Category Archives: Influencer

Influencer QA

Influence Versus Manipulation

Dear David,

The culture in my organization is toxic. We have intelligent, proud, committed leaders who are beginning to learn the talk of collaboration and empowerment. However, they still cling to the quick-and-dirty solution of compliance. My question is, how is intentional influence different from manipulation? I fear that the concept of intentional influence will enable a dysfunctional culture. I think cultural change in medicine will be a long, slow process if it is to be meaningful and sustainable. But how do we avoid manipulation/forced compliance in the process?

Committed to Functional Change

Dear Committed,

This is a nice, hard question. I like the thought you’ve put into it, and I’ll try to give it the kind of answer it deserves. First, I want to explore the toxic environment you describe because it’s a common problem for cultures in transition. Second, I’ll focus on intentional influence and tackle the conundrum of influence without manipulation.

Your Toxic Environment. It sounds as if you have leaders who talk the right talk and may buy in to the need to improve collaboration and empowerment across the culture. But, when they need quick action, they revert to their old ways of forced compliance. It’s a classic case of actions speaking louder than words. People see them as hypocrites and the culture becomes toxic. Here are a few ideas for overcoming this hurdle.

Crucial moments. Humans are hard-wired for self-protection. As a result, we are always on the lookout for bad news—and we’re naturally suspicious of good news. This makes us quick to read bad intent in others’ actions. So, when leaders talk the talk about collaboration and empowerment, we tend to hold back and watch their actions for evidence of their true intent.

We’re also pretty good at masking our own motives—putting on a good face—and we know our leaders are good at it too. So we don’t trust their more scripted and formal interactions. The evidence we find most credible is how they behave when the stakes are high, and supporting new values requires painful sacrifices. It’s these crucial moments that test leaders’ resolve.

Hypocrites and heroes. In these crucial moments, leaders’ actions will make them either hypocrites or heroes. There is safe ground in between.

The temptation is to revert to familiar tactics from the old culture, which is what you’ve witnessed in your organization. When action needs to be fast, your leaders revert to forced compliance and look like hypocrites. Using old tactics to create new norms can create some weird situations. For example, I visited a company that had created what they called their “MPM program” to introduce greater empowerment into their stubborn culture. I asked what MPM stood for and the frustrated senior leader said, “Mandatory Participative Management.”

The best leaders capitalize on crucial moments by doubling down on their support for the new culture. They turn the crucial moment into a symbol of their support by making a sacrifice. By sacrifice, I mean a trade-off. They trade another value—their time, ego, money, or another priority—in favor of the new cultural value. Here’s an example: A CEO of a major aerospace and defense corporation was in the middle of an employee-feedback session when his assistant passed him a message, “The Prince has arrived a half hour early.” The Prince was a royal buyer who was there to discuss a multi-billion dollar order. This was a crucial moment, and the CEO recognized it. Royalty doesn’t like to be kept waiting and the sale was important. In the old culture, the CEO would have ended the feedback session on the spot. But this time he didn’t. Instead, he explained the situation to the group and then said, “I know you’ve all invested time and energy in preparing for this meeting. And I’m anxious to hear your perspectives. Let’s continue our meeting. I’ll have my assistant work with the Prince until we’ve wrapped up here.” He put his meeting with the Prince at risk in favor of getting feedback. You can bet people noticed. Making the trade-off signaled that the CEO’s verbal support for employee input was genuine and sincere.

Intentional Influence. How can leaders drive rapid change without resorting to forced compliance or manipulation? We wrote Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change in order to answer this exact question. I’ll outline a few key concepts so you can see how the process works.

Manipulation versus influence. First, I’ll define manipulation, so we can see how influence is different. An action is manipulative if it derives a part of its power from subterfuge—i.e., from being hidden or underhanded. If explaining exactly what you are doing and why makes the action less effective, then it is manipulative. The influence strategies we teach in Influencer are just the opposite: they become more powerful as people understand how and why they are being used.

Make the business case for change. Don’t assume that a desire for open dialogue will be enough to drive culture change. Instead, make a detailed business case that ties these behaviors to bottom-line results. Share the facts you have—the good, the bad, and the ugly—about the need for the cultural change.

Measure it like it matters. Measure both behavior change and results. Cascade behavior change goals as key performance indicators for senior leaders, managers, and employees at all levels.

Turn leaders into influencers. Involve both formal and informal leaders in all phases of the culture-change initiative. These leaders, including senior leaders, must teach, model, and hold each other accountable for the new norms.

Employ all Six Sources of Influence™. Too often leaders rely on a single source solution. For example, they over-rely on training, or incentives, or motivational speeches and posters. Our research has shown that combining four or more different sources of influence makes you ten times more likely to succeed.

Culture change doesn’t have to move at a glacial pace. If the organization recruits all Six Sources of Influence to work for the change, they will find that the improvements are profound, rapid, and enduring.

Best of Luck,

Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive more like this in your inbox each week!

Influencer QA

How to Improve Employee Morale

Dear David,

How do you suggest a large institution go about changing a can’t-do attitude to a can-do attitude when morale is low? We’ve had budget and staffing cuts and have a history of “silos” throughout the organization. Can you help?

Salvaging What I Can

Dear Salvaging,

You’re taking on a challenging and worthy goal. If you can improve morale, you will not only improve performance but also change lives. And don’t believe you are attempting the impossible. We’ve seen and been a part of many of these positive turnarounds.

