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Book Review – Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change

I appreciate books that provide an easy-to-remember, visual framework for the key points. Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second Edition is one of those books. The framework is a six-quadrant grid meant to help identify ways to influence key behaviors in ourselves and others.

But before we get into the meat of it, let’s get one quick piece of business out of the way: You deal with people, and you care about influencing change to one degree or another. So reading a book about it makes a lot of sense. Having a framework for thinking about and discussing important concepts like influencing change is valuable. This is a book for everyone.

The authors present their framework for considering influence as a grid with two axes. The vertical axis includes three scopes:

  • Personal – you yourself, or the individual who you want to influence
  • Social – other people surrounding the individual
  • Structural – the environment surrounding the individual

The horizontal axis includes two items:

  • Motivation – desire and positive pressure to act
  • Ability – the capability and skill needed to act

The intersections of these two axes create the six change strategies that the authors discuss in the book.

Influencer Grid from Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change

Personal Motivation

It’s much easier to get someone to do something consistently if they want to do it. You’ll have some work to do if the change you’re trying to influence involves behaviors that aren’t already desirable, pleasurable, or valued by the people you want to do them.

The personal motivation strategy that stuck with me most is building alignment between the desired behaviors and things that people already value or find pleasurable. For example, let’s say you’re working to convince a software developer who values building quality software to write automated tests. To help with personal motivation, you can show that automated tests contribute to quality.

To strengthen your point, share examples of well-respected projects, coworkers, other developers, and authors who view automated testing as a cornerstone of quality software. If the person truly values quality and you can connect that to testing, then you’ve tied the desired behavior into something that already motivates that individual.

Personal Ability

The other half of the individual axis is ability. It’s not enough for people to want to do something; they need to be capable of doing it. They need to have the skills, the practice, and the confidence to dive in.

Continuing our example of writing automated tests, it might be tempting to assume that anyone who can write code can write more code to prove that the other code works. We can make it sound so simple. But testing can be daunting for someone who hasn’t done it, and there is a lot of depth to it: covering valuable test cases, setting up infrastructure and test data, writing code to be easily testable, etc. You can offer to provide training, mentorship, and other learning opportunities to help get them up to speed.

Social Motivation

Peer pressure is a strong motivator. Use it for good. The big points here are:

  • Expected behaviors must be clear.
  • It must be made socially acceptable to call each other out when we don’t uphold those behaviors.

Working on a team rather than alone provides a lot of opportunity for social motivation. Pair programming takes that a step further by opening up a constant dialogue about how the task at hand (which may include testing) is being handled.

Social Ability

Beyond motivation, people surrounding us can support or hinder desired behaviors. They can provide or withhold help, information, and resources.

Relating this back to my example of writing tests, Atomic’s “Teach and Learn” value mantra plays strongly here. We expect to provide our time, knowledge, and experience to our coworkers. People who need to improve their testing skills have the explicit support of their teammates and coworkers.

Structural Motivation

Does the environment encourage the desired behaviors? The environment includes everything around you: the building, your work area, computers and software tools, the management structure of an organization, and performance incentives.

Some examples of the environment encouraging writing tests include:

  • Metrics that encourage writing tests (e.g., code coverage, test count)
  • Broad visibility of test metrics and tests themselves
  • Working on teams, rather than in isolation

The authors spend some time cautioning against over-application of incentives, which fall into the structural motivation category. It’s very easy to get incentives wrong. They can cause people to focus on the specifics needed for the incentive rather than the true end goal. Some examples of incentives gone wrong when trying to encourage developers to write tests include:

  • Focusing on test count can distract from the understanding of the value provided by tests and lead to a host of problems, such as writing tests that don’t provide value or calling the tests “good enough” because the count looks good enough.
  • Requiring every function or component to have a unit test may make it feel like that is enough, rather than relying on judgment to cover functions and components with appropriate tests of different types.

Structural Ability

Does the environment support the desired behaviors? In the physical world, this can include things like physical access to tools and resources and layers of management or team structure dictating how discussions do/don’t happen.

Given my example of testing, some examples of an environment that supports writing tests include:

  • The project has tools in place that make it easy to write unit tests for individual components.
  • The project has system testing tools that make it easy to set up data for a test and write the test.
  • The tests are reliable and deterministic.
  • Continuous integration is set up and runs the tests regularly.

Supporting structural ability related to testing requires investment and attention. Some languages and toolsets do a better job than others of supporting testing. We put a high value on testing, so that’s a big criteria when we’re selecting tools for a project.

Give It a Read

As human beings, we don’t live or work in isolation, so knowing how to work with others is important. Influence is an important skill when working with others, and it’s worth reading this book to have a good framework for thinking about and enacting influence.