August 27, 2015 Anil Saxena

Maybe WIIFM Is Wrong

Could the emphasis on What’s in It for Me (WIIFM) be a contributing factor to the huge number of change initiatives that fail to meet their intended outcomes?
Does emphasizing WIIFM convince people that there has to be something in it FOR THEM in everything?  Employees, customers, shareholders, etc. look for the benefit to them. But, maybe the benefit will be in their team, family, community, etc.  The notion that every project or initiative has to have an outcome that benefits each person is a recipe for disaster.

1. People will not be interested in putting effort or making concessions for something that doesn’t benefit them if they’ve been trained to expect something out of each project.  So, if the project you are working on isn’t going to benefit them directly, most people will say “thanks but no thanks”

2. Everyone is looking for the immediate gratification – There are efforts that need to be done that will have long-term benefits but nothing immediately.  Because of the focus on WIIFM patience for longer term successes/benefits is low.

3. People will balk at necessary actions – Sometimes things need to get done because they need to get done and won’t benefit some groups.  But, they will make the company stronger or save it from some calamity (competition, regulation violation, etc.).  But, if you are always focusing on WIIFM then why would someone want to do that?

4. People have a misguided belief that there has to be a WIIFM in everything – It’s not always about you.  In life, we have to make sacrifices and do things that don’t directly benefit us at all.  But they must be done.
Of course organizations must take on initiatives that benefit their key stakeholders – employees, customers, shareholders, etc.  But, there are times that for the sake of the business or institutions actions must be taken that don’t have a WIIFM.


During WWII, Americans rationed everything for the war effort.  It was a concept called “guns or butter”.  Essentially, you could have more guns and stuff on the front line for our troops or we could have ample food, steel, oil, etc. at home BUT YOU COULD NOT HAVE BOTH.
The effort that people went through in America (and almost every other country in the world at that time) during that time was for the greater good.  There was not really a WIIFM or at least it was delayed.  But if you look at the wars that have occurred since, Americans have expected guns AND butter.  For the most part, that has not worked well for anyone.  The same is true in organizations.  You can’t always have WIIFM and organizational success.  It can happen.  When it’s possible it should. But, when it’s not, there should be rationale given about:

• The greater good of the organization
• Increase in customers base
• Growth in market share
• Or something else that will benefit the greater good.

(Now, if there is no long term benefit or benefit to the organization AND not WIIFM, than that’s not good either. All those projects/initiatives should be scrapped too)
It’s time for us to recognize that projects need to be beneficial but they may not have a “win” for each person impacted and that is okay.  If it’s a win for the organization and the greater good, maybe that is good enough….
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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