Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

I am reading the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. It is written by the folks at Vital Smarts. Vital Smarts is a consulting firm specializing in corporate and organizational training. They also wrote two best selling books, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations which I have not read. The administrative team at ISB is reading the book together.

Since becoming an international school administrator several years ago, I have been read more of these types of books. Most of my time is spent interacting with parents, students, and teachers and I found that literature on people skills help me in forming better relationships. Better relationships mean that the school functions better and most importantly, students learn more. I enjoy this aspect of international school life and the relationships I have made throughout my career are one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

This was a great book to read. It reinforces some of my ideas in my management style and gives me some new things to think about and hopefully implement. For anyone that works with others (as most of us do these days) and especially for those in a management position, I highly recommend this book. I am looking forward to discussing it with my colleagues.

My notes follow and these will assist me in understanding the book and putting into practice some of the strategies.

The premise of the book is that we all want to influence more the people in our lives. In my case, it would be at work the parents, teachers, and students, but also at home my children, wife, and friends. The Vital Smarts team details the steps anyone can take to have more influence on the lives of others. It discards the saying, “The serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The authors claim that some things we think we can’t make a difference, we actually can, as they write, “…if you want to change the world, you eventually have to change how people behave. And if you want to change how they behave, you have to first change how they think.”

The authors use the work of many influence experts that I should do further research, especially the work of Albert Bandura, Fred Steele, and the Delancey Project.

Part I “Choose Influence over Serenity”

When confronting an organizational problem or system…

Principle #1 Always search for behaviors (specific ones you want to change)

Principle #2 Focus on just a few “high leverage” or vital behaviors. Research on best practices will guide me in this area. There are always just a few behaviors that really make a difference. They point out the work of Dr. Ethna Reid, a reading specialist. In order to raise reading comprehension levels of students, she found two key behaviors that good teachers did that average/bad teachers didn’t do. The first was to “use praise versus punishment” and to “ alternate between teaching and questioning/testing then make immediate corrections. This instead lecturing on for a long time and let students then struggle on a big portion of material.

Another example of a key behavior was in patient satisfaction at a hospital. After lots of research, they found very simply that doctors and nurses only had to “smile, make eye contact, identify yourself, let people know what you’re doing and why, and end every interaction by asking, ‘Is there anything else that you need.’” to increase patient satisfaction survey results.

Principle #3 Search for recovery behaviors. People are going to make mistakes, so you have to develop a recovery plan.

Principle #4 Test Your Results. Develop the habit of conducting rapid, low-risk, mini-experiments.

Changing People’s Behavior
When people are asked to change a behavior, you need to have them answer only two questions:

1) Is it worth it? (If not, why waste the effort.)
2) Can they do this thing? (If not, why try.)

Most people carry around thoughts that are incomplete or inaccurate. To try to change these, verbal persuasion rarely works. The great persuader is personal experience. We need to create a surrogate or vicarious experience. A great technique is to use dramatic stories instead of statistics and charts. Stories suck people in and take away their distrust of your ability and your motives. The poignant story is much better than a pep talk. With the stories, one needs to offer an option for next steps to take to avoid terrible ends.

Part II Make Change Inevitable Through the 6 Sources of Influence
Source #1 (personal) Make the Undesirable Desirable

• Try it, you’ll like it sometimes a good strategy
• Turn it into a game or keep score with frequent feedback
• The biggest motivator of excellence are intrinsic. They have to do with a person’s accountability to himself/herself. Stimulate internal motivation by having them invest themselves in an activity. It will become a measure of who they are and the high standards will be a measure of who they will be. When people are able to meet their personal standards, they feel validated and fulfilled and living up to the image of who they want to be. Have people see their choices in daily behavior as moral quests or personally defining moments. Keep this perspective despite distractions and emotional stress. Think about having people connect their actions to their values.
• “humanize” your actions and take responsibility – moral disengagement always accompanies political, combative, and self-centered behavior
• When trying to get someone to change, replace judgment with empathy and lectures with questions, dictates with dialogue, (this will be good with entry plan interviews)

Source #2 (personal) Surpass Your Limits (through practice)

• Interesting study done on children with the marsh mellow test on children. Good to learn the “delayed gratification” techniques can be learned.
• If one wants to be great at anything, it takes “deliberate practice” on specific, detailed fundamentals
• Simple tasks like typing, tennis, etc. take about 50 hours to reach our highest proficiency and then no advance. Most people after 5 years of working reach their highest level and then plateau. It takes “deliberate practice” to continue to get better. It is using time wisely and concentrated effort.
• Students can high level concentrate for 1 hour max (mornings best) and then 5 hours maximum of practice – school schedule implications?
• The number of hours one practices is far less important than receiving clear and frequent feedback against a known standard. Once again, short intervals between teaching and testing. Set mini-goals and provide constant feedback against them.
• Experts tend to focus on small but vital aspects of their play and scrupulously compare one round to the next. Make complex tasks simple, long tasks short, vague specific, etc.
• Rapid positive feedback builds self confidence. When failure comes, which it inevitably will, sometimes it signals greater effort or persistence. Often however, a change in strategy is needed.
• A long section on how to switch off the “flight or fight” response when dealing with others and going into the deliberate thinking mode.

