Three Keys to Influence: A summary of the “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change”

Whether you’re eradicating disease, improving customer service, or engaging struggling students, these three principles provide the foundation of all effective influence strategies. They aren’t tricks or gimmicks. They aren’t fads or the latest “things.” They aren’t quick fixes. But together they make up a learnable path to success. They are the science of leading change.

  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. (below) Successful influencers overdetermine 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. They select one vital behavior, and then they purposefully examine each of the six sources—first identifying the factors that are working against them, and then turning these factors in their favor. By using them in combination, they overdetermine success.

Three Common Mistakes

  1. Fuzzy, uncompelling goals: They begin with only a vague sense of what they’ll achieve (“Empower our employees,” “Help inner city kids,” or “Build the team,” “Get Better”)

Which is the more compelling goal?

    • “We will reduce preventable harm in hospitals.”
    • “We will save 100,000 lives from medical mistakes by June 14, 2006. By 9 a.m.”
  1. Infrequent or no measures: Even when they have a somewhat clear result in mind (“Develop a culture of candid communication”), unsuccessful individuals rarely develop credible measures against which to match their intentions.
  2. Wrong/Bad measures: And even when they do take measures, folks who fail often drive the wrong behavior by measuring the wrong variable.

Six Sources of Influence

Source 1. Personal Motivation: Do they enjoy it? In most cases—particularly with deep-rooted habits—this source of influence is an important factor in propelling and sustaining behavior.

For instance, when it comes to education, far too many students find school both boring and pointless. At KIPP, you’ll find the opposite. Hard work is constantly connected with bright futures. People constantly talk about getting “to and through college.” Children introduce themselves by saying, “I’m Clifton, class of 2018.” With time and success, students learn to associate hard work with good grades, which makes the work more enjoyable. Most end up enjoying the act of learning itself because it’s routinely connected with success. Plus teachers make the in-class learning fun.

Source 2. Personal Ability: Motivation isn’t everything. When trying to understand why others don’t do what they should do, ask: Can they do it?

Source 3. Social Motivation: Next, you need to examine the social side of influence by asking: Do others encourage them to enact the wrong behavior?

When half of your colleagues drop out of school, quitting becomes the norm. And this is the norm most low-income youth experience. Unless your peers value scholastic achievement, you’re unlikely to value it yourself. At KIPP, college pennants are ubiquitous. Not hypothetical ones—but pennants from the colleges students from their school they are already attending. Students frequently talk about where they’ll be going to college, why, and what they expect to achieve from their efforts. As entering students meet and interact with peers who value learning, try hard, aim for college, and achieve, they want to follow a similar path. At KIPP, new norms are established and trumpeted loudly from day one. This rising social tide lifts all students.

Source 4. Social Ability: Others not only provide a source of motivation but they can also enable vital behaviors. To examine this important source of influence, ask: Do others enable them?

Students who typically drop out have few resources to help, coach, and mentor them. One of the strangest experiences parents and students have at KIPP takes place when they first meet the teacher. It happens in their home. The KIPP administrators want the family to know there is nothing they won’t do to help the student succeed. So the teacher visits with the parents and child and concludes the visit by giving the family his or her phone number—his or her mobile phone number. Then turning to the child, the teacher says, “Your classmates will help you succeed. If you’re stuck on an assignment, here are three you can call for help. And if they can’t help you, call me. Now, repeat after me: ‘Try three before me!’” More than one child described his or her disbelief at being given a teacher’s cell phone number. So they did what any curious kid would do in such circumstances—they tried the number! Something happened inside them when the familiar voice answered. Something they hadn’t felt before. Hope.

Source 5. Structural Motivation: Most burgeoning change agents think about both individual and social factors, but they leave out the role “things” play in encouraging and enabling vital behaviors. To check for this source, ask: Do rewards and sanctions encourage them?

There is little perceived incentive to stay the course at most at-risk schools. In fact, some inner-city youth see far more benefits from getting a job (legal or illegal) than from getting an education. At KIPP, fun rewards are offered to kids who have done everything on time for the month. For example, they get to attend the monthly “Attend-Dance”—an invitation-only dance for those kids who maintain certain levels of participation.

Source 6. Structural Ability: Finally, “things” can either enable or disable performance. To examine this source, ask: Does their environment enable them?

When your school is dismal, your learning tools are antiquated, and your home environment is insecure, you have a hard time focusing on abstract learning. At KIPP both the home and school environments are seen as important parts of the learning experience. Levin, Feinberg, and others routinely visit homes, assessing what’s helping and what’s hurting learning, and then they take action. For example, Feinberg describes how a mother in a tough Houston neighborhood had a difficult time getting her daughter to do her homework rather than watch TV. Feinberg (who was the principal at the time) made a routine home visit to check on the girl. After hearing the mother’s despair, he said, “Okay, let’s get rid of the television!” “What? I can’t do that!” the mother protested. “Well,” Feinberg pressed, “it sounds like you’ve tried everything else. I guess it’s TV or KIPP. Which is it?” Without hesitation the mother said, “KIPP.” Minutes later Feinberg exited the apartment carrying a 36-inch television—and still another girl made it to and through college

The above is drawn with much thanks and appreciation directly from and quotes “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change” by Grenny, Joseph; Patterson, Kerry; Maxfield, David; McMillan, Ron; Switzler, Al

As always, I share what I most want and need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier