Six Things we Need to Get Right to Become Influencers

  Six Sources of Influence

An employee at Danny Meyer's Gramercy Tavern in New York City notices a woman entering the restaurant. She's in a panic for having inadvertently left her cell phone and purse in her cab. She doesn't know whom she's supposed to meet, how she's going to pay for her meal, or how to retrieve her lost belongings.

The host immediately goes into superhero mode, helping her find the group she was to join and assuring her that paying for the meal was the least of his concern. He then asks her for her cell phone number, finds someone to man the host desk, and goes into problem-solving mode, spending over 30 minutes calling the woman's cell phone.

Finally he reaches the cab driver, who by now is far away in the Bronx. The Gramercy employee offers to take a cab uptown to meet the driver halfway. So he does, retrieves the lost purse and cell phone, and returns to the restaurant before the woman and her group finish their meals. This is what it means to create extraordinary experiences for customers — when 1,500 ordinary people do this consistently for 100,000 guests… this is what influence looks like.

There are specific steps Mr. Meyer has taken to create an ethos and culture in which this kind of remarkable customer service exists and is part of every employee's behavior. When we're able to motivate and enable others to change what they do, this is the nature of influence.

Before we can change entire organizations, we need to affect how people behave at individual level. In Influencer, a team of authors — Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler — say there are three keys to influence:

1. Focus and measure — to influence we need to be crystal clear on the results we're trying to achieve and zealous in measuring them. Having clear and compelling goals, communicating about results frequently, and making measurement an integral part of change effort to go a long way to drive behavior.

For example, “We will save 100,000 lives from medical mistakes by June 14, 2006, by 9am” is much better than “We will reduce preventable harm in hospital,” it's more tangible, uses simple language, and the number we want to keep an eye on is right there.

There are good measures and bad measures. A useful measure would tell us how we're doing with the real target we want to change, it drives behavior.

For example, since it's been in the news lately, if all we measure is the number of harassment cases reported by employees, that's what we want to decrease. When each business unit's job is to make the number go down, it will. But we won't know why. Are people afraid to report? Progress in this scenario might be the opposite, the number goes up because people feel safer to report. But is that good news? Were there more incidents before that went unreported and now the actual number is lower (but we're unaware by how much)? In this case the real number we should measure is how safe people feel and how safe they feel in reporting.

2. Find vital behaviors — we must focus on the high-leverage behaviors that drive results. Those 2-3 actions the produce the greatest amount of change. Mr. Mayer instructs his staff to “always be connecting dots,” to observe and notice things as they interact with guests. 

It's a skill people hone with practice by constantly scanning the environment for opportunities to be of service. It might remind us of the role of the butler in high society, with associated feeling of being cared for.

3. Engage all six sources of influence — to stack the odds in our favor, we need to identify all the forces that are shaping the behaviors we want to change, and enroll them. This is where we work with the substance of influence by affecting motivation and creating ability, the skill and understanding necessary to act appropriately.

We want to operate at personal, social, and structural level.

Understanding how we create influence helps us downstream on learning how to connect with it. Because we're operating on universal principles, we have the added bonus that we tap into natural veins of human motivation and contribute to activating it though learning. 

Two basic questions

Whenever someone introduces something new that requires change, we ask two basic questions: “Can I do what's required?” and “Will it be worth it?” In other words, we wonder if we have what it takes in skill and possibly talent, and whether we feel like it.

So we should look at the personal and social sphere, how motivation and ability change based on those contexts, as well as structural sources of motivation, like incentives, and ability. The ideas the authors put forth come from cross-referencing a few disciplines like psychology, social psychology, and organizational theory.

We convince people to be motivated by:

  • allowing for choice — if we're free to say “no,” we may reach the conclusion that we want to do something on our own, and that is much more powerful. We desire to retain our agency, our ability to decide. For example, what if we explored what we want vs. what others think about us? It turns out that awareness is a stronger motivator than confrontation.

Dr. William Miller is a mental health professional who asked a fundamental question to make a significant change for his patients — his question “what is better for addicts, more therapy or less?” led him to develop a method he called motivational interviewing:

Through the skillful use of nondirective questions, the counselor helps others reach their own conclusions about the values that are most important to them and the changes that might be required for them to live according to their values.

Listening is a valuable skill for change agents to uncover what people want deep down.

  • creating direct experiences — this is the most powerful way to help people recognize, feel, and believe in the long-term consequences of their decisions. Asking CEOs to use their own customer service is a good way to help them see the potential gaps between what the company promises and the experience it delivers.

Mike Wildfong, a general manager at TI Automotive, wanted to build a greater passion for workplace safety. To do so, he invited a team to join him on a field trip. The team visited a former colleague who had been injured on the job. This man and his family were struggling to make ends meet, living on his disability check.

Coming face to face with consequences is a good way to imagine future selves and take corrective action.

  • telling meaningful stories — good storytelling can put a human face to people's actions. Instead of ordering people to do things, we're able to persuade them by telling them a story. For example, to convince an apparently lazy server he should wipe tables clean:

“Hey Biff, a few minutes ago a young mother walked into our patio area holding the hand of the three-year-old daughter. She set her daughter up on a chair and walked to the window to order their food. While er back was turned, her daughter began sweeping her hand back and forth across the table that was smeared with ketch from a previous guest. Then she began licking her hand.”

Stories help us make these kinds of connections to consequences of actions or lack of action, as in this case, without resorting to verbal persuasion. We let the situation speak for itself.

  • making it a game — using fun like Mary Poppins trying to get the kinds to do something. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi demonstrated that when we have reasonably challenging goals and clear, frequent feedback we feel engaged. In games, we keep score, we're part of a competition where constant improvement is possible, and we have some form of control over scores and rewards.

To answer the skill question, we focus on deliberate practice, which is the path successful people take to rise on a tide of advantage.

In Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin says Deliberate Practice is designed to improve performance, works through repetition, relies on constant feedback for improvement, it's hard and thus mentally demanding, requires a good understanding of goals to ladder steps to get there.

Not just any kind of practice. It should be deliberate practice. Anders Ericsson had this insight in his research. That it's not just any kind of practice, but deliberate practice — diligent effort combined with intelligent feedback.

There's much more to cover for social motivation and ability and structural motivation and ability. Influencer is a good primer on the art of leading sustainable change through a combination of motivations and actions. Persuasion is an aspect of influence, but it alone doesn't create the kind of profound change that has lasting impact.