Read an Excerpt
The New Science of Leading Change
By Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013 VitalSmarts, LLC
All rights reserved.
Leadership Is Influence
I haven't got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.
It wasn't the most harrowing research junket we had ever taken. Nothing like earlier adventures in our influencer research to some of the more dangerous parts of the world. No threat of deadly parasites, no confrontation with aggressive panhandlers, no fear of being kidnapped, no wrangling with corrupt politicians.
This time, our research had taken us to New York City to one of the Big Apple's finest restaurants where, as part of our demanding research regime, we'd be tossing back scrumptious appetizers while chatting with a brilliant restaurateur. (It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.) All of this was being done as part of an ongoing project aimed at discovering how some rather remarkable people routinely influence human behavior in a manner that is the envy of all who know them.
The person we were visiting on this particular day was Danny Meyer. Danny had earned the title of "influencer" by fostering a unique culture of customer service. Every one of his restaurants had been in the top 40 of Zagat's ratings of customer preference—practically since the day they first opened. We soon discovered that the reason behind his unparalleled success was his capacity to influence 1,500 ordinary employees to consistently create extraordinary experiences for their 100,000 daily guests. Actually, extraordinary is too small a word.
For example, a woman frantically rushes through the entrance of Gramercy Tavern, one of Danny's exquisite establishments located in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. The potential diner is distraught because she has just left her purse in the taxi that dropped her off for lunch and then sped away into a sea of yellow. The blood drains from the woman's face as she realizes that not only will she never see her purse again but she also has no way to pay for her meal. Or get back to work.
At this moment, Danny's culture of hospitality kicks into action. An employee (let's call him Carlo) notices the stranger's look of panic, learns of her problem, and invites her to join her party—who are already seated and waiting for her.
"Don't worry about paying," Carlo comforts the worried guest. "We'll settle up some other time. For now, please enjoy yourself. In the meantime, what is your mobile number?"
Surmising that the frantic customer likely left her cell phone in her purse, Carlo asks a colleague to repeatedly call the number. Thirty minutes later when the taxi driver finally hears the ring and answers the call, he's many miles north in the Bronx. Carlo then flashes the Batman signal onto the side of a building to summon the Caped Crusader ...
Okay, the Batman thing isn't true, ... but what Carlo does do is quite heroic. He arranges to meet the taxi halfway between the two points, and he pays the driver for his trouble, retrieves the purse, and presents it to the woman just as she finishes her lunch. We're guessing she responded by promising to name her firstborn child after the caring man who has been the very essence of hospitality.
What makes this incident remarkable is not just that it took place at all but that similar actions routinely occur in each of Danny's restaurants. Although Danny draws from the same labor pool, works in the same industry, buys the same ingredients, and builds in the same neighborhoods as 20,000 other New York restaurateurs, he has found a way to differentiate himself from all of his competitors—through influence. Members of Danny's staff behave markedly differently from your average restaurant employee, and this has not been the result of some lucky accident. It's been the result of Danny's systematic and intentional actions aimed at influencing very specific behavior.
That's why we traveled to New York. We went to see what made Danny an influencer.
A COMMON THREAD
Now, let's be clear. This isn't a book about customer service. Likewise, when we later visit a woman in San Francisco who has helped tens of thousands of felons turn their lives around, we won't be studying criminal psychology. And when we look at successful change efforts aimed at implementing Six Sigma, overcoming addiction, eradicating a pandemic, improving patient safety, reducing violence against women, improving employee engagement, and turning failing schools around, our interest won't be in exploring these topics either.
What we will be doing is looking for the common thread that connects all successful leaders—no matter the objective or the setting. We'll be exploring a common set of principles and skills that help create quick, profound, and lasting change. We call this ability to create changes in human behavior influence and the people who do it influencers. At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called "leaders" is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to achieve important results.
Now, as you hear the word "influence," you might think that we're referring to the less impressive and more suspicious tool called "persuasion." We're not.
This book is not about solving problems or hitting new targets by applying the right combination of verbal tricks. If you're looking to reach rather modest goals by stealthily exerting your will over others, this book is not for you. This book has much loftier and more enduring goals, requiring much stronger tools. It explores how to achieve profoundly better results in everything from the nuclear family to nuclear power plants by changing human habits that can be extraordinarily difficult to alter. We'll examine in detail why people do what they do and what it takes to help them act differently. Our analysis will reveal that irrespective of whether you're stopping AIDS or starting a safety program, the key to success has little to do with pep talks, bribes, or sermons. Instead, success relies on the capacity to systematically create rapid, profound, and sustainable changes in a handful of key behaviors.
