BOOK REVIEW, Influential – The Power To Change Anything (By Kerry Patterson Et Al, McGraw Hill, 2008)

If you’re like me, and like most managers we all know, you have a predetermined strategy for influencing the people around you. Tell them what to do! You SHARE your wisdom and advice, often drawn from experience in similar situations. His SUGGESTIONS are often spot on and brilliant.

There is only one problem, say the authors of this excellent book. This approach rarely works. Why? Because he often comes across as fatherly, manipulative, annoying, not your solution, serving someone else’s interests, etc. These are all good reasons why people back off and tenaciously cling to their current behavior.

influential teachers

The authors state, however, that there is a proven variety of approaches to influencing new behavior, either of one person or of the entire population of a country. The writers traced the achievements of various people who have successfully applied influencing strategies to problems that others have been trying to solve, in some cases for centuries.

Here are just three of these “master influencers”:

Dr Mimi Silbert whose San Francisco organization, Delancey Street Foundation, runs a number of businesses (restaurants, repair shops, moving companies) that hire convicted felons, homeless people, lifelong drug addicts, hardened gang members, and the like. Of those who join Delancey, less than 10% return to their previous lives.

doctor donald hopkins of The Carter Center. In 1986, the Center declared war on the Guinea worm that infested village populations in 20 countries in Africa and South Asia. In twenty years, his programs reduced the number of cases from 3.5 million to less than 10,000.

Dr. Wiwat Rojanapithayakorn in Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health between 1989 and 1993 reduced the number of new HIV cases by 80%, preventing five million Thais from contracting this terrible disease.

their approaches

Studying how these and other change geniuses were so successful, it became clear that the approaches they employed had a few things in common.

They first identify the vital behaviors that are at the root of the problem and need to change. This often requires investigating examples of “positive deviance”, situations or places where the problem should exist but does not.

They then strategically focus their efforts on changing just these few behaviors. Modify these and the problem collapses.

Obviously, the second step is the most difficult. That said, how did they do it? Again in common, they tended to work through a series of six sources of influence that, together, address two concerns of any individual or group that is asked to change their behavior:

Is it worth changing?
I can do it?

The first of these two concerns concerns the motivation that must be present in anyone who successfully changes their behavior. The second speaks of her ability to do so. Six strategies are derived by addressing motivation and ability through three perspectives: personal, social, and structural/environmental.

The six sources of influence

Sometimes the required (“vital”) behavior is not considered pleasant. You must reframe it in your mind so that it leads to positive and desirable results.

Beyond the willingness to make meaningful change, most people need to learn new skills, develop clear goals, receive regular feedback, and control emotional impulses in order to return to old ways.

Leveraging the words and deeds of peers is a proven way to influence someone to change their behavior. In changing an organization or community, it is respected and connected opinion leaders who count most.

You can simply accomplish more when you engage a network of other people to get involved, support and enable your change to happen. As the now famous expression goes, “it takes a people.”

Definitely not to replace but rather to complement personal and social strategies, well-designed and well-timed incentives reward incremental improvement in vital behaviors.

Change the environment to support the change: available tools, physical space layout and design, work and information flow, proximity of others to the target person(s), etc.

Why do I like this book?

I like this book because its six strategies are comprehensive. They provide an excellent roadmap for managers who want to induce change in an individual employee, a unit, or indeed an entire organization. The authors, however, urge us not to just take the first strategy that seems appropriate and implement that one. Instead, learning from the experience of their influencer role models, they suggest we devise a strategy that combines more than one of the six sources of influence.

I like it because their approaches address those classic elements that drive an employee’s development, which are also found in Hersey and Blanchard. Situational leadership-Commitment (Motivation and Self-confidence) and Competence (Ability). Whether lack of will or lack of skill/knowledge stands in the way of change, the Influence model offers a path to follow.

And I like Influence because it emphasizes the central objective of behaviour-Vital behaviors that need to be changed. At the same time, he reminds us that we humans make behavioral decisions based on our assumptions about current reality and likely consequences. These are what Peter Senge and others have called our “mind maps.”

One of the book’s chapters is titled “Change the way you change your mind.” The most powerful route to transforming someone’s cognitive blueprint, and hence their behavior, is to have them experience the new behaviors safely, successfully, and usually incrementally. I remember the white flyers who got over their aversion to airplanes by first watching videos about flying and talking about it, then sitting in the cockpit of an airplane at the gate, then experiencing a practice taxi ride on the runway, and finally taking off and to land.

The book frequently returns to the stories of change heroes to find practical examples of how to bring about permanent behavior change. For example, at Dr. Silbert’s Delancey Street Foundation,

They insist on two vital behaviors: each resident must (1) take responsibility for another person and (2) confront anyone for any violation of the rules. This suit taps into the social motivation of peer influence, and when people are successful at Delancey as a result, it shows how hitherto undesirable behavior (“snitching” on someone) leads to desirable outcomes for everyone.

Wearing structural capacitydeliberately house former members of competing street gangs as roommates.

“So what” for managers

From this book, I believe managers can learn several practical strategies for changing performance-related behavior in their own organization. In a nutshell, this is the recommended approach:

Be clear about the behaviors you want to change or stop and what vital behaviors you want to see instead.

Determine to what extent the obstacle to change is lack of motivation and/or lack of skills and knowledge.

In developing your overall plan, consider strategies that tap into all three sources of influence: personal, social, and structural support.

As you read this book, you will learn much from the influential teachers who inspired you.

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