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Exclusive Interview with Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Influencer

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Influencer Coauthor Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny, a coauthor to three best selling books, joins us in an interview format to discuss his recent book Influencer which was reviewed on our blog several weeks ago – terrific read!

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of three New York Times bestsellers: Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations. He has spent the last 25 years teaching and advising more than one hundred thousand leaders on every major continent from the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies to the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

Grenny is also the co-founder of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, and a world-class speaker. His company’s corporate training products and services have helped leaders from 300 of the Fortune 500 companies identify and improve key areas that many credit with significantly advancing their careers and completely revamping their organizations.

What was the question you were trying to answer in writing this book?

 The most important capacity anyone can possess is the ability to influence behavior—that of yourself or others. And yet, most of us are lousy at it. Why?

This question is what started us on our long journey to uncover why people fail time and again at changing their bad behavior.

We found that when it comes to influence, what most of us lack is not the courage or desire to change things, but the skill to do so – in fact, few people can articulate an effective influence strategy. A primary reason for our chronic failure is that we live in a quick-fix world and want quick-fix solutions. Unfortunately, our most pressing and profound behavioral problems don’t yield to quick fixes.

To give people the skills needed to match their motivation, we sought to uncover a learnable strategy that anyone could learn and adopt for changing their most persistent and resistant problems.

joseph grenny

Awesome book if you need to learn how to make change happen!

Who did you write the book for?

We wrote the book for anyone looking to change their own or others behaviors. Any problem stemming from behavior change is an influence problem. The audience is not limited to anyonepopulation, but some of our most avid fans are those in management roles looking to bring about widespread change.

You refer to Vital Behaviors as the critical factors behind change in the book. What are they and how do they influence one’s ability to change?

A Vital Behavior is a high-leverage action that, if routinely enacted, will lead to the results you want. Successful change agents don’t spread their efforts across ten priorities. They understand that profound change requires a precise focus. Instead, they focus on three or four “vital” behaviors.

For example, Mike Miller, a VP at Sprint, was plagued with “project chicken” in his department. Instead of being frank when they were behind schedule, project managers kept silent hoping others would admit to problems and take the heat for delays. This single problem was central to Sprint’s quality, schedule, productivity, and morale problems. The Vital Behavior that eventually drove improvements in all these areas was “honest and timely discussions about delays.”

As a leader or manager how do you handle those folks whose stories will never change?

An important step in the influencer process is to change the way you change people’s minds. Too often, people try to encourage and motivate others to adopt new and possibly uncomfortable behaviors with ineffective tactics like verbal persuasion, data overloads, ineffective incentives, or even shear force.

Rather than just aim at someone’s intellect, influencers direct their efforts at the whole person. The most powerful tool to change someone’s story is experience. Direct experience is the gold standard of helping people answer two questions fundamental to helping individuals or groups change: “Can I do it?” and “Will it be worth it?” When people can draw from direct experience, they are more likely to answer these two questions in the affirmative.

Direct experience includes things like field trips where people experience first-hand the effectives of negative behaviors. If a direct experience is not possible, then rely on vicarious experience by asking those who have had direct experience to share powerful first-hand stories with others.

Why can’t you dictate change and expect it to happen?

"Executive Coach"

Gary Cohen Executive & Leadership Coach

Many leaders confuse talking with influencing. It’s no wonder most influence efforts start with PowerPoint presentations. But profound, persistent and overwhelming problems demand more than verbal persuasion. Anyone who’s ever tried to talk a smoker into quitting knows there’s a lot more to behavior change than words. Leaders make the same mistake when they publish platitudes in the form of Mission and Values statements, give a few speeches on why these values are crucial and then assume their job is done.

To really inspire someone to change, you have to affect their head, heart and hands. You have to do more than talk at them, you have to motivate them through direct and or vicarious experiences. Instead of dictating change, leaders should become better at telling stories—tools that help others understand and feel the need for change. Stories are immediately accessible and enormously powerful. They provide images and details that are more influential than terse lectures or slides. To be effective, stories need to be complete, providing the link between current problems and behaviors and the replacement behaviors and results.

What are the key steps to implementing change?

In Influencer, we teach three powerful strategies to create rapid, dramatic, and permanent change in your personal life, your business, and your world. Those three strategies are:

  • Identify a handful of high-leverage behaviors—vital behaviors—that lead to rapid and profound change.
  • Apply powerful strategies for changing both thoughts and actions.
  • Marshall six sources of influence to make change inevitable.

What creates the biggest barrier?

The biggest barrier to change is that people are blind and outnumbered to the many sources of influence that dictate their behavior.

There’s not a single cause for our profound and persistent problems—there’s a conspiracy. We have to address all the reasons people are doing what they’re doing—all six sources of influence—or we’ll never succeed.

People’s behavior is shaped by six sources: values, skills, support, teamwork, incentives and environment. If you try to pile on incentives when people lack skills, you’ll fail. If you try to tap into their values when the environment is pulling against them, you’ll find them discouraged and cynical. If you put them through training when they just don’t care—you’ll waste your time.

How can you help your employees to be the change?

There are three powerful sources that influence motivation: personal, social, and structural. Rather than relying simply on incentives or verbal persuasion, it’s best to implement strategies that affect each of these three motivational forces. Never use incentives to compensate for your failure to engage personal, social and structural motivation. The most powerful, predictable, and effective incentives build on the foundation of personal motivation and social support.