Source #3 (social) Harness Peer Pressure

Humans place a high premium on the approval of others. They need praise, emotional support, and encouragement from those around them. When dealing with a group, it is vital to find the “early adopters” the 13.5% of the population who are socially connected and respected, these are the opinion leaders, and the other 85% will follow. Interview questions should include this question. Influencers need to spend more time with them. People (including teenagers) pay attention to individuals they respect and trust and that can be gained by frequently interacting with them.

The second part of the chapter goes into the code of silence in many organizations. It is not politically acceptable to speak openly about what is wrong, this sustains unhealthy behavior. Influencers need to create an environment where formal and informal leaders relentlessly encourage vital behaviors and skillfully confront negative behaviors.

Source #4 (social) Find Strength in Numbers

This chapter is all about social capital. Social capital is the idea that groups of people working together function better than any one individual. Studies show that groups of 7-10 are ideal and can come up with better ideas than someone working alone. This comes into play when you think colleagues are the problem. Instead of attacking them, “co-opt them.” The Delancey project concept of “minyans” are great.

A new idea that I want to implement is the fact that teachers learn more than students! All teachers know this. The Delancey project does not use professional teachers, coaches, and counselors. They have residents help each other because of the idea that “teachers learn more than students, mentors more than mentees, and trainers more than trainees, so why restrict all this important learning to outside professionals who have already been to school?” How can I use this with our ISB students?

• NQ – Network Quotient more important than IQ – essential to find people who can make up for your blind spots.
• To improve with anything, ex) public speaking, get a personal coach for the real-time feedback from an expert. They only do this in sports, why not other areas?
• When establishing an organizational culture, solidarity is important. Everyone must implement the tough standards or it doesn’t work. Ex) both mom and dad “no means no”

Source #5 (structural) Design Rewards and Demand Accountability

Extrinsic rewards should be the last strategy implemented. First use intrinsic satisfaction, then social support before going to extrinsic awards. Rewards are good to use if they are given soon and are tied to a vital behavior. The thought behind the award is more important than the monetary value of the award. Reward small improvements in behavior along the way instead of the results at the end. Praise is important and pay attention to small improvements.

Punishment is unavoidable and necessary. It is good to “place a shot across the bow” or in other words a clear warning that negative things will be happening if they should continue down their current path. Ask the question, “What does it take to get fired here?”
The key point is “that if you aren’t willing to go to the mat when people value a core value, that value loses its moral force in the organization.”

Source #6 (structural) Change the Environment

This is an area I can improve in as I don’t think much about it. The physical space is soooo important. Office needs to be approachable to employees, not the 480 feet of Hitler (propinquity). The chapter also touches on the “broken tile” that I always talk about. That disordered surroundings send out an unspoken message but powerful message that encourages antisocial behavior (NY subway example). Environmental changes are easier than people changes because things never resist change and remain so forever. Some examples:
• Diet Tips – Smaller plates, cups mean less food consumed, sweets inaccessible places
• Exercise – Put treadmill in common area not isolated basement or exercise room
• Excess Paper Use – Put cost of packet of paper on the package itself or near photocopier (making the invisible visible)
• Information affects behavior – give teachers data that will shake them up; one idea I have is to find out the IB scores of schools in the CEESA region
• Remember that it is hard for teachers to act in a balanced way when they don’t have access to an admin data stream
• The frequency and quality of human interaction is largely a function of physical distance. Applications – Put students in conflict together in a positive project – an early field trip – teachers meeting with food, when they casually bump into each other, common planning occurs
• Most common predictor if colleagues collaborate is distance 30m — 90 m
• Change the system when finding ways “to motivate people to continue with their boring, painful, dangerous, or otherwise loathsome activities”
• Make the right behavior easier to do than the wrong behavior
• Often the lure of gambling in casinos is the interaction with others, not the gambling itself
• Meet regularly with employees to solicit ideas / put the positive behavior into the agenda of a meeting
• Look up the work of Fred Steele

Conclusion: Become an Influencer
One needs to put into practice ALL six sources to become an influencer.

Common Vocabulary
social capital
NQ network quotient
opinion leaders
deliberate practice
delayed gratification
experience vs. verbal persuasion
vital behaviors
recovery behaviors

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