I recently talked about Leading Behaviour Change to two organisations – UK for Good and Cheshire Wildlife Trust, both organisations that are trying to influence behaviour change in their many stakeholders. We discussed how to motivate people to change their behaviour.

The Motivation Equation

We agreed that “facts don’t change minds” and that motivation to change behaviour (MC) is a function of 3 things:

• P – A Purpose (a vision of where you want to get to)
• C – Commitment to Change
• A – Actionable First Steps


For a purpose to be motivating, it must meet our core needs:

• Does it enable people to feel that they belong ie they are part of a team?
• Does it make them feel competent ie they know what to do?
• Does it give them a sense of freedom ie they have some choice and control?
• Does it enable them to fulfil their potential?

If your purpose doesn’t meet these needs, then it is not going to motivate people to take action.
Here’s an example of a purpose for the Marketing department of a charity. Which version appeals to you most?

1. Our purpose is to upload content to the charity’s website and social media accounts.
2. Our purpose is to create engaging content for our website and social media accounts, which enhances the reputation of our charity and attracts people to become members or donate.

The second version feels more inclusive and inspiring. It relates to something meaningful beyond ourselves. With an agreed purpose as a framework, the team leader can work with the team members to ensure they feel connected, know their part in it, and have the skills and freedom to fulfil it.


To get commitment, you need to engage people’s emotions. Rational explanation may get compliance (they do it because you have told them to), while appeal to emotion gets commitment (they do it because they want to) – this is why disaster appeals focus on human tragedies and why drink driving campaigns at Christmas show pictures of injured people rather than statistics.

How can you get people’s commitment?

Emotions and moods are infectious. We communicate emotion, whether we intend to or not and people pick up on the emotions, whether we want them to or not. So, it makes sense to consider the emotions you want to transmit.

How do you want people to feel when you communicate with them? Eg bored, nervous, angry, confused? Or curious, confident, relaxed, clear?

You can influence how people respond by how you communicate, through your words, your tone of voice and your body language. Too much doom and gloom is likely to leave your audience feeling hopeless. An upbeat approach can communicate optimism and encourage people to act.

We talked about the power of stories, on drawing on personal experience and real case studies, and how to reframe the challenges in a positive way. Rather than seeing giving up meat or car journeys as sacrifices, you can see them as opportunities to experience life differently.

Actionable First Steps

You can have an inspiring purpose and get people’s emotional engagement, but nothing will change unless there are actionable first steps.

  • How do I get started?
  • What do I need to do?
  • How can I break the elephant task into mouse-sized chunks?

Changing behaviour can seem difficult at first until we build habits. When seat belts became compulsory, people often forgot to put them on. Now we do it without thinking, and most cars remind us with a warning signal if we do not. Similarly, when households were required to recycle their rubbish, it took a while for people to work out how to do it and remember to do it. Now it is second nature for most people.

It is said that we need to repeat a behaviour many times for it to become a habit. One piece of research concluded that it takes between 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit with an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. The advantage of habits is that they take the thinking out. Our brains like to reduce effort in this way. You can encourage behaviour change by creating helpful habits.

When you want people to change their behaviour, you need to make it easy for them. Help them get started and maintain the habit. Make it easy – if you want people to drive electric cars, provide charging points. Make it memorable – like the slogan “see it, say it, sort it” on the London underground.  Check out the COM-B approach advocated by footballer Alex Scott.


Do you have a change initiative in your organisation? How can you apply the Motivation Equation to the change you want to create?  You will find more insights and practical guidance on communication and motivation in my two books.