Tag Archives: office

Influencer QA

Influencing Support for Workplace Safety

Dear Crucial Skills,

Here in Australia, we are currently undertaking a safety culture change initiative in my company using your Influencer model. I have an opinion leader who is quite negative about most things, including the Influencer strategies. This opinion leader was involved with the creation and rollout of the Vital Behaviors Roadmap and his positive support would lend great credibility to the program within his crew. How can I harness this person’s passion for positive influence rather than negative?


Searching for a Solution

Dear Searching,

Thanks for an interesting question. What can we do when an influential employee is using his or her influence to undermine an important initiative?

I’ve worked closely on an initiative similar to the one you are describing. I can use it to illustrate the broader challenge presented by unsupportive opinion leaders. I’ll begin with a thumbnail sketch of this situation, which will likely sound very familiar.

This organization operates open-pit and underground mines. While the firm already has a positive record for workplace safety, the goal of the initiative is to eliminate severe injuries and deaths.

The company’s focus has been on changing behaviors, because the majority of accidents happen when drivers speed, when construction workers fail to tie off ladders, and when operators take shortcuts.

Herein lies the challenge: we, and the employees we work with, often know what the best safety practices are, but fail to follow them. For example, how many of us stay within speed limits when we drive, or tie off ladders when we clean rain gutters around our roofs?

The key to changing these behaviors is broad social support. It’s essential that peers watch out for each other, remind each other, and hold each other accountable for following safety practices. Building this social support will be vital to your initiative.

The company took pains to involve two groups of people: formal leaders and informal leaders. Formal leaders include every executive, manager, supervisor, and foreman. All of these leaders have to be on board.

Informal leaders include the opinion leaders you referred to in your question. Here is how they identified these opinion leaders: they asked everyone who works in the area to answer the following question: “If you were facing a challenging issue at work and you had time to ask for help, who would you go to for the best, most trustworthy advice?” People could name up to three of their coworkers.

They focused on the people who were named most often by their peers. And let me explain what I mean by “most often.” Two-thirds of the employees weren’t named by anyone, or were named by only one or two of their peers. These people are not opinion leaders. However, there was a small group—about 8 percent—who were named by fifty or more of their peers. These people are true opinion leaders.

Opinion leaders are either your most powerful allies or your most powerful opponents. They are never in between, because, whether you like it or not, people go to them for their opinions and they will be swayed by what these opinion leaders say.

So, what do you do when an opinion leader isn’t on board?

1. Take the opinion leader’s concerns seriously. If an opinion leader has concerns, you can be sure others share them. Try to use the opinion leader as a leading indicator or early warning signal. We often involve opinion leaders in focus groups, where the whole purpose is to surface concerns early.

2. Be open to modifying your approach. You can be fairly confident that the opinion leader shares your goal for eliminating serious injuries and deaths. His or her concerns almost certainly involve specific strategies and tactics. Look for common ground and more effective approaches. Opinion leaders tend to be more committed and informed than their peers. Involve them in finding better solutions.

3. Respect the opinion leader role. Don’t try to co-opt opinion leaders or demand they toe the company line. Part of their credibility comes from their independence and you don’t want to undermine that.

4. Support the opinion leader’s right to be skeptical. You want the opinion leader’s understanding and buy-in, not his or her obedience. Explain the big picture reasons for strategies, and be flexible on the forms his or her support takes. In addition, accept that there are differences you won’t be able to bridge. Focus on areas of agreement, instead of demanding total agreement. A skeptic who supports your initiative is the most powerful supporter you can hope to have.

5. Don’t barter for the opinion leader’s support. Some opinion leaders want to include broader or unrelated issues in a sort of negotiation for their support. Don’t go down this path. It turns your safety issue into a commodity, instead of a moral purpose.

6. Ask other opinion leaders to help convince the opinion leader. Sometimes you are the wrong person to have influence with an opinion leader. Perhaps you are a part of an untrusted group, or you have a bad reputation with this person. If you suspect this is the case, ask others to take the lead in gathering and responding to the opinion leader’s concerns.

7. If necessary, remove the opinion leader—but only for cause. You never terminate an opinion leader because of their lack of support. Unlike formal leaders, informal leaders’ support is always voluntary. However, they do need to follow safety policies and keep others safe as well. Workplace safety is a universally accepted and universally mandated part of the workplace. It’s not optional for anyone.

I hope these ideas give you tools you can use as you work with this opinion leader. The work can be slow and frustrating, but getting opinion leaders on your side is the key to your success.

Best Wishes,


Change Anything QA

Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect

Dear Crucial Skills,

I need to improve my writing skills, but I’m too busy writing to take the time. My job is in marketing and I write position papers, sales materials, and product descriptions. My long-term goal is to write a nonfiction book, but I don’t have time to take a writing class. Being a better writer will launch my career and get me closer to achieving my dream. Help!

