Book Review—Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

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August 2008

Book Review: Influencer–The Power to Change Anything

CIDMIconNewsletterBill Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

Harry Truman once said that he thought that when he became president, he would have the power to lead people. He would just say to his people, “you do this, you do that, and you do that,” and they would do it. After he became president, he tried telling people what to do and found to his surprise that nobody did anything! It’s interesting to read about the leadership skills he developed during his presidency—those skills that made him a great president.
As a new manager, you may have had these same experiences as Truman. The authority to lead doesn’t guarantee results. I’m sure you figured that out within your first month as manager.
The theme book of this year’s Best Practices Conference
Influencer: the Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer, addresses Truman’s and your leadership problem: How can you get others to change their behavior in the direction you want? This book gives you tools to make the behavioral changes you need in your staff to maintain and improve your efficiency and effectiveness in these difficult times.
The authors first point out that what does not work: talk. You can’t explain logically to people why they must change their behaviors and expect anything to happen. Peoples’ behaviors are tuned to what they believe is in their best self interests. Unless you can change that belief, you have little chance of changing their behaviors.
Many of us try reward or punishment to change behavior. Rewards tend to be external to the behavior and tend to be given for results rather than behavior. If you want to change the behavior of an employee who is habitually late for work, do you reward him for arriving on time? What about others who always arrive on time with no reward? Do you fire the employee for being late? Then you lose an employee, and you are the one punished.

Rather than make the difficult choice of working to change behavior, societies decide to cope instead. We do the same as managers. Instead of working to prevent HIV, society works to find drugs to control it. Same with other STDs. Society ignores global warming. Maybe if we don’t notice it, it will go away. It is unthinkable to change our behavior beyond screwing in a few energy-efficient light bulbs. As managers, we sometimes try not to notice behavioral problems with our staff that lead to lower productivity.
The authors point out that the most efficient way to create the changes we want is to study the problems to determine what behaviors are most important to change. They refer to these as vital behaviors. Many times, just changing one vital behavior can solve a complex problem and create amazing changes. These vital behaviors can be identified only through careful research and analysis. They cannot be thought up by executives in a brainstorming session in a conference room. The bulk of the book contains tools for how to change these behaviors based on a model developed by the authors. (Of course, all consultants have a model!)
Influencer, the authors again and again refer to a few case studies to illustrate how leaders have been able to change behaviors to solve problems, and they use these case studies to illustrate their consulting model.
Their first example is Dr. Mimi Silbert and the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. Dr. Silbert has changed the lives of 14,000 convicted felons by employing them in several Delancey Street operations while carefully going through a process of bolstering their self-respect and confidence. Most have been able to completely turn their lives around.
Another example is Dr. Donald Hopkins at The Carter Center who has been able to change the vital behaviors of villagers in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate a disease caused by infestation of the Guinea worm parasite.

Still another example is Dr. Wiwat Rojanapithayakorn in Thailand. Dr. Wiwat was able to halt an HIV epidemic by changing the behavior of Thai prostitutes so that they required that their clients to use condoms.

The Influence Model: Six Sources of Influence

Personal Motivation: Make the Undesirable Desirable
To change behavior, you must help people obtain satisfaction from the right behavior or displeasure from the wrong behavior. This may not be easy. To stop smoking, an individual must get more satisfaction from knowing that he is improving his quality of life and the lives of those around him, extending his life, enjoying the taste of food, etc. than the satisfaction he gets from fulfilling his nicotine addiction. If the individual does not believe in the improvements, he will not change.
In a corporate change setting, for example, to change behavior, an individual must be made to feel a greater sense of satisfaction working on a team producing topics to be used in multiple places than the satisfaction he feels writing documentation in isolation with a sense of ownership.
The challenge to management is to promote the satisfaction that will lead to the behavior change you want. That can’t be done through talk. People need to meet others who have experienced the change to topic-based writing. Send key people to conferences or benchmark with a group that has already made the transition. Hire someone who has successfully implemented with topic-based writing.

Personal Ability: Surpass Your Limits
Just because we can motivate someone to do something doesn’t mean that they have the ability. Most of us overweight people are motivated to lose weight, but we still fail to lose weight. We don’t have the ability. We don’t have the skills. Much has been written about weight loss, and there are many programs. We must acquire the skills to go along with our motivation to develop the vital behaviors to lose weight. Same thing goes for quitting smoking.

