“The most important capacity you possess as a leader, as a professional, as a scientist, as a human being, is your capacity to influence behavior, that of yourself and of other people,” said Grenny at a recent Deputy Director for Management Seminar in Masur Auditorium. “It’s a capacity that’s embedded in every problem we’re trying to solve…anytime you’re interacting with others.”
Influencers look at the goal and consider what one or two vital behaviors might lead to the desired outcome. In one example Grenny cited, you’re an airline executive who wants to convince passengers to use the bathroom before boarding because it lightens the load, reduces the carbon footprint and lowers costs. How do you get passengers to comply? The Masur audience consulted with one another and suggested: telling passengers they’re helping the environment (a moral cause); posting signs by the boarding ramp (change structure of environment); or making passengers pay to use the plane’s lavatory (punitive measure).
“As you notice you have a habitual dependence on a particular category of influence, it will jar you into awareness of those you’re not using,” said Grenny.
He recounted when his young son Hyrum got arrested for throwing water balloons at passing cars. En route to the police station, Grenny’s first thought was punishment. But instead, he calmly asked his son to imagine how the person felt whose car got hit with the water balloon. Hyrum slumped and said he saw a woman slam on her brakes and cry.
“The most important capacity you possess as a leader, as a professional, as a scientist, as a human being, is your capacity to influence behavior, that of yourself and of other people,” said Grenny.
Photos: Bill Branson
“We can help people change the way they feel about the behavior we hope they’ll adopt,” said Grenny, “just by connecting them with human consequences.”
We tend to look first at possible motivations; maybe that person is lazy or self-centered. This reasoning often makes us revert to rewards or punitive measures to get the intended results.
Sometimes that strategy works, but it’s important to consider other sources of influence and not look for the quick fix.
Influencers never assume bad character or moral defect, said Grenny. Instead, influencers assume the problem is moral slumber; the person may be disengaged at that moment and doesn’t feel connected to consequence. “Moral defect is a life sentence but moral slumber can be changed.”
Take Cletus, a restaurant employee who was slacking on the job. His boss approached and told him a toddler wiped her hand on an unclean table then put her hand in her mouth. Cletus cringed and, right then, went from moral slumber to moral alertness, said Grenny. Influencers are storytellers who can reframe a situation in moral terms and create that human connection.
When the chief of staff at a teaching hospital wasn’t washing his hands, we might assume he’s lazy, oblivious or even arrogant. But his colleagues chose to share their personal experiences of hospital-acquired infections, which connected him to the human consequences of not washing up. That changed his behavior.
At another hospital, staff knew good hand hygiene would reduce infections, but some still failed to wash in/wash out. The hospital dramatically increased hand hygiene rates by instituting a 200 percent accountability policy whereby staff had to report problems and intervene if they saw others at risk. It turned out that when doctors thanked the nurses for reminding them to wash in, the nurses were more likely to continue reminding them, leading to even more compliance.
A key component of influence is nurturing ability by providing assistance, skill-building and support. “Leading is teaching,” said Grenny. “Influencers deal with ability first, motivation second.” Perhaps that department head could increase staff compliance by offering additional training or practice. Perhaps your neighbor’s mower is broken and she’d get the job done if she could borrow yours.
We can influence change by understanding and answering why someone may or may not be doing something and then creating an intervention that addresses what’s shaping their choices. Using a mix of personal, social and structural sources of influence can help make that change inevitable.
In large organizations, people often get disheartened that change might take years to occur, but that doesn’t have to be the case. “Influencers understand that the velocity of organizational change is a product of the speed and quality of people speaking up to exert social influence,” said Grenny. “You can create behavior change fairly rapidly if you know what you’re doing.”