Writer’s Block

Dear Writer’s Block,

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to improve your writing skills without enrolling in a regular class. The time it takes to become a better writer is not driven by the number of hours spent in a classroom, but by the number of hours spent in deliberate practice. Mounds of recent research shows the predictor of mastery of almost any skill you can imagine—surgery, writing, mountain unicycling, chess, public speaking—is not some genetic endowment but rather the number of hours you spend in a very specific kind of practice.

A classroom can be a useful place to get deliberate practice, but unfortunately, many teachers get in the way of this process as much as they enable it. So don’t despair that you can’t take the time to head to night class right now. You can still get started. Here’s what you have to do to use deliberate practice to accelerate your progress toward your dream.

1. Break the skill into small parts. In other words, don’t practice “writing,” practice a specific aspect of writing that you think is important to your advancement. For example, you may decide that your use of language is too dull and you want to spice it up. The subset of “writing” you want to work on is using more vivid language, metaphors, or engaging prose. Later, you could pick another sub-skill of writing, but find one place to begin.

2. Practice in short, intensive intervals. The great thing about deliberate practice is that it doesn’t take long periods of time. In fact, if you’re doing it right, you can’t really practice for more than an hour or so at a time. I once watched world-class dancers from the Royal Ballet in London working on some of the discrete parts of a particular dance. Rather than practice the entire performance, they worked on one 30-second segment that was giving them challenges over and over again. They also forced themselves to quit and take a break after about 20 minutes of very intense practice.

You should do the same by creating a small, structured practice opportunity. For example, decide that each day, you will write a one-page essay on something that happened at work. You’ll take some anecdote from your day and bring it to life such as: “Strategies I used to keep alert during a two-hour project review.”

3. Get feedback against a clear standard. In order to turn practice into deliberate practice, you need clear and immediate feedback. The Royal Ballet dancers didn’t simply go through their routines again and again, they had a coach—a master dancer—who literally stopped them after a single jump and gave immediate feedback about the angle of their head or the bending of a wrist. They immediately did the jump again and you could see instant progress. Far from being disruptive, this kind of real-time feedback allowed them to analyze and adjust their performance far more rapidly, resulting in substantial improvement.

You can do the same with your practice. I encourage you to get a coach—a trusted friend who is also a good judge of writing—who will read your one-page paper and be mercilessly honest with you about verbiage that is trite, clumsy, or uninteresting, and tell you when you have nailed it. After you receive feedback, rewrite that single page—focusing on one specific aspect of your writing—and watch how quickly your skills improve. I had just this kind of coach early in my writing career. His name is Kerry Patterson, my long-time friend and coauthor. Go find your Kerry!

Many people want to be writers. The difference between those who become good writers and those who don’t is summed up by a sign a colleague kept in his office—Writers write.

Don’t wait for a sabbatical, a class, or until some other grand moment arrives. Just start deliberately practicing. Today!

Best wishes,


Crucial Applications: How to Overcome a Career-Limiting Habit

We recently completed a study which reveals the top five Career-Limiting Habits (CLHs) that cause employees to miss out on raises and promotions. According to the study, 97 percent of employees report they have some habit that keeps them from achieving their potential at work.


The Top 5 Career-Limiting Habits:

1. Unreliability
2. “It’s not my job”
3. Procrastination
4. Resistance to change
5. Negative attitude

Other CLHs that limit employees’ progression include: disrespect, short-term focus, selfishness, passive aggressiveness, and risk aversion.

The research found that these habits are the main obstacle to career advancement. Nearly half of bosses report that addressing employees’ glaring bad habit is three times more important than increasing their technical skills. Unfortunately, bosses also report that only 10 to 20 percent of their employees actually make profound and lasting changes to their CLH.

Despite this, the study found there are predictable paths to success for employees who want to reverse their CLH. Here are some tips for shaping better habits for career success:

  1. Create a Personal Motivation Statement. When you hit a motivational wall while changing your work habits, motivate yourself by visiting your “default future”—the career you’ll have if you are repeatedly passed up for promotion.
  2. Invest in professional development. New habits always require new skills. Top performers hone their craft. Actively develop the skills you need to be viewed as a top performer through training, workshops, or books—but make sure this is only one part of a bigger change strategy.
  3. Hang with the hard workers. The Career-Limiting Habits that keep you back are likely enabled, tolerated, or encouraged by others. Use positive peer pressure by surrounding yourself with hard-working friends who share your career goals. Distance yourself from the office slackers.
  4. Find a mentor. Changing habits requires help. Find a trusted mentor to encourage your progression and help you navigate the career development opportunities that exist within the organization.
  5. Put skin in the game. Reward yourself for reaching short-term goals by placing money at risk. For example, if you reach your goal in your next performance review you can purchase a reward with the money you set aside. However, if you fall short, the money goes to support the political party you oppose.
  6. Control your workspace. Make your new habits easier by enlisting the power of your surroundings. If you’d benefit from close association with another team, ask to move offices. When possible, turn off electronic interruptions that keep you from being as productive as you need to be to move ahead.