isolate and practice social distancing. But not all.

For some it is enough that those in power say “this is how it shall be.” Authorities use a variety of rewards and consequences (fines) to help direct behavior. That will work to an extent. But because many bristle at being told what to do, they must be convinced about whether to comply. Facts about risks and potential consequences help them internalize reasoning and fall in line.

Some are so convinced they compel others to adopt the same behaviors. That’s extremely useful when we are striving for positive change.

That’s why strong leaders focus on engagement and reasoning (ref help, heart, hope). Stakeholders are more likely to adopt a change when they believe in it. We need a cause.

But here’s the issue. Belief is not static. People experience COMMITMENT REGRESSION.

Have you noticed that there seems to be more people on the roads now than when we first began limiting social contact? It’s zero fun having your freedoms so severely limited, and at some point people begin to change their belief about consequences. Punishments lose their power.

When a change is difficult; when it feels like a big step backward causing us to long for the way it used to be, even the committed re-evaluate their position. This is not about increasing risk. It is about losing hope.

While we strive to flatten the curve, the propensity to resist piles up until people reach a breaking point. They refuse to come to work. They walk out (Amazon).

Unless we keep our stakeholders focused on a brighter future they believe in, belief will regress down the Commitment Continuum. That’s why change leaders never stop their work as they near and surpass the finish line. People’s natural tendency is to regress to what was easier and more comfortable.

If you need assistance sending the right message that motivates during difficult change, I can help. Just let me know.

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Jeff Skipper
Jeff Skipper is an expert in accelerating change. Clients such as Shell, Goldman Sachs and The Salvation Army have engaged him to achieve dramatic results during strategic transformation by wrapping complex change in motivating mission. He has been quoted in Fast Company, Forbes and HP’s enterprise.nxt. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Change Management Professional.