A Leader’s Guide to Influence - Part 2: How to Change Entrenched Bad Habits
By Joseph Grenny
Over the past 30 years, I’ve sought out and studied a different kind of leader. I’ve tried to find those who had remarkable abilities to influence change—rapidly, profoundly and sustainably. I’ve studied up close the methods used by one remarkable influencer who—with no formal authority—has changed behavior in thousands of US hospitals. I’ve looked first-hand at one influencer who saved five million lives from AIDS—simply by influencing behavior change in a country of 60 million people.
These influencers have the skills to create influence strategies that really worked. They influenced profound change in behaviors rapidly and permanently. Those who sustained their influence efforts described how changes lasted for years.
Below are a few of the most powerful strategies they, along with other influential leaders, routinely employ. If you put these strategies to work, you will be far more likely to turn entrenched bad habits into positive work practices.
1. Pick two or three behaviors. Ironically, one of the best ways to improve results is to stop focusing exclusively on results. Effective influencers target one or two “vital behaviors” to bring about significant change. For example, if you want to improve accountability, influence how people talk to those who let them down.
2. Overdetermine influence. Effective influencers refuse the temptation to find the “one easy answer.” For example, unsuccessful leaders rely on a heartfelt e-mail to drive change and mediocre leaders may deliver a PowerPoint presentation explaining what must change. By contrast, successful influencers combine four or more “sources of influence” to facilitate change. For example, they employ values, training, praise, coaching, incentives and environmental factors in combination.
3. Influence the influencers. Many leaders wonder how they can influence dozens or even hundreds of people. Effective influencers realize they don’t have to have personal relationships with everyone; they just have to have relationships with the opinion leaders who do. Less effective leaders could think they’re working with opinion leaders when they’re actually working with people who look good to management but are held in low esteem by their peers.
4. Enlist the environment. Much of behavior is influenced by our physical environment—the buildings, reports, tools and things surrounding us. Smart influencers design the environment to enable new behaviors and by doing so, create an influence strategy that works 24×7. For example, one leader increased accountability in her team by posting all commitments made, kept and broken in the team area. She also listed “Review of commitments” as the first and last agenda item at meetings. These small visual cues kept the team focused on changing their behavior.
If your organization has found a way to tolerate or “live with” entrenched bad habits, then it’s time you challenged these behaviors and turned them into productive work practices. If you don’t, then our research suggests these bad habits will continue indefinitely and produce profoundly damaging results. On the other hand, if you learn the skills of influence, you will make change inevitable.
Joseph Grenny is the coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers—Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything. He is also a sought-after speaker, consultant, and cofounder of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, www.vitalsmarts.com.