Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Joseph Grenny
President, VitalSmarts
Provo, Utah
General Session Speaker, 2008 APWA Congress

Editor's Note: Joseph Grenny is one of the Keynote Speakers at the 2008 APWA Congress in New Orleans, Louisiana. His General Session presentation is entitled "Influencer: The Power to Change Anything" and takes place at 8:30 a.m. Monday, August 18. Grenny will also give a presentation entitled "Applying the 'Influencer' Principles: How to Change Almost Anything" at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon. For more information on our upcoming Congress, please visit our website at

We are surrounded by profound, pervasive and persistent problems like AIDS, poverty, drug addiction, crime and divorce. These problems are so complex and powerful that they leave us feeling baffled and helpless.

Unfortunately, our workplaces are not immune. As HR leaders, we develop compelling strategies that are certain to overhaul corporate culture or decrease employee turnover; but then our people fail miserably to execute our plan and our workplace becomes beset with poor quality, employee dissatisfaction and lousy performance.

It's All About Behavior
Our research shows that failure to implement change is the result of leaders' inability to influence new behavior.

One CEO we worked with declared failure on a Lean/Six Sigma effort after six years and millions spent in resources. When asked why he gave up, he lamented, "I'm tired of trying to teach old dogs new tricks. I haven't figured out how to make Six Sigma part of our culture. And it's too expensive to keep trying."

Unfortunately, like this CEO, we've become so accustomed to influence failures that we've stopped searching for methods to succeed.

In Search of Influencers
Thankfully, coping and carping aren't necessary. It turns out it is possible to influence most any behavior with surprisingly predictable success.

A quiet community of practitioners around the world uses powerful influence principles to solve the world's most challenging problems. They succeed by influencing profoundly entrenched behaviors in rapid, sustainable and effective ways. And not surprisingly, their success was consistently attributable to three principles:

  1. Find the vital behaviors
  2. Change how you change minds
  3. Make change inevitable

Find Vital Behaviors
The gifted influencers we studied focused their efforts on the few vital behaviors that if enacted regularly, consistently and without exception will bring about the desired results.

Dr. Donald Hopkins and his team at the Carter Center embarked on an audacious quest to eradicate the Guinea worm—the world's largest human parasite which has no cure or vaccine. Its life cycle begins when villagers drink water from a contaminated pond. The worm's eggs hatch in the stomach and grow in the victim's body. When the worm reaches three feet in length, it secretes acid and burrows through the body toward the nearest surface. As it approaches the skin, painful blisters form. The only relief is to soak the affected body part in the pond which bursts the blister and releases thousands of eggs into the water source perpetuating the cycle.

After studying this profound, persistent problem, Dr. Hopkins and his team realized they could eradicate the worm from any village by focusing on three vital behaviors:

  1. Each villager must filter their water.
  2. Villagers with an emerging guinea worm must stay away from the water source.
  3. Each villager must confront anyone who does not comply with the first two behaviors.

If every villager enacted these three vital behaviors consistently for a year, the life cycle would be broken and the guinea worm would be eradicated from that village—forever!

Make Change Inevitable
To make change inevitable you must ensure that vital behaviors are enacted every time, all the time, without exception. So how do influencers accomplish this seemingly impossible feat?

Master influencers understand that behavior is determined by six sources of influence. They work assiduously to uncover the hidden causes of current behavior. Then they amass a combination of all six of these sources in support of new behavior.

  • Source One: Individual Motivation. Left to themselves, does the individual want to do the vital behavior? Influencers connect vital behaviors to intrinsic motives so the individual enjoys doing it or links it to important purposes.

  • Source Two: Individual Ability. Does the individual have the knowledge, expertise, acumen or experience to do the behavior? Influencers educate, train and advocate deliberate practice.

  • Source Three: Social Motivation. How does the individual's interaction with others affect their motivation? Influencers get formal and opinion leaders to support the vital behaviors.

  • Source Four: Social Ability. Do others help or hinder the individual's performance of the targeted behaviors? Influencers enlist the help of others including coaches and mentors.

  • Source Five: Structural Motivation. How do the non-human factors such as environment, policies, procedures and reward systems motivate the individual? Influencers align structural factors to reward and encourage the individual to enact the vital behaviors.

  • Source Six: Structural Ability. How do the non-human factors such as environment, structures, processes and resources affect the person's ability to do the behavior? Influencers work on proximity, availability and removing barriers.

The root cause of disappointment and underperformance is not a failure of ideas; it's a failure of influence. The most important capacity we possess is our ability to influence behavior—that of ourselves or others. With a modest increase in influence repertoire and skills, any leader can generate substantial progress to the results he or she cares about most.

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Joseph Grenny is the coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (McGraw-Hill) and Crucial Conversations. He is also a sought-after speaker, consultant and cofounder of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance.