Big Yellow Taxi, Herzberg, Change Management And Mentoring
Jos Finer in change
17th February 2023 -  3 mins read

This may sound like a random combination of disconnected things, but just hang in there because there is thread of logic.

In her song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ Joni Mitchel sings ‘….you don’t what you got ‘till it’s gone’. So we can all agree, I think, that sometimes when something is gone from our lives, we experience a sense of loss and feel worse off because of it (or may even be materially worse of, never mind the feelings). 

This is where Frederick Herzberg comes in. You may be familiar with Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation where Herzberg identifies factors he call ‘Motivators’ – things that will increase our motivation if they are added, and what he calls ‘Hygiene factors’. These are things which do not increase our motivation if they are added, but will decrease our motivation if they are taken away. So Herzberg and Joni agree with each other and with us, that sometimes if you take something away, we feel worse off, or specifically in relation to workplace performance, we may become dissatisfied or demotivated.

This sounds like a truism – if you take something that we value away from us, we feel a sense of loss and may become dissatisfied or demotivated – even if we didn’t appreciate the value of that thing before it was taken away. But, in practice, we often anticipate the loss of things that are valuable to us and the anticipation of loss can be as demotivating as the loss itself. After all, once it is gone it is gone and we either remain in a perpetual state of denial or we accept the reality and adjust to the new situation (see Kubler Ross change curve etc.).

In the context of organisational change, the situation for employees after the change will by definition be different to the situation before the change. Inevitably the new situation will mean that some characteristics of working life before the change will be lost. If the change is planned – as all well-managed organisational change should be – then people will have time to appreciate what will be lost (or at least what they perceive will be lost) and may become demotivated, which will be detrimental both to managing the change and to managing business as usual.

Change leaders need to recognise this. The sooner they can identify what will be lost (or what people perceive will be lost), the sooner they can take steps to mitigate the sense of loss to rebuild and maintain motivation, so that employees can positively engage with the change process and be part of delivering a successful outcome.

So how does mentoring tie into this? Well, the loss that people experience during change processes can be identified at a collective level through surveys, forums and so on, but these issues that largely apply to the whole group- the most common themes. At an individual level, certain things will be more important than others, and there may be things that an individual will lose through the change process that are unique to them. Typical change management structures can accommodate collective feedback and can invoice people in the process of adapting change plans to address concerns, but will be les effective at dealing with demotivation at an individual level.

This is where mentoring comes into the picture. For individuals struggling with planned (or even delivered) organisational change, a mentor can provide a tailored-made opportunity for an individual to explore their loss and demotivation, and to move to a more positive frame of mind, where they can regain their motivation and move forward again. This solution, completely focused on the needs of the individual, could be a valuable addition to the change manager’s toolbox. So when planning organisational change, in addition to the usual change structures and methodologies, consider setting up a ‘Mentoring for change’ scheme, as an elective option for individuals impacted by the change process.

Learn more about Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory here: