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Harnessing Motivation to Change Behavior




In the years since the death of George Floyd put DEI at the center of the nation’s focus, the quest for inclusion and diversity has become more urgent than ever. The demand for greater inclusion is a necessary step on the path to social justice, but it’s also good business sense.

Harnessing motivation is a linchpin for success. “The science of motivation shows us that people are already motivated,” said Dr. Taylor Peyton, senior organizational psychologist at BiasSync. “It’s not the leader’s job to motivate people. It is the leader’s job to make sure they don’t mess up their people’s motivation.” This is why forward-thinking diversity leaders focus on values alignment, framing messages and change initiatives with their employees’ motivations in mind.

The Essence of Motivation in Behavior Change

At its core, behavior change requires more than just compliance; participants must genuinely engage, internalize, and sustain their commitment to transformation. “When you’re working from a place of deep meaning, that’s the most powerful way to motivate change,” said BiasSync expert Dr. Bentley Gibson. Motivation, in this context, is the propelling force that empowers individuals to embark on the journey of change. “Be very careful of only operating by incentive-based reward-based systems,” said Dr. Peyton. “It can distract from deeper values.” Whether it is breaking free from implicit biases, fostering inclusivity, or overcoming resistance to DEI initiatives, motivation  - intrinsic motivation, not fear of consequences – is essential to driving sustainable behavior change for the long-haul.

Unpacking Fear-Based and Reward-Based Motivations

Understanding the dynamics of fear-based and reward-based motivations is instrumental in crafting effective strategies for behavior change. Fear-based motivations often leverage the apprehension of consequences, whether it be legal ramifications, reputational damage, or the fear of losing clients. While fear can initiate action, relying solely on fear may lead to resistance or disengagement.

On the other hand, reward-based motivations offer incentives as a catalyst for change. However, the caveat lies in ensuring that the motivation transcends extrinsic rewards. Over time, individuals may lose intrinsic motivation when the focus shifts solely to external incentives.

The Role of Behavioral Psychology in Identifying Biases

Behavioral psychology provides a separate path through which to identify, understand, and address motivation. One key aspect is recognizing the various biases that individuals may hold and the way in which biases impact motives and actions.

By understanding these biases, organizations can elevate awareness, encourage critical thinking and mitigation measures, avoid reactive decision-making and minimize resistance.

Behavioral psychology serves as a valuable tool for leaders striving to create a more inclusive and equitable organizational culture.

Bridging the Gap: Aligning Intrinsic Values with Organizational Goals

Another essential facet of motivation in behavior change involves aligning intrinsic values with organizational objectives. Leaders must go beyond mere acknowledgment of the importance of DEI; they need to create a narrative that resonates with individuals at a personal level. When inevitably confronted with detractors, experts recommend that leaders proactively engage, taking care to understand what might be motivating each individual’s resistance. “We have a lot of people who are not really motivated to address DEI,” notes Dr. Gibson. “We must belter communicate why this is important to people who are not on board and determine what will help get them on board.” The reality is that we all have different motivations and varying levels of motivation. Connecting the dots between personal values and organizational goals fosters a sense of purpose, making behavior change a meaningful and purpose-driven endeavor.

Tying DEI efforts to tangible outcomes - whether business success or enhanced client relationships - provides a compelling case for individuals to engage. The intersection of personal growth, organizational success, and societal impact becomes a powerful motivator for driving sustained behavior change.

Practical Applications: Hiring Processes and Beyond

Practical applications of motivation in the realm of DEI efforts extend to critical areas such as hiring processes. By acknowledging that biases may be hindering hiring goals, organizations can utilize motivation to propel actionable change.

In the example of a company’s hiring process, leveraging motivation would involve creating awareness around biases, aligning hiring processes with DEI values, incorporating bias mitigation measures, and offering tangible incentives for inclusive practices. This approach not only transforms the hiring landscape but also sets the stage for a broader cultural shift within the organization.

Motivation as the Keystone for DEI Success

In summary, the journey toward fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion necessitates a profound understanding of motivation's transformative power. Leaders must recognize that motivation is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it requires tailored approaches that resonate with the diverse individuals within an organization.

Behavior change is rarely a linear process; it requires ongoing commitment, self-reflection, the willingness to be proactive in handling detractors, and a nuanced understanding of the psychological factors at play. By embracing motivation as the keystone for DEI success, organizations can create a culture that transcends compliance, fosters genuine engagement, and propels lasting behavioral change.

If you are interested in learning more about BiasSync, we encourage you to contact the team. For more information on harnessing motivation or potential applications for behavioral psychology in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion, we encourage you to watch the full webinar.

Updated: 02/2024

Not just diversity. Inclusion.

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