The Importance of Influencing Peers

Wrong Way SignAt one time, Stephen King decided to stop selling a relatively popular book called “Rage”.  The novel was the first book published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, and was written decades ago.   It’s the story of an angry teenager who shoots teachers and holds classmates hostage.

For a while after the book was published, King defended his story, saying that it did not cause anyone to go off the deep end.  Over time, however, the book was found in the belongings of four perpetrators of school shootings, and around 1997, King allowed the book to fall out of publication and apparently asked publishers to remove existing copies from sale.  A few years after that, many applauded his decision, although others thought he should have stood up for the rights of the artist.

This isn’t the only story of how people use their influence to create a better world.  Sports figures use their celebrity to encourage kids to stay in school, or lose weight, or stay off drugs.  Parents use influence to teach their children right from wrong.  Teens influence each other in positive and negative ways, far more than we like to believe.

What about influence in the workplace?  How do encourage people to do the right thing, even when – as in the case of Stephen King – it’s going to cost them money or turn some voices against them?

Determine a vision for “the right thing” in your business.  Southwest Airlines has established a simple set of values.  They’re easy to understand and guide the actions of thousands of employees each day.  if you don’t already have a set of guiding values for how your organization behaves, you need to get one.

Set a good example.  Once you have documented a set of values, make sure that leaders “walk the talk”.  The first failure point in any organization is when senior leaders operate outside the company values and get away with it.  It doesn’t matter if they are the most prolific salesperson or the most beloved manager.  Tolerating bad influencers is the fastest way to throw money out the door.

Make “good” the default response.  Proponents of organ donations learned a mighty lesson:  if you start with the assumption that everyone will participate, they are more likely to.  By making it harder to do the wrong thing – process exceptions that require extra approval, or pricing strategies that customers can see – you influence employees to make better decisions.

Reward positive behaviors (and stop rewarding negative behavior).   This influencer is one of the most powerful:  stop rewarding the wrong things.  If back-stabbing managers are promoted, if salespeople are allowed to manipulate pricing to make their quota, if your best employee gets to take extra “sick days”, you are rewarding bad behavior.  Those rewards tell the rest of your employees, “values don’t matter here”.

Without a doubt, we all need to take responsibility for ourselves.  Part of that responsibility is in recognizing the influence we have over others.  Here’s hoping that we recognize when to change our behavior to make that influence a positive one.

 

photo credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/15923063@N00/7777982086

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