Personal Motivation is an individual’s intrinsic satisfaction. Ask yourself if your employees want to do what is required? Do they think it’s worth doing? Do they choose to do it and do it well?

Social Motivation is the powerful influence others exert on an individual’s motivation to do what leaders want done. This source of influence comes from peers, bosses, friends—everyone in a person’s social network. It includes the power of praise and ridicule, approval and disapproval, acceptance and rejection. How does their interactions with others affect their desire to do what is being asked of them?

Structural Motivation is the non-human, motivating factors. These are extrinsic motivators like rewards, punishments, appraisals, ratings, rankings, incentives, etc… For example, how does their performance appraisal criteria affect their motivation to do what leaders want done? How are they disciplined if they don’t?

What are the tips you have for breaking old patterns and cycles?

Educate our eyes. We see behavior we’d like to change, but we can’t see what’s causing it. There are six sources of influence that make change inevitable. If we learn to see them, we can learn to change them. One thing we don’t realize is that our world is perfectly organized to create the behaviors and results we’re currently experiencing.  Find out how to change those behaviors and we’re on our way to greater influence.

Overwhelm overwhelming problems. Don’t ask which one influence tactic will work. Marshall enough of the six sources of influence to guarantee success: values, skills, peer pressure, teamwork, incentives, environment.

In studying Influencers how can you be sure that much of the change that you studied and observed was not a combination of randomness and situational context?

Our research for Influencer was quite involved.

We conducted a meta study of social science scholarship of the past 50 years to identify scientists with the most robust and validated theories of sustainable behavior change. These theories were tested in large-scale change projects with more than 25 organizations and 250,000 employees in more than a dozen industries. This approach produced consistent success in rapidly changing behavior and profoundly affecting business performance.

We conducted a rigorous filtration process of more than 17,000 publications produced a select group of fewer than two dozen featured Influencers. This elite group of Influencers included only leaders whose work was shown with careful research to have solved significant problems by profoundly influencing behavior change across a large population.

We then spent two years gathering first-hand evidence of the Influencers’ methods and compared these processes to their own Influence Model. What we discovered is that these Influencers cited the same groups of scholars and espoused the identical theories they had spent so many years researching to carry out their global efforts.

What changes are you working on and how are you doing at them?

I’ve begun paying attention to “Propinquity” a principle connected to our sixth source of influence: the environment. I am a certified choco-holic. And I almost NEVER go out and buy chocolate for myself. But when I see it I crave it. There are three locations that make me “want” chocolate. One is my assistant’s desk where she always displays a bowlful on fine chocolates. A second is my kitchen where we’re constantly storing a 2-pound friendship box of chocolates delivered every few months by my neighbor. And the third is my home office where I’ve stashed a bar of dark chocolate a friend gave me after a trip to Belgium. Every time I sit down I break off a couple of squares and indulge. Before I entered the office I was not thinking about chocolate. I could have gone all day and eaten none. But the fact that it was present influenced my salivary glands, and, therefore, my choices. I’m currently working on getting in control of these spaces. Bottom line: control your space or it will control you!

Changing yourself is hard enough, how do you build the mindset in an organization or in the larger community?

Four influence skills executives can use to change the mindset in their organization include:

  1. 1. Build skills. New behaviors require a substantial investment in skill building. Jack Welch changed the culture at GE by personally spending 40 to 60% of his time training, mentoring and coaching leaders.
  2. 2. Amass social capital. Two groups leaders need to spend inordinate amount of time with are their chain of command and opinion leaders—informal leaders in the organization that hold sway with others. Many execs don’t even have staff meetings. Over the years I’ve had to cajole many leaders to start holding management briefings, retreats, etc.
  3. 3. Change the environment. Leaders who want to institutionalize change need to design their work environments with behaviors in mind. I once worked with an executive who complained his people were afraid to approach him. When I looked at his physical space, I noticed a long, barren hallway with white carpet leading to foreboding doors. His direct reports worked in plants and factories and were afraid to soil the carpet as well as make the trek to his looming office. A simple change of environment made him much more accessible.  
  4. Capture hearts and minds. We think influence comes from PowerPoint. It doesn’t! You need to toss aside verbal persuasion tactics and create experiences, tell stories – engage emotions. At Home Depot, every executive works the floor until they earn an orange apron.

What overlap does your first book Crucial Conversations have with your latest book Influencer have? Is there any synergy?

Our first book, Crucial Conversations, teaches an important skill set that helps ensure success in most influence challenges, especially corporate challenges. The second source of influence we teach in Influencer is to build skills and we advocate leaders teach their employees the skills found in Crucial Conversations to facilitate their change efforts. When people have the skills they need to speak up candidly, disagree respectfully, and share differing opinions with others, they are more productive, effective, and successful at securing change.

Related Blog Posts:

Book Review of Influencer – The power to change anything


About the Author

Gary Cohen is a highly-skilled Executive Coach, Leadership Author, Trainer, and International Keynote Speaker. His clients range from entrepreneurial CEOs of the nation’s fastest-growing companies to executives of global 100 companies. He differentiates himself from traditional (psycho/therapeutic) executive coaches by bringing a vast amount of business experience as a former Founder / President of one the Nation’s Fastest growing companies. He is the author of Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions (McGraw Hill). Gary B. Cohen Full Bio

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