In a corporate change setting, for example, the challenge to management is to give the staff the skills to be able to change their vital behaviors to take on the task of moving to topic-based documentation. Such a change requires continuous coaching for success. The authors of Influencer point out that a cursory workshop or conference is not enough. Just as a physician, pilot, or athlete requires continuous coaching or continuing training, so will your team need this training and coaching throughout your conversion. Hire a consultant or benchmark with another organization throughout your entire change process.

Social Motivation: Harness Peer Pressure
People are more likely to change their vital behavior if they are following a respected individual. This is well known among advertisers. Famous sports and entertainment figures commonly do testimonials. An authority figure is not good enough. Many projects initiated by executives or consultants hired by executives fail because they fail to get buy-in from the rank and file staff. The people hired are not respected members of the authoring community.
In a corporate change situation it is important that management find respected leaders among the staff to help change the vital behaviors of the rank and file. Remember, the so-called heroes in your department who get all the attention from management may not be the respected leaders you are looking for. Once you identify the right leaders, be sure to give them the skills they need to help you change the vital behaviors of others.

Social Ability: Find Strength in Numbers
People can more easily make changes in their behavior when they are not alone. We have Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, Toastmasters, and many other support groups. If we can develop organizations in which people not only act together but are responsible for each other, then the organization can be even more effective in changing behavior. The military has been very effective in developing these kinds of organizations.

Unfortunately, many corporate organizations promote individual achievement rather than group achievement. In a corporate change situation, implementing topic-based documentation requires teamwork. Each player on the team is vital to the success of the project. The members on the team are responsible for each other’s success. The rewards of success or failure are shared by the team.
As a manager, it is important to promote teamwork in your department, ideally with co-located people, while at the same time avoiding the development of cliques that can be destructive.

Structural Motivation: Design Rewards and Demand Accountability
The best reward for changing vital behavior is the intrinsic reward of the behavior change itself. In the case of losing weight or quitting smoking, the immediate health benefits and the better fitness are the best rewards.
In a corporate setting, it may be beneficial to provide extrinsic rewards for change in vital behavior. It is important to reward the behavioral change itself rather than a result of the change. It is easier to reward results because management does not need to be as aware of the details of the processes going on in a project to make a judgment. However, many factors beyond the control of the employees affect the result, while the behavioral change is completely under the control of the employees.
In a topic-based writing implementation project, rewards should be given for the process of developing a repository that is minimalist, structured and reusable, rather than for the library of documents that result.

Structural Ability: Change the Environment
Behavior changes can be aided by environmental changes. To quit smoking, it helps to stay out of areas where others smoke. For weight loss, it helps to use smaller plates and put smaller portions on those plates.
In a corporate change situation, such as changing to topic-based documentation, authors should be co-located so they can interact as a team. If management wants authors to stop wasting time formatting, tools should be provided that do not allow formatting. Authors should be given proper CMS systems to use for their repositories, not hand-me-downs from IT.
In topic-based documentation, the environment is much more specialized. Departments have editors, information architects, and production specialists. Writers are freed from those tasks and can concentrate on gathering content.

In Influencer, the authors stress the use of non-verbal tools to change behavior. They point out that only individuals can change their own behavior. As influencers, we must use our skills to make them want to change their behaviors.
I found
Influencer to be a bit rambling, but always interesting because of the many stories and case studies. I constantly compared my own management style to what I was reading and tended to agree with both the good and the bad things about my management. I hope I have been able to make a few improvements. I expect that you may as well.
Some of the sessions in the Best Practices Conference in Santa Fe will discuss change strategies involving the ideas in
Influencer. In that sense, this book is complementary to the theme of the conference.

Hope to see you in Santa Fe! CIDMIconNewsletter

bill2Bill Hackos

Comtech Services, Inc.

Dr. Hackos has worked with companies in the United States and Europe, helping them solve their publications management problems. He has been heavily involved in many benchmarking projects related to publications management. Dr. Hackos has also helped in the design of graphic user interfaces that are easy to learn and to use. With 30 years’ experience in the computer industry, Dr. Hackos understands how to increase the usability of products.


Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer

Influencer: the Power to Change Anything

2007, New York, NY


ISBN: 007148499X