12 ways you can increase influence and improve performance

I recently finished reading ‘The small BIG: Small changes that spark big influence’ by Steve J Martin, Noah J Goldstein and Robert B Cialdini.

If you haven’t read it then I’d encourage you to. It’s a great read, filled with insight and advice to help you improve performance and increase influence.

If you don’t quite have the time to read it yet, here’s a summary of the main lessons I took from the book:

1. Keep things specific: If you want to change behaviour, don’t couch things in abstract ‘in the future’ terms. This is too abstract for most people. Instead, get ‘future lock in’ by asking people to make a change that will be implemented at a specific point in the future. For example, 100% stopping printing off emails in 2 months’ time.

Managers can also improve performance by getting staff put in writing specific plans as to where, when and how they will accomplish a task to which they’ve committed.

2. Improve performance by making objectives challenging AND attainable: Setting a high to low range can mean that people are more likely to engage (or re-engage) in achieving a target. It can be far more motivational and effective, for example, to set a target to respond to 75 to 125 customer queries this week (as opposed to respond to 100 customer queries this week).

3. Keep the pressure on to get people to respond: Too much of a lead-in time for delivering a project, responding to a survey or agreeing to attend is far more likely to lead to procrastination and low response rate. Instead assign a deadline that has a shorter time-frame.

4. Careful preparation can make meetings more effective: The authors cite research which shows that four factors can improve meetings and these are:

(1) having a checklist to test whether the right people are attending; is the balance of necessary expertise in the room; are there people who will constructively challenge;

(2) asking people to submit information before the meeting;

(3) ensuring the meeting leader always speaks last so as not to sway the room; and

(4) have seating arrangements conducive to the type of meeting – namely circular for meetings where collaboration and co-operation is needed; versus angular (square, rectangle) where you need people to take individual ownership for specific actions.

They also suggest that the re-framing of agendas and meeting times could make a big difference to attendance levels. For example, changing a 2 hour meeting to 1 hour 55 minutes, or a 30 minute meeting to 24 minutes.

5. Context is key: It’s less about the content that is presented to people that influences them but rather the context (when, where, how and who).

6. To influence people tap in to their need to be like others: The authors talk about the three underlying motivations people have – (1) to make accurate decisions as effectively as possible; (2) to affiliate with and get others’ approval; and (3) to see ourselves in a positive light.

7. We are not the best judges of things we have a vested interest in: If you’ve put your heart and soul in to delivering a project, it’s likely you’ll be quite sensitive to what people say about it. In order to get objective feedback on how a piece of work or project has gone, it’s best to get someone else to assess. Ideally this person should be someone not significantly connected to you.

The same goes for decisions we have to make. For example, if you have decided on a supplier to go with, it’s better to get someone else to then negotiate terms and conditions as they will have less of a connection to the supplier and the decision. It could be the difference between getting a great deal or not.

8. Thank you goes a long way: Most of us know that the simple act of a manager saying “thank you” can have a big impact on an employee’s motivation and morale. Putting it in writing is better. And adding the words, “well done” along with stating your appreciation is even better.

9. Money isn’t the be all and end all to improving performance: I still come across organisations and managers who think the only way to motivate employees and improve performance is through money. It really isn’t! The authors cite research that shows financial incentives have far less of an impact than reminding a person of the significance and meaning of the work they do. This makes it even more important to keep staff connected with real stories of real customers.

10. United we stand, divided we fall: Lots of organisations are looking for ways to increase co-operation and collaboration. Not only within the organisation but in partnership with other organisations. Key to this is to focus on what binds people, teams or organisations rather than what the differences is. This can also prove a really helpful approach in conflict resolution.

11. Heighten the box to think outside the box: For organisations looking to increase ideas and creative thinking, use rooms with high ceilings. According to research outlined in the book, ceiling height can have a priming effect on creative thinking by encouraging people to think in a less constrained way.

12. Tap in to your inner superhero: To feel (and be) more influential think about a time you felt more powerful. The research cited suggested that this can increase feelings of confidence. This has implications for people going for job interviews, those negotiating a pay rise, or even those giving a presentation. Taking the time to think about and write about a time you felt more powerful, just before you go in to the situation, could make a big difference in your success.


Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

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