Why Is It So Hard To Influence Change?

By Ryan Walcott

dateThu, Oct 23, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

My daughters and I just attended a morning seminar with Joseph Grenny, Co-Chariman, and Co-Founder of Vital Smarts and the author of Crucial Conversations and Influencer.  I love involving my family in learning from the great thought leaders of our day.


Grenny taught us that we are all social scientists in our practical and everyday lives, but most of us are really bad at it.  That is why we often become so frustrated when we see a behavior in ourselves or in others that we really want to change and are not able to make lasting change happen.

It turns out that there are really no "silver bullets" or quick fixes to affect change in the complex problems we face in our lives.  Those who we think are good influencers are that way because they "overdetermine" success and work hard with specific skills to achieve it.  They don't just luck into it or use Jedi mind tricks to make things go their way.

That is why it is so hard to influence change. But there is hope for those of us who need our skills built in this area.  Influencers help make undesirable behaviors meaningful by connecting it with human consequences. Grenny taught us 3 Keys to Influence that I want to share with you in this blog.  I'm going to summarize his teachings and recommend you read his book Influencer for the details.

3 Keys to Influence Change:

Step 1:  Clarify Measurable Results - You must measure to influence behavior.

Influencers are crystal clear about the result they are trying to achieve and are zealous about measuring it.  If you want to affect change you must start with a baseline measurement of what you intend to change and a specific and measurable goal of what you want to achieve.  This aligns well with our Rhythm method to Red-Yellow-Green success criteria of Priorities and KPIs you set each quarter to achieve growth and improvement.  So if you want to lose weight, understand your baseline weight today and set a specific and measurable goal of where you want to be in a specific period of time.  If you want to increase your employee engagement, understand where you are today by using a Gallup survey or employee NPS to understand where you are and set a measurable goal for improvement in a specific period of time.  Avoid the fuzzy, uncompelling goals like get healthy, lose weight, "empower our employees," etc. ...  These help no one.  Also ensure you measure frequently and measure the right variable.

Step 2:  Find Vital Behaviors - What are the key behaviors you can change that will have disproportionate impact on the measurable results?

What behavior or activity drives the measure we are trying to change?  Why are they doing what they are doing now?  Is it because of their ability?  Their motivation?  Their environment?  Their desires or passions at the moment?  Finding vital behaviors involves asking many questions to gain understanding.  A great method for this is to simply keep asking "Why?" or "How?" questions at least 5 times until you uncover the cause of the behavior that drives the measure you want to change.  This is a key step in the process.  Influencers don't create methods for changing behavior until they've carefully identified the exact behaviors they want to change.  Typically, one or two vital behaviors, well executed, will yield a big difference and affect change.

Step 3:  Use Six Sources of Influence­ - various forms of influence that can affect change.

Now you need to get people to actually do the vital behavior change you identify.  This is no small task, and Grenny gives six sources of influence to help make it happen.

  • Source 1. Personal Motivation - Help them love what they hate.  This is the influence of the pain or pleasure of the behavior itself.  Many vital behaviors that will bring us benefit are boring, painful, or even frightening.  Bad behaviors feel pretty good, for a while.  I love eating chocolate, even though it is bad for my complexion and makes me fat later.
  • Source 2. Personal Ability - Help them do what they can't.  This is the influence of skill.  Providing skill and ability dramatically improves influence.  Many vital behaviors are far more physically or emotionally challenging than we realize.  Adding ability is key.  If you add motivation to people who lack ability you mostly create discouragement and depression in them because their heart is willing but their ability is weak.  When things go wrong, become a teacher first, a motivator second.
  • Source 3.  Social Motivation - Social influence is huge.  This is the influence of other people - through modeling, praising, etc. ...  Publish lists of folks who have not complied to the correct behaviors.  Engage formal and opinion leaders in specific roles for modeling, changing, and influencing vital behaviors for others.
  • Source 4. Social Ability - How can others provide assistance or help?  How can others enable a person to change?  This can happen through help, coaching, and mentoring.
  • Source 5. Structural Motivation - Change their economy.  What rewards or sanctions encourage or motivate them?
  • Source 6. Structural Ability - Change their space.  What in the environment needs to change to affect behavior change?  For example, stop buying the ice cream and chips at the grocery store, and they won't be in the pantry for the late night snack.
My key takeaway from the session is that there is both motivation and ability involved in affecting lasting behavior change.  So often I focus too much on one or the other.  Motivating when additional skills and abilities are needed, or excessive training or coaching when motivation is needed.  An effectual balance of both using the six sources above will help me to improve.

To truly affect change in complex situations you will likely need to use each of the six sources of influence in various degrees.  So the next time you are faced with a change you need to affect, understand the measurable result you want to achieve, discover the vital behaviors that drive that result, and carefully use the six sources of influence to affect lasting change that brings growth to you personally and to your organization.

Helping you grow,



Rhythm Systems People: Performance Coaching Tool

Ryan Walcott


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