In the second of three articles on influence Tim Baker looks how L&D professionals can boost their capacity to influence learners
Fiona is the HR manager for a government department. She wanted to change the performance review system in her organisation. The current approach was not working, but she had to persuade her executive team, who were a pretty staid bunch, that the standard performance review system needed changing.
She decided to interview 25 people (out of a total of 100 employees) – a mix of managers and employees – anonymously. She asked them each to consider the current system and their attitudes to it in a series of carefully thought-out and structured questions. Their responses confirmed her view that the current system was not working.
Fiona wanted to replace this system with the Five Conversations Framework1. She carefully and methodically collated the data and identified several key themes of the views of negative aspects of the current system, such as there being no appreciable increase in employee performance. She considered how the five conversations could improve things. In particular, Fiona carefully thought through how the new system would improve on the specific deficiencies identified.
Fiona then thought about the stated vision of the business: ‘To be responsive to customer demands, decisive, and innovative’. She considered how she could link the new system to the vision statement of the business.
Fiona put fingers to keyboard and produced a thorough, methodical, and concise report she was justifiably proud of. At the next management meeting she shared the report with her colleagues and invited them to participate in a discussion on performance and, in particular, the performance review system. The management team agreed to run a pilot programme for the following year based on the Five Conversations Framework.
Fiona used the four influencing strategies of investigation, calculation, motivation, and collaboration to persuade her managerial colleagues to overhaul the performance management system.
The word influence means many things to many people. To some it means being cunning, manipulative and tricky. While others consider influence the lifeblood of communication. We are all in the business of influence. L&D professionals are arguably professional influencers. Getting better at influencing should be an important and ongoing goal for all of us.
There are three variables involved in any influencing situation or circumstance. One variable is your personal style and approach. You will tend to influence others the way you like to be influenced. Second, the people you are attempting to persuade also have a preference for how they like to be influenced. Use the ‘wrong’ strategy and you won’t be persuasive. We’ve all experienced this! And finally, each situation will favour a certain type of strategy. These three variables help explain the success or failure of any influencing attempt.
In the context of learning and development, influence is about persuading others to think and act differently in ways that benefit themselves, their colleagues, stakeholders and customers. It certainly does not mean manipulation or trickery. Influencing must begin from an ethical standpoint
A new model of influence identifies four primary ways L&D professionals (or anyone) can and do persuade others – this model is referred to as the Influencing Capabilities Framework. Here is a glimpse of the framework:
In the first article we explored the push-pull styles and the logical-emotional approaches and when best to use these in learning contexts. Let’s now briefly consider each of the four influencing strategies: Investigation; Calculation; Collaboration; and Motivation and their implications for training.
The inquisitive investigator (push style – logical approach)
As a strategy of influence, investigation basically means gathering the facts and presenting them in a logical and convincing manner. The presentation of a coherent and assertive argument based on well-founded research is a powerful form of persuasion in the right set of circumstances.
People are usually not convinced by someone who doesn’t have a sound grasp of the facts; nor are they influenced by someone with wavering conviction or an incoherent presentation of their ideas. Even if you are logical, coherent, assertive, and well researched, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will be persuasive. But these attributes are at least a good starting point.
L&D professionals who have a preference for investigating like to research their topic; they search for supporting evidence and from this data generate hypotheses or ideas based on a logical, rational argument. Once inquisitive investigators have prepared a well-founded case, they assert their theories or ideas onto others. Being well prepared, investigators are typically on solid ground to oppose challenging arguments from their audience. Briefly, the investigator’s influencing ability is reliant on a carefully researched and assertively communicated case.
As trainers and learning professionals we are expected to be able to present logical, clear arguments based on a rational approach. Without having command of the facts and persuasively communicating these in a structured way, our influence diminishes.
Climate change campaigner, and former Vice-President of the USA, Al Gore is an inquisitive investigator. Gore is a devastating debater and his presentations are loaded with charts, graphs and statistics. He relies heavily on the investigation strategy to prove his case.
