Bill Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.


The theme book for the 2008 Best Practices Conference is Influencer: the Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer. 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 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.

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!)



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. 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.

Personal Ability: Surpass Your Limits

Just because we can motivate people to do something doesn’t mean that they have the ability. 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 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. 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. 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 a corporate setting, it may sometimes be convenient to motivate by using extrinsic rewards. 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. 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 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!