How to Have Influence

The difference between effective and ineffective change makers is that the effective ones don’t rely on a single source of influence. They marshal several sources at once to get superior results.

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We live in a quick-fix world where people look for easy solutions to solve complex problems. This goes for both business and personal problems. We want one trick to get employees to adopt behavior that improves quality and causes customers to gush with appreciation, or one trick to help us shed 30 unwanted pounds. Unfortunately, most quick fixes don’t work because the problem is rarely fed by a single cause. Usually, there is a conspiracy of causes.

If you want to confront persistent problem behavior, you need to combine multiple influences into an overwhelming strategy. In management and in their personal lives, influencers succeed where others fail because they “overdetermine” success.1 Instead of looking for the minimum it will take to accomplish a change, they combine a critical mass of different kinds of influence strategies.

We have documented the success of this multipronged approach across organizational levels (from C-level managers to first-line supervisors) and across different problem domains (from entrenched cultural issues in companies to leader-led change initiatives to stubborn personal challenges like stopping smoking and getting fit). And while the results are impressive, they do not rely on an obscure calculus — if anything, they are built on simple arithmetic. Effective influencers drive change by relying on several different sources of influence strategies at the same time. Those who succeed predictably and repeatedly don’t differ from others by degrees. By combining multiple sources of influence, they are up to 10 times more successful at producing substantial and sustainable change.

About the Research »



1. Freud popularized the term “overdetermine” by arguing that a single symbol in a dream, poem or painting can have multiple valid meanings — that symbols are often the product of several diverse influences. He borrowed the term from geometry, where it is said that “two points determine a line” and “three points overdetermine it.”

2. Their success rate jumped from 4% to 40%.

3. In this case, leaders who used four or more sources of influence were four times more successful than leaders who used a single source. The success rate improved from 14% to 63%.

4. J.S. Black, H.B. Gregersen, “It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations,” 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Wharton School Publishing, 2008).

5. Seventy-seven percent of the successful initiatives in our sample included training as one of their influence strategies.

6. R.G. Crowder, “Principles of Learning and Memory” (Oxford, England: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1976).

7. M.G. Lankford, T.R. Zembower, W.E. Trick, D.M. Hacek, G.A. Noskin and L.R. Peterson, “Influence of Role Models and Hospital Design on Hand Hygiene of Health Care Workers,” Emerging Infectious Diseases 9, no. 2 (February 2003): 217–223.

8. E.L. Deci, “Intrinsic Motivation” (New York: Plenum Press, 1975).

9. These “observations” come from A. Tversky and D. Kahneman’s classic article, “Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases,“ Science, New Series185, no. 4157 (Sept. 27, 1974): 1124–1131.

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