Imagine you're meeting with your financial advisor. She says to you, "OK, I have a great new fund. You put $10,000 in this fund, and next year it will lose 90 percent of its value. Shall we have a go at it?"
Ridiculous, of course. And yet that's the offer most of us in the training industry make to executives. We ask for funding for training initiatives, when the research suggests that less than 10 percent of what we teach translates into any kind of real behavioral change back at work. And yet we keep pumping money into the "training fund."
Fortunately, there is a different breed of trainers who make a different offer. These trainers have learned their job is not to deliver training, it’s to influence change. At their best, trainers are influencers. And there is much more to influencing behavior change than what happens in the classroom.
Our research—recently published in the book, "Influencer: The Power to Change Anything"—shows that if trainers learn to assemble six sources of influence, they can help leaders produce profound, rapid, and sustainable behavior change in their organizations.
Consider the example of Karie Willyerd, now a senior executive at Sun Microsystems. Formerly Karie was the director of Training and Organizational Development at Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems (LMTAS) in Fort Worth, TX. At the time, LMTAS was in a fight for its life. The mile-long factory in Fort Worth had been printing money for the previous 25 years in the form of F-16 fighter jets. But the printing press was about to screech to a halt. The U.S. and British militaries were shopping for a supplier to build the next generation of fighter jets—then called the Joint Strike Fighter.
This $200 billion program would mean either the continued legacy of the Fort Worth team or its demise—depending on who won the program.
That's where Karie came in. When we met Karie, she was tasked by the CEO of LMTAS to help change the culture. One of the primary tools she'd use to drive behavior change was a training program that helped engineers and technicians learn how to step up more effectively to crucial conversations. Within a year, the culture had changed dramatically, and the CEO credited Karie's work as a key element of their eventual win of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
The reason for her success was that she moved beyond simple training. Instead of focusing solely on skill-building, Karie targeted six sources of influence—the same sources of influence we've found lead to rapid and sustainable change. For example:
Source 1: Personal Motivation. Karie ensured executives were viscerally engaged in the need for culture change by involving them in focus group interviews with employees where they heard firsthand the challenges employees faced. Each executive then prepared a white paper describing the most problematic behaviors in the culture. The "significant emotional event" of these interviews made them passionate advocates of change.
Source 2: Personal Ability. Karie got a lot of pressure to "dumb down" the training. Executives, for example, wanted a 3-hour briefing on what was a 16-hour course. Karie held her ground and helped them see how their need for improved skills equaled that of the rest of the organization. In addition, the course was spaced out over time rather than delivered in one big dose. This created a logistical and scheduling challenge—but once again, Karie realized her job was not the efficient delivery of training; it was the effective delivery of influence. The substantial investment in skill-building produced a substantial return in the form of new behavior.
Source 3: Social Motivation. Karie realized that what happened in the classroom was only a fraction of what was needed to influence change. How people were treated when they made their first attempt to step up to a crucial conversation would make all the difference. She stacked the deck in their favor by carefully identifying hundreds of informal leaders from across the organization and engaging them to coach and encourage training graduates. Their informal influence had a remarkable effect in driving change.
Source 4: Social Ability. Karie knew the toughest crucial conversation people would face would be with their bosses. So she stacked that deck, too. The training was delivered by bosses. By engaging leaders as teachers, she ensured the "chain of command" would be more likely to welcome attempts to use the new skills.
Source 5: Structural Motivation. Early on, Karie challenged the CEO and his executives to put their money where their mouth was. She created a survey to measure behavior change and urged executives to tie 25 percent of their bonuses to achievement of an aggressive goal to improve the behaviors targeted by the training. They did. And this one commitment sent an enormous symbolic message of commitment to the entire organization.
Source 6: Structural Ability. Karie did her best to enable people to enact new behavior by creating cues, reminders, and reports that kept it on people’s minds. Regular newsletter articles, a regular survey, posters, laminated cards, and lots of the traditional "wallpaper" helped set a mental agenda for behavior change across the organization.
There's much to influencing new behavior than just delivering high-quality training. If trainers want to increase the "return" they're offering to their organizations, they need to learn to become influencers.
Joseph Grenny is the coauthor of New York Times best-sellers "Influencer: The Power to Change Anything," and "Crucial Conversations." He is also a speaker, consultant, and co-founder of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance.