Knowing the location of the trigger is a key data point when handling firearms, as the trigger is the mechanism which actuates the operation of the gun. Every gun user should be familiar with that trigger, how much pressure is needed to make it work, and of course, where the gun is pointed when it is pulled.
In a more general sense, as a noun a trigger is anything that initiates an action or a series of actions and reactions. It can also be used as a verb to mean to initiate or to set off. So, triggers are catalysts. Things can be calm and moving along smoothly and then something is said or done and tumultuous change takes place. In certain circumstances, such as diplomacy and negotiation, there may be an overriding strategy to avoid triggering any sudden outbursts or disruptions.
In other instances, leaders are looking for the right triggers to initiate the change they desire within their organizations. As we all know, change is difficult. For many, change presents personal challenges. The two biggest obstacles to change are (1) Can I do it? (2) What is the benefit to me if I do it? Many who get past the first question get stuck on the second. This sometimes happens because organizations have a history of pursuing “flavor of the month” initiatives, only to back away from them over time. Because the company has failed to show a lasting commitment to its own change initiatives, workers don’t give the next ones any credence. They see the effort they might put into effecting any change going to waste because they know leadership won’t hang in there.
John Kotter, one of the world’s thought leaders on change ( the author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency) argues that leaders often fail in bringing about change because they do not create and communicate a sense of urgency around the change. “We are going to try this and see if it helps” is like dipping a toe in the water. Stating that “If we do not make this change, we are going to be out of business in six months” should create that sense of urgency. It should be a trigger to change.
B.J. Fogg, the founder of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University has created a behavior model with two axes, one for ability and one for motivation. In his view triggers are most successful when the desired behavior change is easy (or relatively easy) and motivation is on the high side. If change is hard and motivation low, triggers tend to fail.
For triggers to work, the leader must have credibility and must demand accountability. Empty threats are meaningless. Do you remember the children’s story of Peter & The Wolf? From that story comes the phrase “crying wolf.” Leaders who have cried wolf in the past will have a difficult time finding the right triggers to catalyze the desired change.
The leader desiring to bring about change needs to be credible. If there are past credibility issues, credibility better be rebuilt before new initiatives are offered. This can be done through careful and open communication, including an apology for past behaviors, a clearly stated vision of the future and the path to achieve it and a realistic appraisal of the consequences if change does not occur. In stating the consequences the leader must make it clear that all will be individually accountable, and actions have to back up the words.
Some workers may have to be shown the way to change step by step to prove to them they can do it. It might be that others really are not capable of the needed change and then the leader needs to back up the spoken words with action.
Change is hard even with the highest level of motivation. Therefore, leaders need to be strategic in their thought process. Making individual changes without looking at what they do to the entire system or organization can be disastrous. Those changes can be negative triggers which can start a landslide of problems.
Before announcing change initiatives or cramming changes down the collective throat of an entity, think of the following:
These are all predicates to positive change. Face it- technology and innovation are bringing about change at an ever-increasing rate. Every leader has to be current, aware and prepared to adapt, which means their teams need to be agile and prepared. And they have to be motivated to follow the leader. Without the proper motivation, change will not be triggered.