Inviting Organizational Change: Lessons from Counseling Individuals

As challenging as it may be to motivate an individual to consider changing a personal behavior, inviting an organization to move towards change can be even more daunting. To motivate a clinical staff steeped in traditional addictions counseling techniques or what William Miller refers to as attack therapy can cause any supervising counselor or clinical director to age prematurely.

First, the literature seems to suggest that the process of change for an organization is similar to that followed by an individual. This means that the organization will need to pass through the stages or readiness just as an individual does. What is a bit more complex when contemplating change in an organization made up of individuals, however, is that different individuals in the organization will likely be at different stages of readiness to change. You will therefore need to target these different segments or "changers" of your organization separately. Depending on the size of the organization with which you are working, this may already have been done for you. If so, this enables you to move directly to designing interventions based on the mean stage of readiness to change in your target group or the segment of the organization with which you will be doing the training--more on this in a moment.

If, however, you are not sure of the stage of readiness to change in your target group, you may want to do a bit of assessment first, preferably prior to engaging your audience in any particular activities. You may find one of the SORtC (stages of readiness to change) tools to be useful, for example, see the SOCRATES or Stages of Change Readiness and Treatment Eagerness Scale (see Once you have a sense of which segments of the organization are at what stage of readiness to change, you can then tailor your interventions based on the SOCtC. To get a sense of “which” interventions work best with “what” stage of RTC, visit

Matching the “process of change” to the “stage of readiness” is very important given the task of facilitating change, be that when working with an individual or a group. If your target audience is in an earlier stages of RTC, then you are going to want to focus on consciousness raising, increasing awareness, social support, and related activities to move the audience toward an “ah ha” moment or epiphany. This can be done in a relatively short amount of time, but senior management or administration will need to understand your objective and more to the point, “why” you are doing it. Remember, managers tend to be more interested in “pushing” subordinates towards the change they believe needs to be made than “leading” employees towards personal growth and corporate development. 

When attempting to motivate individuals to change remember a few simply--although not necessarily easy to implement--steps:

  1. Although you may be able to lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it CAN salt the oats
  2. It is easier to motivate employees to move toward what they discover they want than away from what management no longer wish them to do
  3. Change happens in stages. The objective of change is to move from their current stage to the next stage on the continuum, not the last stage
  4. As William Miller suggests, when considering motivating individuals to change you have two choices of how to proceed: you can wrestle with them or you can dance with them...Dancing with the Stars is always more productive than WW Smack Down
  5. Remember Sandra Anice Barnes' line from Life is the Way It Is, "It is so hard when I have to, and so easy when I want to." Our task as agents of change is to invite individuals to "want to."
What do you think?
Dr. Robert


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