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How to Have Influence

In business and in personal life, people look for easy solutions to solve complex problems. Unfortunately, most quick fixes don't work because the problem is rarely fed by a single cause. If you want to confront persistent problems, the authors argue, you need to apply several different kinds of influence strategies simultaneously. Their approach is based on three separate studies -- two examining organizational issues within companies and a third exploring destructive individual behaviors such as smoking, overeating and excessive alcohol use. The authors document the success of this multipronged approach across different problem domains (from entrenched cultural issues in companies to leader-led change initiatives to stubborn personal challenges). They found that those who employed only one influence strategy (for example, managers offered training, redesigned the organization or held a high-visibility retreat) were far less likely to achieve significant results than those who used four or more sources of influence in combination. The same went for those tackling personal challenges. Many had attempted to alter their behavior by using a single approach (joining a gym, following prescriptions in a book or attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings) -- but nearly all had failed.

Using examples from such companies as AT&;T, Lockheed Martin, OGE Energy and Spectrum Health Systems, the authors describe six influence strategies. The first two, personal motivation and ability, relate to sources of influence within individuals that determine their behavioral choices. 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, the role of physical proximity on behavior, and technology. "Too often," the authors argue, "[leaders] bet on a single source of influence rather than tapping a diverse arsenal of strategies. We have learned that the main variable in success or failure is not which sources of influence leaders choose. By far the more important factor is how many."

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