I don’t know your institution, your industry, your history, or your competitive environment. This lack of information means my suggestions will have to be fairly general. The good news is that they will be relevant to a wide range of readers.

I’ll take an outside-in approach, first looking for barriers that impede the culture, and then at motivators that could pull the institution in the right direction.

Begin by Addressing Barriers

This is the most efficient place to start, because removing a small number of demotivating obstacles can release a flood of positive energy. Conversely, if you allow barriers to remain, they generate negative stories, rumors, and beliefs. People imagine the worst and begin to question leaders’ motives.

Conduct a Listening Tour

Bring together a group of decision-makers and have them conduct listening tours. Ideally, this group will include formal and informal (opinion) leaders from across the institution. The first goal of the tour is to identify patterns of problems that span regions and silos. The second goal is to position leaders as listeners, as people who want to understand and remove barriers.

Ask each leader to conduct both one-on-one interviews and focus groups. A few guidelines: have the leaders interview people who don’t report to them—people from other silos or regions. Give the leaders a bit of training, so they use the interviews to genuinely listen and learn, rather than lecture and solve problems. Have each leader conduct four to five one-hour interviews and participate in at least two ninety-minute focus groups.

Create Public Problem-Solving Rituals

I like a modified version of GE’s ritual, the Work-Out. Select a key barrier you discovered during your listening tour—a barrier that spans silos, impacts a lot of people, and is particularly demotivating. Bring together the decision-makers who can take positive action and have them discuss and solve it in a time-limited workshop or series of workshops, while a larger group of stakeholders observes. The goal is to get problems solved in a way that demonstrates responsive and decisive leadership. By calling this a “ritual” I’m suggesting that these Work-Outs become a regular, ongoing part of your institution.

Create Systems for Information Gathering

A listening tour is a great way to kick off a change, but lasting change requires a way to systematize the process. You need a way for people to voice their concerns in a positive way, or they will voice them instead as negative, self-defeating stories. One method that works is to schedule regular, perhaps quarterly, focus groups with opinion leaders from across your institution. Use these meetings to surface concerns that haven’t been solved through your regular channels.

Magnify Existing Motivators

Reinforce the connections that already motivate people within your institution. This means examining the purposes that motivate your workforce and improving the connections between their daily jobs and these purposes. We find it’s helpful to group purposes into the following five categories:

  • Themselves and their Loved Ones. People can find meaning in their ability to earn the necessities and pleasures of life. They take pride in providing for their loved ones and themselves. For example, the sales clerk who invests extra effort because she has children at home who count on her.
  • Customers and their Impact on the World. People can find meaning in the impact their work has on their customers and the broader world. They take pride in accomplishing their organization’s mission. For example, the nurse who achieves fulfillment through the impact he has on patients’ lives.
  • Organization and Team. People can find meaning in their working relationships, team, and organization. They take pride in being an important player on a winning team. For example, the case officer who sees herself as a key member of a highly reliable team.
  • Development and Personal Growth. People can find meaning in their personal growth and development. They take pride in their ability to take on new responsibilities and advance their career. For example, the engineer who masters new programs and systems or takes on new responsibilities to manage projects or people.
  • Tasks and Profession. People can find meaning in the activities that make up their job or profession. They experience the joy that comes with mastering their craft. For example, the teacher who loves being in the classroom, or the chef who loves to cook.

As leaders, our goal is to make these connections as clear and fulfilling as possible. Ideally, employees experience tight connections to all five of these values.

As you work to foster these connections, begin by looking for the values that have the weakest and the strongest connections. Sometimes an incident or event can cause people to lose connection to a value. Look for ways to rebuild it. Often, one of the connections is strong but could be stronger. Look for ways to strengthen it.

Strengthening these connections can take several forms. Generally, you want to make the connections easier for people to see and experience, as well as find ways to remind them of those connections during trying times.

Consider as an example the following short video. Imagine a workforce that’s under a lot of stress, juggling a lot of tasks, and not always succeeding. Now add that people’s lives are on the line. “Thanks For Trying” was created to remind employees of the positive impact they have—even when they fail.

I’d love to hear what others have done to improve morale across an institution.

Best of luck,

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at

Influencer QA

What To Do When Perceptions Aren’t Reality

Dear Steve,

For the past five years or so, I’ve often heard the phrase “perception is reality” and it makes me cringe. On one hand, I can see that in the heat of the moment it is very helpful to understand what the other person is feeling or perceiving to gain common ground and reach understanding. However, I mostly see the phrase used to justify those “Heat of the Moment” feelings and to make the case that your perceptions are truth and are also valid for all eternity. When a child says, “I hate you” to a disciplining parent, we usually agree it’s a temporary feeling and will pass once the sting of discipline has come and gone. However, for some, there seems to be a general acceptance that how they feel is valid now and forever, almost as an excuse for not exerting self-control. Your thoughts?

Searching for Reality

Dear Searching,

Like you, I’ve heard this phrase tossed around since the beginning of my career—some twenty plus years ago. While the original intention was to serve as a reminder that people equate their perceptions of their experiences as their reality, it soon became a way to justify inaction, unfair or uninformed judgements, or to pursue the easiest path forward. It started to Finish reading