Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Influencer: “The Power to Change Anything” was published in 2008 by McGraw Hill and was written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzer.  It is a New York Times best seller.

The authors start out by flat out debunking the notion that the ability to influence is reserved for people with charismatic and silver-tongued DNA.  They firmly and kindly suggest that this notion is an excuse used by those of us who have tried to influence and failed or who feel daunted by the prospect of using influence to bring about significant change.  Deciding that we aren’t equipped to influence gives us permission to work on that spreadsheet that will convince the world we are right or to yell louder hoping that people will eventually “get it,” rather than getting out there and making change happen.  Having momentarily snapped us out of denial, Patterson et. al. give us a how-to manual for influencing that  is solid, accessible and informative.

While I am tempted to summarize the whole book here, I will not.  I will share a bit about the three elements of the book that I found most useful.  (I have been much more heavy-handed than the authors.  In my defense I have a few paragraphs to win you over, they have a couple hundred pages)

1) Change the Way You Change Minds:  “People choose behaviors based on what they think will happen to them as a result.”  “When it comes to resistant problems, verbal persuasion rarely works.”  Sharing personal experience is a great tool but in the absence of this tell people a story.  Tell a story that acts on their internal view of the world and gets them thinking that they have the ability to change and that change might be in their best interest.  The lesson here:  TELLING PEOPLE WHAT THEY SHOULD DO AND WHY DOES NOT WORK. STOP TRYING THAT APPROACH.

2) There are actually six influence points not the one (whatever it is) that YOU know and use over and over (with, the authors predict, limited success). The authors provide an intuitive and simple to remember influence framework that you can refer to you when you are planning (note, planning) to influence.  While the examples and teaching that the authors provide will help you quickly internalize the elements, once you see the framework you might feel a little sheepish that you hadn’t thought of it yourself.  The lesson here:  INFLUENCE IS NOT MAGIC, THERE IS A “FORMULA.”  IF YOU USE IT, YOU CAN BRING THE CHANGE YOU DESIRE.

3) There are six influence points and the more of them you use, the more success you will have. Conversely if you use  just one or two, you will fail.  The lesson here:   PEOPLE ARE COMPLEX. PEOPLE RESPOND TO DIFFERENT THINGS.  YOU ARE NOT A SHEEP, STOP TREATING THOSE YOU WISH TO INFLUENCE AS THOUGH THEY WERE.  USE MULTIPLE STRATEGIES.

I highly recommend this book.  I suggest reading it through once and marking up the parts that seem particularly relevant to you.  Chances are you will want to come back to the highlighted sections again and again as you apply the lessons of Influencer to the change initiatives you are trying to move forward.

New IT Capability Depends on Operating Model Changes

An article in the April 2009 Harvard Business Review by Julia Adler-Milstein describes research that suggests that organizations need to make changes to how they are organized and how they operate in order to enjoy the benefits of new technologies they introduce.  The article cites a study by MIT Sloan School’s Erik Brynjolfsson and others that finds that the following specific operating model changes were required for successful implementation of new technologies:

  1. increased training
  2. increased individual decision making authority
  3. flattened hierarchies
  4. greater use of skilled resources
  5. decentralized teams
  6. incentives for team performance

Organizations that didn’t make these changes fared worse than they would have had they not introduced the technologies in the first place.  The article focuses on adoption of electronic health records but the findings apply across the board.

One thing we can take away from this is that successful change that brings value and is sustainable is multi dimensional. We need to take time to think deliberately about the whole system into which we are introducing a change (people, the processes, physical assests and the organization structure).  We need to think openly and strategically about what other parts of the system need to be changed to create the conditions for success and to minimize the conditions for failure.

As managers we may find that “we don’t have time” to think about all of this or that the prospect of thinking about it all is daunting – like confronting a multi dimensional chess game.  We often find that our management just wants the change to happen and doesn’t want to get bogged down in considerations and activities that might increase cost and slow down delivery.  You can use this HBR article and the underlying research to make your case!