Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Influencer: a checklist for change anywhere, anytime

About a year ago, I summarized one of my favorite books for my Nike Foundation colleagues. Whenever I'm struggling to provoke change in people over whom I don't have authority (ahem, like my kids), this list of six areas is a helpful prompt to see what I'm missing. Enjoy!

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change
by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzer

Most books are about being a change agent, but do NOT give a theory of influence. We will fail if we only use one of the six factors, even if that particular thing is done successfully (typically companies try #5, incentives). Because we can never really know what is going on in people’s heads and truly change their motivation, we must instead focus on ‘vital behaviors’.

These are revealed by answering the question, “In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?” This is where most organizations mistakenly talk about desired outcomes or what they want to achieve (i.e. we need to build trust among employees) instead of a specific, tangible action (i.e. we need to change the last paragraph of every message from executives).

EXAMPLE: Weight Loss – we often set goals, like losing a certain amount weight a week/month.  The problem is, we’re setting a goal, not a behavior that will get us to our goal.  95% of diets fail.  What are the vital behaviors of those who are successful in dieting?  According to the National Weight Control Registry, the following three behaviors have been found to be the most important to losing weight and keeping it off: A) Exercise at home, B) Eat breakfast every morning, C) Weigh yourself more than once a week (page 42 of the book says “daily.”)

This isn’t a leadership opinion book based on a fad. It came out of two decades of consulting with organizations (starting with piloting the principles in 24 companies, 250,000 employees in late ‘90s). Then in-depth literature review of behavior change learnings over five decades. Then interrogating ‘outliers’ and documenting success stories around the world. Awesome stuff!

The 6 influence factors:
1. Personal Motivation - help people change how they feel about a vital behavior by connecting them with consequences (both positive and negative) through direct experience and potent stories

Inspirations: Pavlov, “try it, you’ll like it”, make it a competition against yourself, make consequence personal

Key questions: What stories do people have about negative consequences? What powerful testimonial of a team that does __ well is inspirational and illustrates a positive consequence? If we have people who resist change, who is a champion physically located near to them who can help them experience the right thing?

2. Personal Ability - overinvest in helping people learn how to master new skills and emotions

Inspirations: Take it step by step, focus on clear/repeatable actions, practice in low-risk environment

Key questions: What specific skills does a person need to do ___? What behavior needs to be coached? And what interpersonal skills are needed to motivate non-compliant team members? How do we get someone to deliberately practice a skill and receive immediate feedback? How do we take complex tasks and make them simple, long tasks and make them short, vague tasks and make them specific, or high-stakes tasks and make them risk free?

3. Social Motivation - harness positive peer pressure (social influence) by engaged leaders AND opinion leaders to encourage vital behaviors

Inspirations: village system of chiefs and elders in clans, negative example of Hitler’s manipulation, compelling nature of early adopters over crazy innovators, light exposes problems, giving away praise motivates people, peer pressure

Key questions: Who are the opinion leaders in each office? Who are the 2-3 people most widely respected? If changes are controversial, how do we hold a public discussion? How do we put resisters in the midst of a social circle that rewards the right behaviors?

4. Social Ability - Provide help in order to change how people act during crucial moments.

Inspirations: Mohammad Yunus and self-help/micro loan groups, wisdom of crowds, find strength in numbers (social capital), point out blind spots and the value of outside perspectives, training of trainers

Key questions: What help will people need from the community? What consent or cooperation will I need to change behaviors? How do we promote solidarity among any ‘graduates’ of training that we give?

5. Structural Motivation - modestly (!) and intelligently reward early successes; punish only when necessary. BE SURE TO USE INCENTIVES THIRD, NOT FIRST. Connect vital behaviors to intrinsic motivation; next line up social support.

Inspirations: demand accountability, negative example of wide-spread failure of corporate award ceremonies, giving small privileges, “catching” and rewarding behaviors and not just results

Key questions: What are small improvements in behaviors (not results) that can be immediately rewarded? What incentives in the past did NOT work? Before any punishment/confrontation, how can respected leaders clearly convey that we’re measuring progress and define consequences? What kind of random checks could be done to see if individuals/teams are trying new behaviors?

6. Structural Ability - change people's physical surroundings to make good behavior easier and bad behavior harder.

Inspirations: sweating the small stuff in NYC like broken windows to reduce crime, “fill to here” dotted line to make invisible expectations more visible, media impact on public perception of issues, new labeling of prescription drugs

Key questions: What are two small things could we change to make behaviors easier (i.e. tech interface, physical tool/reference card at desks)? What visual cues can we provide near each person to remind them of the behaviors they must change? What data can we collect and then present to everyone to illustrate the problem or potential? After starting the campaign, what selected info or data about behavior changes and consequences can we provide to leaders to create mindshare? How can we hardwire the behavior into already scheduled meetings or processes?

Also, there are great corporate case studies (in "Influencer training" section) and inspirational success stories from abroad including Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease and Preventing AIDS in Thailand.