Influence/Change: What Formula Are You Using?

September 7, 2009

Success at work involves influence at work. We employ influence in decision-making, sales, client relations (internal and external), change management, organizational transformation, managing, recruiting, handling conflicts, negotiations, and so on.

We all have our ways of preparing to exercise influence. Some of us are aware of these approaches and for others the approaches are largely unconscious. A way of preparing that yields the best results is to use a formula to guide our research and analysis of what needs to be in our influence/change communications.

There is a 1960s vintage formula that I have found provides a very useful question stimulus and analytical framework through which to strategically prepare for an influence opportunity. I’m referring to Gleicher’s Formula or Equation. David Gleicher was a  consultant at Arthur D. Little. In equation form, his formula looks like this:

Change = Dissatisfaction ´ Vision of the future ´ First steps towards that vision > Resistance.  (C=DVF>R)

This was later refined to DVF > Cost (economic and psychological). The thought is that, if any of the elements on the left side of the equation are weak or missing, then overcoming resistance/cost won’t happen.

The great value of using a formula like Gleicher’s when we are planning to exercise influence to achieve a goal is that it brings discipline to our thinking (or lack thereof!) It makes us examine our assumptions against what the person we are trying to influence is thinking, believing, fearing, wanting, etc.

Who hasn’t heard the admonition to be client (external or internal) centred (driven, etc.) today? Well, the client’s cost resistance is one thing, but that psychological cost is a swamp of resistance, to play on John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond. From bias, to “I don’t know you”, to the fear factors, such as the fear of failure.

This side of the formula – resistance – has the most weight, precisely because it is the client’s centre. But how many of us want to believe that we’ll achieve the influence we want to have, based on the client’s dissatisfaction with the status quo (and how much research did we do on this?), combined with our vision of the future for the client (our product, service, idea, goal, etc.), along with our gentle (or otherwise) push with a suggested action or exhortation (“now get out there….”)? Some will do thorough research (questions, surveys, etc.) and analysis, using a disciplined approach that will include the resistance part of the formula. But many will not do much more than a cursory think- through, driven by their firmly held assumptions.

Resistance is powerful. Facts and persuasive influencers notwithstanding, change can be non-existent or slow if it cannot outweigh resistance.  For example, on the issue of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, Professor Andre Potworowski flags the resistance problem in a column by technology writer Tyler Hamilton.

“It is, in effect, a challenge of change management… The greatest barrier to innovation comes from resistance to change on the part of the consumer… People must begin to see the possibility of profiting from sustainability,” says Potworowski.

And every issue, challenge – indeed, opportunity – is the same. Does DVF outweigh R?

There is a circumstance where influence/change can happen extremely quickly. I’ll take some liberty with Gleicher’s formula to explain. When I ask myself what factors have been present when I’ve seen an immediate result in influence/change that overcomes resistance, it looks like this:

Fear + Urgency + Limited Options (FULO) > Resistance.

Why? Basically the values of Gleicher’s DVF are jacked-up to the “threat” level and the cost considerations – economic and psychological – don’t have as much sway.

How many times do most of us have these FULO factors working in our favour to overcome resistance when we’re exercising influence? Not that many. So, we have to deal with the CVF factors Gleicher identified. We can “manufacture” FULO. Many high-pressure sales techniques do just that. We can introduce some aspects of FULO into DVF. Certainly there’s an ethical line for using these “weapons of influence.”

Gleicher isn’t the only one with a formula. Just a sample from my bookshelves includes:

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People – great advice for anyone.

Robert Cialdini, INFLUENCE – The Psychology of Persuasion – PhD. He has six “weapons of influence.” They are present in every analysis I do and often employed in my strategies and those of my clients.

John Adams, Successful Change, Paying Attention to the Intangibles – a change leader I found by exploring Gleicher, he asked the question “Why do so many of these efforts fail?” He found his own answer. His research led to a list of 12 Individual Change Success Factors that he believes are complementary to Gleicher’s Formula. He shared it in OD Practitioner in 2003.

Howard Gardner, Changing minds: the art and science of changing our own and other people’s minds – Harvard Ph.D. put forward the concept of multiple intelligences, and in this book outlines his 7 Levers of Change, all starting with “Re”. I’m thankful to Gardner for introducing me to a formal examination of resistance. It informs my thinking, training/coaching and counsel.

Gregory Berns, Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently – MD, PhD. Berns wanted to have innovation in the title but it was overused. He really framed the fear factors part of resistance for me.

Chris Argyris, Overcoming Organizational Defenses – Professor Emeritus Harvard and Thought Leader, Monitor Group. Argyris discusses the undiscussable: how organizations resist change by implementing “organizational defenses”. My take on it: Most organizations talk the talk, but few walk the talk.

I will explore influence and the references above in future blogs, but in the meantime, enjoy your reading if you check out these experts. And don’t forget to use a formula to increase your strategic influence.

Copyright 2009