What’s in it for ME?

WhatManaging change is part of my day job. One of the catch phrases we use these days is “what’s in it for me”. In “selling” change in an organisation we need to show the employees, the board, the management and all other stakeholders “what’s in it for them”. If you don’t believe me, Google “change management what’s in it for me” and you will see plenty of results.

Rhiannon’s masterclass, ‘What’s in it for me?’ … and other change management challenges demonstrated how addressing the people side of change management can increase the probability of business success during periods of significant change. Source: CMC Partnership

Word Cloud from this site

Word Cloud from this site – PEOPLE

What ever happened to what’s in it for you is you get paid and we all keep our jobs? Or what is in it for you is we will engage your firm as a preferred supplier? That might sound a bit harsh, but I’m not looking at industrial or commercial relations here, I’m looking at the me, me, me mentality of much of society. Western society at least. I always love the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems on Twitter. Provides quite a giggle a lot of the time. I often think “what’s in it for me” is distinctly a first world issue, if not a looming problem.

If we only ever do anything because of what is in it for ourselves, don’t we risk becoming a very selfish society? I have no doubt, from my own practical experience, that introducing change into the workplace is more successful if the people involved can see a personal benefit. I am no different when I am asked to change. My immediate question is “While this make my life easier or harder?” If I think the change will make my life harder, my natural inclination will be to resist the change, covertly or overtly, unless I can see a greater good for all in the change.

I’ve talked before about the differences between societies of collectivism and societies of individualism. Western societies are almost exclusively societies of individualism. We saw such individualism in my most recent look at the feminists’ debate.

Geert Hofstede describes these cultural dimensions rather well.

The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.” Source: geert-hofstede.com

There is research that indicates a culture of individualism leads to high growth and more progress because societies of collectivism can be assessed as anti-innovation. I stress this is one perspective, one I perceive as rather negative. Other studies present a more caring, positive picture of collectivism.

Platteau (2000) for example illustrates collective culture in the context of African development. Specifically, he documents that productive individuals are seen with suspicion and are coaxed into sharing their surplus with the community. Collective punishments exist to penalize the rich. They take the form of social ostracism, loss of status, or even violence. Communities have for example frequently used accusations of witchcraft to punish greed and acquisitiveness as well as aspirations to move to other places. Behind these punishments is the fear that the community’s cohesiveness will be undermined and that an individual who proves more successful will leave the village or will not redistribute any surplus food or production. Source: Berkeley

However, individualism gave us the Global Financial Crisis.

If you’ve been blaming reckless men for the collapse of America’s leading investment houses and the plunging markets, you may be on to something. High levels of testosterone are correlated with riskier financial behavior, new research suggests. Source: Scientific American

In a society of collectivism, this individualistic behaviour would have been curbed by the cultural norms.

I am a very firm believer in the rights of the individual. This website only exists because I was denied my individual rights. I am married to a man from a culture of collectivism. In many respects, I live both cultures. I think there are aspects of both that humans need for survival as a species.

Collectivism worked very well in hunter-gatherer days. Collectivism ensures the elderly are cared for. Individualism gives us…..more money? Individualism gives us innovation and progress that we may or may not need as a species, but it also gives us personal greed. It gives us “what’s in it for ME”.

Gary Stamper says:

Collectivism, as a system has many faults, but individualism, which isn’t even a system, but rather the lack of a system, also has many faults. Each, by themselves are partial. The new collectivism, championed by the political left, has emerged as a response to the unbridled individualism of the political right. Source: Collapsing into Consciousness

Gary quotes Gerhard Adam:

“True individualism is not common and in our society is typically marked as being a sociopath.  This is an individual for whom no social connections matter, and there is little ability to empathize with fellow humans.”

Perhaps Gary is correct, the long term solution lies in the concept of “individual collectivism”.

Individual collectivism understands that individuals need to be recognized and acknowledged within the larger social group. In our culture, it is a rare person who is able – or even wants – to act outside some sort of collective, whether its a policeman or fireman, an employee or a business owner, a sports or  corporate team, a local or national culture, a religion or spiritual calling, or a political leaning, or a politician. Even as individuals, we seek like-minded people to associate with, to support and be supported, to share common goals. It is our nature.

And while we claim to abhor “collectives,” we automatically join them, leaving the impression that it’s not really about collectives at all, but rather, the freedom to choose which collective we participate in rather than our objections about collectivism. This doesn’t deny our personal identities or rob us of the choices we make regarding our participation in a collective. Source: Collapsing into Consciousness

Both individualism and collectivism have faults. Both have served a purpose at different stages of human development. Do we need something new? It is at least worth considering.

Looking back to my opening employment related situation, “What’s in it for me” only has worth providing we also consider what’s in it for the organisation that keeps us employed. For without the organisation there is no “what” for me at all. If our social fabric collapses like the global markets did, we will have nothing.

There is nothing so constant in this world as change. Perhaps this is one we need.





15 comments on “What’s in it for ME?

  1. […] and I say that because I’ve already written about my own concerns about society’s What’s in it for ME? attitude. The spin of this sentence was a little too clear […]


  2. […] problem is Tony Abbott has a history of that great “What’s in it for ME?” attitude running riot, as documented so wonderfully well by the brilliantly acerbic John […]


  3. Other day there was a group of Women One Labor me and four Liberal friends one said “Liberals care that is why we need to get the budget through”. I made her stop and think with my answer. “What will happen when, because of your Budget and what Goverment is now doing they close down all the Welfare places that are slowly eroding. Who then is going to look after those who cannot through no circumstances of their own manage without help” My friend looked at me and said “I have never thought about that”. So to me Both individualism and collectivism have to work for the good of all…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] I asked the question “What’s in it for me?” It seems to me far too many people are answering that question with a lack of integrity. […]


  5. “What’s in it for me” is the basic tenet of capitalism. Right-wing neo-liberal capitalism takes this mentality to new extremes. The attitude is NOT exclusive to the west, and is found amid all middle and upper class people everywhere. You’re problem is really that workers think they deserve more of the share of value they create. Not a very enlightening article imho.


    • I’m not sure you understood my perspective and that may well be my fault for not making it clear.

      If we continually reinforce the “me, me, me” mentality, is this good for society overall?

      Should we be looking at different emphasis?


  6. I got nothing Robyn… “Collectivism” really does matter. Lack of community and feeling of obligation to care for all of us is what is wrong with modern day life. The fact that someone can any government of any colour or shape can get into office of ‘what is fine by me, stuff the rest of us’, which has been happening since the Howard years, just shames me 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with Davispg, there should be a heap more of whats in it for us all, after all, we all need each other as this is the only way that we can survive as human beings.
    Perhaps if we all listen to exactly what the needs of others are, we can then help to bring about a kinder, more caring society.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. In terms of feminism, collectivism is what has brought about significant change. I fear now that more embrace feminist individualism which benefits some women but not those at the margins

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you Robyn for a great thinking piece, I can see I am going to have to re-read this one a few times 🙂 My initial thought, I do wonder at times what would the world be like if the first question wasn’t “What’s in it for me” but “What’s in it for us”? Still ask the question about “what’s in it for me” but second.

    Liked by 2 people

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