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Managers and leaders usually make a mistake of betting on one source of influence when implementing change. More often than not, they fail to use a whole range of sources of influence and thus limiting themselves. This paper shows how leader can use various sources of influence. Influencers succeed because they understand that people's resistance to change isn’t caused by one but rather many causes. Instead of looking at one ingredient needed to succeed, influencers look at different solutions.

To reach this conclusion, a variety of organizational problems were studied and the researchers found that even though leaders were aware of them, few did anything to confront them.

We got similar results when we surveyed hundreds more leaders and senior managers. About 40 percent of these people had made some attempt to influence change. In doing so, however, the vast majority had employed only one influence strategy. A handful - fewer than 5 percent - had used four or more sources of influence in combination. However, the difference in outcomes was astounding. Those who used four or more sources of influence in combination were ten times more likely to succeed in creating change than those who relied on a single source of influence.

The evidence is clear. By using four or more influence strategies in combination you exponentially increase your chances of success. But what are those sources and how do you actually target them?

The six sources of influence

Our model organizes influence strategies into six sources. Motivation and ability make up the backbone of this model which is then subdivided by three domains: personal, social, and structural (see Figure 1).

The first two domains, Personal Motivation and Ability, relate to sources of influence within an individual that determine their behavioral choices (motives and abilities). The next two, Social Motivation and Ability, relate to how other people affect an individual's choices. And the final two, Structural Motivation and Ability, encompass the role of nonhuman factors, such as compensation systems, physical space, and technology.

Using this model, here is how successful leaders and managers employed strategies in each source to exponentially improve their chances of success:

Source 1: Link to mission and values

Many healthy behaviors are boring, uncomfortable, or even painful. And many unhealthy behaviors can be pleasurable. Reasonable people resist things that are uncomfortable or stressful, which is why most change efforts fail (Black and Gregersen, 2008).

True influencers understand that human beings are capable of fundamentally transforming their experience of almost any activity. To influence people to make changes, effective leaders establish a moral framework that helps people connect new behaviors to their deeply held values - things they really care about. If leaders fail to engage with people's values, they are forced to use less effective sources of motivation like carrots and sticks. For example, we worked in a large heavy engineering facility where people were not following the safety procedures - and it was costing lives. By taking staff to see the injured colleague, and their family, we helped them see the consequences of their poor attitude to safety. They did not want to hurt themselves or their colleagues - they just were not thinking about it at the moment they needed to.

Source 2: Overinvest in skill building

True influencers understand that new behaviors can be far more intellectually, physically, or emotionally challenging than they appear on the surface. So they invest heavily in increasing personal ability.

For example, Mike Miller, a former vice president of AT&T, saw that people needed more than motivation to speak up and save failing projects - they also needed the ability to voice their concerns and openly speak up to project leaders about potential risks and issues. By providing the right kind of training, Miller turned around his 3,000-person IT function and created a culture where everyone spoke up early and honestly about the risks they saw affecting project goals.

Source 3: Harness peer pressure

Effective influencers understand that what shapes and sustains the behavioral norms of an organization are lots of small interactions. They realize that unless they positively aligned social actions, their chance of influencing change is slim.

When Ralph Heath was tasked to get the F-22 Raptor into production in 18 months, he knew he needed the support of 5,000 Lockheed Martin employees. Unable to gain the trust and support of everyone, Heath invested time in the most influential people - both the formal leaders and the opinion leaders. He met monthly with supervisors, managers, and informal leaders to candidly review their concerns and foreseeable problems. As Heath won the trust of opinion leaders, they influenced others. In the end, the performance of Heath's group exceeded expectations and met production deadlines.

Source 4: Create social support

If you focus only on the motivating power of the people around you, you limit your own influence. The reality is that people around you do not just motivate - they can undermine behavior as well.

At AT&T, Mike Miller was charged with improving his group's track record in meeting quality, schedule, and cost targets. He found that the ability to discuss mission-critical issues rapidly and honestly with colleagues was essential for employees. Unfortunately, project leaders did not always enable this behavior. So to make project leaders accessible and available, Miller taught them new skills and tasked them with teaching the skills to their direct reports. The process cascaded down through the organization and the skills became ingrained in the culture.

Source 5: Align rewards and ensure accountability

If you want to understand people's priorities, look at the formal or informal reward systems. If managers talk about quality but reward productivity, staff will notice. Chronic problems such as lack of accountability, poor productivity, and low quality can often be traced to poorly designed incentives that reward the wrong behaviors.

Employees at all levels need to see incentives for changing. People will not support change if the behavior management wants to encourage does not make their lives better. Leaders often use this source of influence first (for example, financial incentives to do the right behavior, or threats and punishments for doing the wrong behavior). However, our advice is to use incentives third, not first. Otherwise, you might actually undermine people's intrinsic motivation (Deci, 1975). Begin with personal and social sources of motivation, and then reinforce them with well-designed incentive systems.

Source 6: Change the environment

If you want to change an organization's mental agenda, you need to change the data that routinely crosses people's desks, or passes in front of their eyes. Pat Ryan, vice chairman of OGE Energy, was concerned about a subsidiary's reputation for being insufficiently customer driven. To turn things around, Ryan established a companywide target of having streetlights repaired within five days and created a weekly reporting mechanism to help managers monitor outages. Shortly, all but two areas had completely solved the problem.

Sometimes companies need to make structural changes to influence behavior - and make the good behavior easy, and the wrong behavior hard. In healthcare, for example, to get staff to wash their hands, you need to make it easy for them to do this, and provide ready access to washing facilities (alcohol gel at entrance to wards or on people's belts), and provide reminder signs and cues of the need to wash your hands. Often we change the environment - and believe that is all we need to do - and forget the other five sources of influence


Effective and successful influencers drive change in organizations by relying on strategies from several different sources of influence at the same time. Those who understand how to combine multiple sources of influence are up to ten times more successful at producing substantial and sustainable change.