Influencing the way to success

20 Sep,2013

 

By Priyanka Sangani

 

Very often, organisations find themselves facing a persistent problem that just refuses to go away. The Michigan-based Spectrum Health Systems found itself struggling with a particularly nagging case of hospital acquired infections.

 

Eventually, they figured out a solution. Realising that the key lay in simply getting people to wash their hands before and after every patient contact, they implemented a three-step process for the 18,000 employees to follow across hospitals.

 

Employees were asked to wash in and out on every patient interaction, hold people accountable for it, and say thank-you when someone held them accountable. “They marshalled the six sources of influence, and within three months, managed to achieve over 90% hand hygiene compliance, reduce hospital acquired infections by 40-45% across each hospital and have managed to maintain this for four years,” says Al Switzler, co-chairman & co-founder, Vital Smarts and co-author, Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change.

 

“One of the greatest capacities of any leader is their ability to control their behaviour and the behaviour of others,” says Mr Switzler, on what influence is. Quite simply then, an influencer is anyone who has the competency to help people change for good. Irrespective of the size of the social system- whether a family or a large organisation, it is possible to change people’s behaviour in the pursuit of high performance and goals, he says.

 

They key reason why most change initiatives fail is because people tend to rely on a single source of influence. “Change initiatives in large organisations often don’t work because they fail to get a buy in at the personal level. People are doing things not because they believe in it, but because they don’t want to anger the management,” says Mr Switzler.

 

He finds that leaders who had more than four sources of influence going for them were 10 times more successful in implementing initiatives as compared to those who had one or two. Often, just knowing how to implement an initiative and what factors to leverage can be the difference between an effective and an ineffective leader.

 

The six sources of influence broadly fall into two categories – motivational (is it worthwhile) and ability (can I do it). These two parameters are then looked at under three different lenses – personal, social and structural- dipping into psychology, sociology and organisational theory. (See box) Breaking down each source, he says: Source 1 has to do with personal motivation while source 2 requires that people invest in making the knowledge and skills available so as to enact the behaviours required. Source 3 and 4 have to do with how other people enable and motivate – or de-motivate you.

 

Studies found that friends or leaders who praise and coach you can play a huge role in making an initiative successful. The last two sources have to do with the nonhuman aspect.

 

Often, incentives are misaligned. Organisations may say they want quality but they will reward employees for quantity. Interestingly, we found that it doesn’t always have to be monetary incentives,” he says.

 

The final aspect is the environment and here, it’s often important to put in a little more effort. Make the bad behaviours harder to follow and the good, easier. Make the invisible visible, so that people are aware of the consequences of their actions, he recommends.

 

For instance at Spectrum Health, there was enormous buy in because the employees knew why they were doing it and there were very visible metrics they were tracking. They were given training and taught how to talk to people who had more authority, and how to praise and hold them accountable.

 

Finally, the hospital made it easy for people to wash in and out by placing the materials outside every door, despite protests that it would be an eyesore at the otherwise aesthetically designed hospitals.

 

Mr Switzler adds that it is important to do all of these simultaneously so as to have enough factors (or sources) working in your favour. If you try implementing these serially, it’s quite likely that you won’t succeed.

 

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, the good news is that like all other leadership skills, this too can be learned. The first step is to carefully diagnose the existing situation. There could be ability blocks and de-motivators hiding in any of those six boxes and it’s important to diagnose these before you work on your strategy.

 

Once you do that, you know exactly what you need to work on. “Even the best leaders can have a limited toolkit. They may be good at motivating or restructuring, but they need to be aware that they need a bigger toolkit to marshal all the resources.

 

Otherwise the tools you are not using will pull against you,” he cautions. This is where the role of an inspired leader, or an influencer, comes in. Once he knows exactly what the gaps are that prevent the organisation or group from reaching its goals, he will leverage the other sources of influence to make things change.

 

“People often make minor changes and put the old culture in a new box, and then wonder why things don’t change. If you continue to work on using only one or two levers, it will be like being on a yo-yo diet,” cautions Mr Switzler. There will be some improvement and then you’ll slide back to the past performance levels.

 

Finally, he points out that using these six sources of influence isn’t restricted to fixing something that is broken. At times, its simply about excelling at what you are already doing well, and an influencer can play as big a role in making that happen.

 

Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2013, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Licensed to republish

 

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