By Bob Clark
June 18, 2009
Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
McGraw-Hill, New York, NY. Sept. 2007, 288 pages, $26.95
This book is an interesting look at how individuals can exercise influence in any situation to achieve positive outcomes. The authors are part of a successful consulting and corporate training organization that produced the books Crucial Conversations in 2002 and Crucial Confrontations in 2004. In each case, training programs have been built around the title.
The authors’ key premise is that individuals are able to make important changes in the world if they choose to do so, and they properly prepare for action. Identifying and defining the critical behaviors (what the authors call vital behaviors) that need to be changed is the first step. Leading and motivating others to change those behaviors will improve results and overcome intractable problems.
The authors examine six “sources of influence” that are critical to achieving behavioral change. The six elements are as follows:
-¢ Personal Motivation - Make the Undesirable Desirable
-¢ Personal Ability - Surpass Your Limits
-¢ Social Motivation - Harness Peer Pressure
-¢ Social Ability - Find Strength in Numbers
-¢ Structural Motivation - Design Rewards and Demand Accountability
-¢ Structural Ability - Change the Environment
The principles for becoming an agent of change are easy to understand, but difficult to execute. The authors correctly point out that often we passively accept the present reality as permanent. Because the problems seem overwhelming, we spend our time learning to cope rather than seeking inspiration to lead efforts aimed at improving the situation.
The strongest part of the book is the unfolding of specific stories about individuals who have actually applied the principles and succeeded in greatly improving the lives of others. Three of the stories are very compelling:
-¢ The success of Dr. Mimi Silbert with the Delaney Street Foundation in helping ex-convicts and drug abusers find real ways to change their lives. Applying a personal influence strategy among residents has had a 90 percent success rate in changing the lives of over 14,000 people.
-¢ The work of Dr. Donald Hopkins of the Carter Center in achieving a dramatic reduction in the number of Guinea Worm infection cases among poor villagers in Africa. Changing a few simple behaviors in handling drinking water has nearly eliminated the parasite.
-¢ The efforts of Dr. Wiwat in the Ministry of Public Health to change critical behaviors that significantly reduced the number of new AIDS cases in Thailand. Developing a peer-based expectation on condom usage has cut infection rates by over 80 percent.
Each of these individuals faced a problem that seemed insurmountable. Each of them decided not to cope, but to lead change that would make the situation better. By carefully examining the environment, they identified a very few behaviors that, when modified, would dramatically improve the outcomes.
The behavioral principles in the book are sound. But the book suggests a simplicity that is questionable. The level of preparation needed to overcome major problems will vary, and the authors do not spend a lot of time on that aspect of leading change. Also, the academic view and group development makes it a little difficult to follow at times.
Bob Clark is the president of RWC Consulting LLC and has more than 30 years experience in labor-management relations. He provides consulting help in labor relations and is an adjunct professor at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.