For example, let's say you work as a manager in a software development firm where dozens of software engineers write mountains of code every week. The products are so complex that the overall design is divided among several teams. After years of your employees' bringing in projects late or riddled with bugs, you discover that the key to consistent high-quality performance is getting them to practice two vital behaviors: (1) admit when they have problems, and (2) immediately speak up when they won't meet a deadline. When your software designers do these two things consistently, products get completed correctly and on time. When they don't, they don't. This flash of leadership insight gives you hope that if only you can influence your people to practice these two behaviors, you'll turn the corner on achieving results.
The problem is, your people (being the normal humans that they are) are more willing to donate a kidney than follow these two requests. Only fools admit to having problems. It is a naive person, indeed, who willingly says, "Hey, everyone, I'm in trouble!" You've posted signs, provided training, and even offered a special parking space to those who admit they're behind. No takers.
But there is an influencer out there who has found a way to help software designers to routinely speak up when they run into problems or call for aid when a deadline is at risk. This time we'll travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to meet with Rich Sheridan, the co-owner of Menlo Innovations. His software designers meet every single deadline—and they thoroughly love their work. How has Rich created this culture of both joy and accountability? By following precisely the same principles of influence that Danny Meyer uses to generate lavish hospitality.
Throughout this book, we'll explore the details of Rich's, Danny's, and other influencers' strategies for influencing human behavior. It takes over 200 pages to share their knowledge and techniques. However, the short explanation for why they're successful is that they see themselves not simply as owners, managers, or leaders but as full-time influencers. In fact, it's how they characterize themselves. Talk with them and you'll soon learn that they think intentionally about their ability to help others act in unprecedentedly effective ways. They think about influencing behavior, talk about it, and practice it, and all of them have created remarkable changes in domains where failure has been the norm—often for decades.
Now, unlike Rich or Danny, you probably don't work in a software development firm or a restaurant, but you probably do face challenges you'd like to overcome, not to mention the many stretch goals you'd love to achieve. Perhaps you'd like to help a troubled son who has just returned from his third drug rehab experience. Unfortunately, the program has failed twice before—and nothing has really changed since the last failure. This calls for influence. Or maybe you want to assist your work group in moving from being decent in on-time delivery to being best in class. Or perhaps you're working with a high school with a horrible dropout rate, and you want to see the students not only make it through high school but also to graduate from college. You want the best.
A DEARTH OF INFLUENCE
Fortunately, there's good news in this call to learn more about influence. Learning how to motivate and enable others to change their actions may be the most important skill you'll ever acquire. It's not merely curiously engaging (and it is); it also sits at the center of what ails most of us. The lion's share of the problems that really bother us don't call for additional technology, theory, philosophy, or data (we're up to our necks in that); instead, the problems call for the ability to change what people do. And when it comes to this particular skill, demand far exceeds supply.
Given the versatility and importance of knowing how to get other people to act differently, you'd think that at every backyard barbecue or office party, you could find someone who is an expert in influence. In fact, you'd think we'd be so consumed with the topic of influence that our children would collect influence trading cards, complete with pictures of world-class influencers. As a result of all this study and passion, we would speak a unique language, carry a full array of models, and master a specialized set of skills for both enabling and encouraging others to change their behavior.
Of course, none of this is true. At best, we chip away at the edges of influence—maybe we attend a seminar or two—but we don't routinely study the topic, and we are not good at helping others to change. Unlike Danny Meyer, Rich Sheridan, and the other influencers we'll soon meet, most of us can't verbalize our personal theory of influence, we don't see ourselves as influencers, and we most certainly don't have a successful record.
For example, when was the last time you saw a change attempt conducted at your place of work yield anything more than the occasional t-shirt or mug emblazoned with the name of the effort? If your answer is "never," you're in good company. Our review of the past 30 years of change literature reveals that fewer than one in eight workplace change efforts produces anything other than cynicism.
When it comes to creating changes in behavior, we're equally challenged at home. For instance, every year we spend millions on diets and lose little more than our money. Fewer than 10 percent of us succeed when setting out to change our excessive spending, inadequate exercise, and other bad habits.
Communities fare no better. Two-thirds of the felons who are released from our "correctional" system return within three years—completely uncorrected—while having earned an advanced degree in crime. Stopping the spread of AIDS and other diseases requires people to cooperate in order to succeed; yet millions of individuals are infected every year because we humans are bad at cooperating, and we're not getting any better.
As a result of all of these failed influence efforts and unfulfilled dreams, most of us grow impatient. We ask: "Why aren't people doing what they should be doing, and why can't I get them to change?" Eventually we settle on the strategy recommended by essayist David Sedaris, who suggested: "I haven't got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out."
But there are influencers out there.
Our visits with Danny Meyer and Rich Sheridan should give you a hint as to what we did to expand our understanding of how to influence human behavior. We studied people who had succeeded where others had failed. Actually, we didn't start there. As most researchers do, we began by reading. Our research team pored over more than 17,000 articles and books to find scholars and practitioners who have mastered various aspects of influence. From these we identified those who had succeeded at influencing rapid, profound, and sustainable changes in ways that most of the world thinks are impossible. Next, we tracked down these rare individuals and closely examined their work.
For instance, we learned that Wiwat Rojanapithayakorn has saved over 5 million Thai citizens from contracting HIV/AIDS from a position of little to no power, by influencing the behavior of his 60 million fellow Thai citizens. That was certainly worth examining. Dain Hancock, president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, influenced remarkable behavior change across a cynical and resistant 13,000-person workforce, helping him land a $1 trillion contract. Ethna Reid routinely enters schools that are last in their district in reading comprehension, and she propels them to the top—in less than a year. Martha Swai has helped reduce spousal abuse across the entire nation of Tanzania through the use of, of all things, a very influential radio program. Other notable influencers have eradicated a disease, saved thousands from dying from hospital errors, and turned convicted felons into productive citizens—to name but a few of their accomplishments.
So we tracked down these successful individuals and studied what they did—once again, looking for commonalities. It takes the rest of this book to explain what we learned from them, but we can offer some encouraging news. Influencers exist, and what they know and do is learnable. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people have read what we learned from them, and they have applied the principles and skills to their own challenges, put the ideas to work on their own aspirations, and they have made remarkable progress. And so can you.
So it's time to roll up your sleeves and get started. Go get that list of prospective change candidates you've been keeping for so long, and let's see what it takes to help them change.
The Three Keys to Influence
I wanted the influence. In the end I wasn't very good at being a [university] president. I looked out of the window and thought that the man cutting the lawn actually seemed to have more control over what he was doing.
So far we've claimed that influencers don't randomly succeed at creating impressive and lasting changes in human behavior. The good news is that if they did rely on chance, we wouldn't have a clue how to replicate their efforts. But they don't rely on chance. Instead, they count on three keys to success—keys that all influencers adhere to and that you can use to your own benefit:
1. Focus and measure. Influencers are crystal clear about the result they are trying to achieve and are zealous about measuring it.
2. Find vital behaviors. Influencers focus on high-leverage behaviors that drive results. More specifically, they focus on the two or three vital actions that produce the greatest amount of change.
3. Engage all six sources of influence. Finally, influencers break from the pack by overdetermining change. Where most of us apply a favorite influence tool or two to our important challenges, influencers identify all of the varied forces that are shaping the behavior they want to change and then get them working for rather than against them. And now for the really good news. According to our research, by getting six different sources of influence to work in their favor, influencers increase their odds of success tenfold.
KEY 1. FOCUS AND MEASURE
To shine light on this first influence key, we'll fly to Atlanta, Georgia, where we'll meet with Dr. Donald Hopkins, a physician, the vice president of healthcare programs at the Carter Center—and a real influencer. Hopkins originally attracted our attention because he has taken on one of the most amazing influence challenges in history. His goal is to banish a horrendous disease from the planet without finding a cure.
And just what is this daunting disease Dr. Hopkins is attacking? To answer this question, take a look at a rather disgusting sample Hopkins keeps on his desk. If the enemy could stand, she would be three feet tall. But alas, she has no skeletal system. She's a worm. More specifically, she's a Guinea worm. Hopkins keeps his sworn enemy in a jar of formaldehyde as a reminder of the challenge he and his team have decided to confront. Helping individuals who have contracted Guinea worm disease is an enormous challenge because once someone has it, it will inevitably run its painful and ugly course through the host's body. Medical science offers no hope of relief. None. There are no medicines, surgeries, or magical techniques. Once you have the worm, it will cause havoc every single time. So Hopkins, in order to solve the seemingly intractable problem, became a social scientist.
When Dr. Hopkins came on the scene, over 3 million people in 23,000 remote villages in 20 countries were contracting Guinea worm disease every year. The disease begins when villagers get a little more in their drink of water than they bargained for. Hiding within the fetid ponds that many use as a water source lie the Guinea worm larvae. Drink the water, ingest the larvae.
And then, it gets really ugly. The larvae soon hatch into worms that eventually burrow out of the body by whatever route they choose—through the muscle and skin on an arm, leg—well, you can imagine the other options. This journey causes such enormous pain and suffering that the host eventually rushes to the nearest water source and plunges the emerging worm into the water to find a moment of relief. At this point, the dreaded worm ejects thousands of eggs into the pond—guaranteeing next year's crop of Guinea worms—when the awful process begins again as it has for thousands of years.
Excerpted from Influencer by Joseph Grenny. Copyright © 2013 by VitalSmarts, LLC. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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