Young man confused and wondering about a question of what to do.


At this point, we typically take for granted that younger employees are looking for more than a well-paying job. They are looking to work for companies that are socially conscious and will lean in to issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as improving the health and well-being of employees and other company stakeholders. Yet a new report by Atlassian has showed that this is not simply a concern for Millennials and Gen Z. It is intergenerational. According to Atlassian, 60% of Millennial employees would quit their jobs if employer values did not align with their own, but across all generations 80% of employees agree that businesses should take some form of action to address societal issues. Another survey, by Gartner, Inc., found that 68% of those surveyed would consider quitting their job to go to an organization with a stronger viewpoint on the social issues that matter most to them.

While companies are beginning to move in the direction of becoming more socially conscious, it is oftentimes not at the pace or in the ways that employees demand. Since the 1970s, Albert O. Hirschman has shown that employees and consumers have the choice of exit or voice—or some mix of the two—when confronted with declining satisfaction in their organizations and products. But, today, in order for people to make change within their companies, rather than simply leave for something else, it is important to know how to make one’s voice effective.  

There is a big difference between knowing what to do and knowing how to succeed in doing it. There is also a big difference between knowing and wanting. In both personal and organizational ethics, this latter difference creates what is known as the moral motivation gap and, if not minded, it will cause any plan to change habits or company culture to be derailed.

When it comes to persuading others to mind their moral motivation gaps, it is not enough to say, “Acting as we have been is wrong. We should act differently because it is the right thing to do.” This “preaching stance” typically fails for two very specific reasons. First, it ignores why people or organizations have taken the route they have. Whether right or wrong, there are always reasons for the current modus operandi, which have become ingrained in people’s and organizations’ daily habits and decisions. Therefore, if you want to change the way people do business, then you have to speak to their motivations.

How to persuade people to adopt a new way is where ethics training can learn a lot from business and strategy education. For example, in her new book, Negotiate Without Fear: Strategies and Tools to Maximize Your Outcomes, Victoria Medvec provides helpful guidance and examples for how to achieve the success you want in business—but the same tools apply when negotiating for social and moral change. For example, when negotiating, she writes that the more successful strategy is to lead with the first offer rather than allow others to set the tone. Even if the traditional mantra is, “those who speak first lose,” she shows how a well-prepared first proposal allows one to define the issues at stake, frame the nature of the discussion and anchor outcome expectations. Of course, well prepared does not mean that you know only what you want to achieve. It also means that you know the other side’s needs and priorities and that the rationales you give in your proposal speak to their concerns as well. As importantly, taking the lead in a negotiation allows you to take a relationship-enhancing position rather than a relationship-damaging one. This is because, after proposing your idea, you can give space to hear how the other side considers your proposal, instead of just critiquing what the other side wants.

In speaking first, however, one must beware of preaching. The best way to avoid calling out for change so you can actually make it is to create a compelling message for why your proposal meets shared values and how even tradeoffs can lead to a net positive (or at least have negatives mitigated). Compelling messages balance information through utilizing both empirical data and anecdotes that provide a personal and human face for the change you propose. Good messaging also balances between providing a picture of the positive outcomes achieved through change and one depicting the potential losses that may incur if the status quo is maintained.

The second reason why the “preaching stance” does not work, as Peter Bregman and Howie Jacobson set out to demonstrate in their book, You Can Change Other People, is that people don’t resist change; they resist being changed. Advocating by preaching will sound more like criticism than championing for a cause. Inevitably, the result will be resistance. It does not matter if those whom you want to influence know that your proposal is right or that they know the best ways to implement it. The manner in which preachers offer their ideas becomes a motivational obstacle for its own adoption.

Values-driven employees do not have to limit the skills and tools that they develop to come up with a good business strategy only to build equity for the company. They can use them successfully to increase equity in the company as well.