The clear calculator (pull style –logical approach)
The calculation strategy means to influence by clearly articulating the pitfalls of the status quo on the one hand and how those pitfalls can be overcome with a new proposal on the other hand. Psychologists tell us that we are all motivated by pain and pleasure. In other words, we try to avoid painful situations as much as we can, such as being late for a workshop we are facilitating. Conversely, we gravitate to pleasurable experiences, such as pleasing a workshop participant by finding and following up valuable information they requested in a timely manner. While this should appear obvious to us, we each have different ideas of what pain and pleasure is and isn’t. What this means is that we interpret the significance of situations in our own way. A potentially painful situation for one person could to another be viewed as enjoyment.
This means our training programmes need to explain the benefits of adopting a new mindset, learning a new skill, and using the acquired chunk of knowledge. Importantly, these benefits should be tailored to the interests of the learner. At the same time, we should explain the pitfalls of remaining in the current state. We often assume that the learner understands the imperatives of learning something new – this is not necessarily the case. Briefly, we need to sell the pros of applying the learning and cons of remaining where we are. This is the essence of the clear calculator’s influencing strategy.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a clear calculator. Thatcher let people in her own party and members of the public know where she stood, and also where they stood. People who use the calculation influencing strategy will often divide people because they make it very clear what the advantages of their proposal are and at the same time, what the disadvantages of not adopting the proposal would be.
The mindful motivator (push style – emotional approach)
The next two strategies use an influencing strategy based on emotion, whereas investigation and calculation adopt a logical approach when persuading.
The motivation strategy in essence means persuading others by associating the idea, change, or proposal with a clear, compelling and commonly held vision of the future. Leaders who can paint a convincing picture of the future and motivate people with that vision are generally inspirational and motivating. Most great leaders have this aptitude.
Unfortunately from my observations too many people in L&D get caught up in the minutiae of what they are doing. They consequently often forget to articulate the link between the specific learning and the big picture. Furthermore, trainers don’t always explain the why. The why refers to why are we suggesting you learn this? How does what we are currently learning contribute to the vision of the business? These are the questions mindful motivators answer. By making these links between the learning experience and the strategic direction of the organisation, the participant makes an emotional connection to the learning outcome because they understand clearly what’s in it for me?
Former civil rights activist, Martin Luther King was a mindful motivator. His most famous speech: I have a dream… moved an entire generation of people. It focused attention on his vision for a better future.
The collegial collaborator (pull style – emotional approach)
The strategy of collaboration fundamentally involves influencing through trust-building and sharing the ownership of the learning experience. Participants in the learning experience are more likely to be persuaded by trainers if they feel they have engagement in the activity. By collaborating with the learners, the trainer invites the participants to be emotionally connected to the learning experience. Learners feel they have an emotional stake in the experience and are subsequently more receptive to its merits. Through authentic collaboration, trust builds and influence increases.
Collegial collaborators create positive emotional energy; they are concerned with developing a sense of trust and commitment with the people they work with. Collaborators are consultative in their approach to problem-solving; they actively listen to others and are willing to share the ownership of the outcomes through open communication. The influence of collaborators in learning programmes permeates from encouraging input and building higher than normal levels of confidence in learners.
Mother Teresa was a collegial collaborator. An activist for the needy and poor in India and everywhere around the world, by collaborating with key stakeholders, she was a marvel at getting coalitions of support on her side for the causes she believed in.
Each of us has an influencing profile; that is, we favour one of these four strategies over the other three. The problem with this inevitable personal bias is that we will undoubtedly use the wrong strategy from time to time, either for the people we are trying to persuade or the situation we are in. Outstanding influencers use all four strategies in the right place and at the right time.
From a learning perspective, use fact and logical argument to make the case (investigation). Explain the benefits of the learning and at the same time, outline the disadvantages of not applying the learning (calculation). Involve others in the learning experience (collaboration), and show the connection between the learning experience and the organisational vision and direction (motivation).