Three Keys to Leading Change

Maggie Sun
6 min readJul 10


Drawing inspiration from the insightful book “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change,” three essential factors contribute to achieving swift, profound, and enduring transformations in human behavior.

Key 1. Focus and Measure

Influencers are crystal clear about the results they are trying to achieve and are committed to measuring them. They effectively communicate their goals and adopt clear, consistent, and meaningful metrics to track their progress.

Conversely, unsuccessful agents of change make at least one of the three early mistakes that undermine their influence:

- Fuzzy, uncompelling goals: Influencers won’t simply tell people to “empower employees,” “build teams,” or “improve customer service,” because these goals are too fuzzy to exert any real influence. For example, “Improving customer service” could be interpreted as answering the phone by the second ring, or giving customers a free monkey with every $10’s purchase, or entirely something else. A clear goal statement like “We will save 10,000 lives from medical mistakes by June 14, 2006, by 9:00am” can be ten times more effective than a fuzzy version such as “We will reduce preventable harm in hospitals.”

- Infrequent or no measure: Results remain nothing but ideas until you decide exactly how to measure them. Clear measures are needed for not only tangible results but also “soft, human” ones such as morale, employee engagement, or customer satisfaction. E.g., you cannot conclude that morale in your office is fine just because nobody has caused a scene; and if you don’t measure it or don’t measure it frequently enough (especially while you measure tangible results such as your team’s sales revenue on a daily basis), one day you might see someone quit because he or she hates the place.

- Bad measures: Measuring the wrong variables often drives the wrong behavior and generates the wrong kind of influence. E.g., if you measure customer service by how many customers a representative handles every day, you will most likely have a lot more customer complaints due to poor service quality. Similarly, if you measure your health only by counting calories you intake with every meal, you might end up malnourished instead of healthier.

Key 2. Find Vital Behaviors

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80–20 Rule, suggests that 80% of your outcomes stem from just 20% of your efforts. Consequently, even when dealing with complex issues influenced by ten or more behaviors, influencers should concentrate solely on the top two or three behaviors. Identifying and modifying these vital behaviors have the power to dismantle any problem regardless of its magnitude.

Find the vital behaviors with four vital behavior search strategies:

Notice the obvious: Recognize behaviors that are obvious but underused. E.g., eating healthily and exercising regularly are two key behaviors for staying fit, although not many people can do that.

Look for crucial moments: Identify instances where behaviors pose a threat to success. For instance, Sam operates a restaurant where over 80% of customer service issues arise when there’s a staff shortage or when one or more ovens are out of order. After assessing both his own actions and those of his staff during these critical moments, Sam finds himself inadvertently contributing to the problem — he assumes an employee’s role by operating the cash register or attempting to fix the oven. This, however, pulls him away from his quarterback role, leading to subpar customer service. Instead, Sam should implement two vital adjustments in overwhelming situations caused by staffing or equipment problems: 1) Halt his current tasks and bring in on-call team members. 2) Become the quarterback and run a quick practice with the new staff configuration until the customers are served the right food the right way.

Learn from positive deviants: Find behaviors that set apart positive deviants — individuals who encounter similar challenges as your struggling group but have managed to find effective solutions. By studying their approaches, you can learn valuable lessons. For example, a hospital aimed to eliminate hospital-acquired infections. Upon investigation, the leaders discovered that certain units maintained low infection rates due to their strict adherence to hand hygiene protocols. Two vital behaviors contributed to their success: 1) Whenever someone failed to wash his hands or use disinfectant upon entering or leaving a patient care area, a colleague promptly reminded him to do so. 2) The person being reminded always said “Thank you” to this colleague. Inspired by the positive deviants who had achieved superior outcomes, the leaders advocated the same two vital behaviors throughout the hospital and significantly reduced the hospital-acquired infections among patients.

Spot culture busters: Identify behaviors that challenge deeply ingrained cultural norms and taboos. For example, the vital behaviors to enhance hand washing/disinfecting routine in the above-mentioned hospital also directly challenged longstanding yet unspoken cultural norms there: 1) Since washing in and out required people to scrub their hands hundreds of times a day, the practice of occasionally neglecting proper hand hygiene upon entering and leaving patient care areas became “normal.” 2) The act of speaking up was typically considered taboo in healthcare, particularly when it involved reminding individuals of higher authority. By explicitly reversing these cultural taboos through encouraging the recognized vital behaviors, the hospital disrupted established patterns and successfully improved patient safety.

Key 3. Engage All Six Sources of Influence

Influencers identify all the six forces that are shaping the behavior they want to change and then get them working in their favor. This increases their odds of success tenfold.

1. Personal Motivation: This refers to the internal drive and desire to change. It involves identifying and aligning personal values, beliefs, and goals with the desired behavior or outcome.

2. Personal Ability: This source focuses on developing the necessary skills, knowledge, and capabilities to bring about change. It involves acquiring the right training, education, resources, and support to perform the desired behavior.

3. Social Motivation: Social motivation emphasizes the influence of others on our behavior. It involves leveraging the power of social norms, peer pressure, and the desire for acceptance or approval from others to drive change.

4. Social Ability: Social ability involves utilizing the support and collaboration of others to facilitate change. It includes seeking out mentors, forming alliances, building relationships, and creating an environment that encourages and enables the desired behavior.

5. Structural Motivation: This source of influence focuses on the rewards and consequences that drive or hinder change. It involves designing incentives, recognition systems, and accountability measures to motivate individuals and reinforce the desired behavior.

6. Structural Ability: Structural ability addresses the physical and environmental factors that either enable or impede change. It involves modifying the environment, systems, processes, and infrastructure to make the desired behavior easier to perform and sustain.

For example: to improve project management, you can apply personal motivation by creating a mutual purpose and a fair process, personal ability by training people on project planning and execution skills, social motivation by enlisting the support of senior leaders and stakeholders, social ability by providing help and feedback, structural motivation by linking rewards to vital behaviors, and structural ability by using tools and data to track progress.

By considering and utilizing these six sources of influence, individuals and organizations can better understand and address the factors that impact behavior change and increase their chances of success.


Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013, May 17). Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change (2nd ed.). McGraw Hill.

Maxfield, D. (2009, Sep. 29). Six Sources of Influence in Project Management. Crucial Learning.

Collet, B. (2022, Dec. 13). To Succeed in Change and Transformation, Uncover Why People Behave the Way They Do. Agile Leader Academy.

Related articles and book:

Agile Leadership Explained: We Can All Be Agile Leaders and Change the World Together! (Kobo)

Agile Leadership Explained: We Can All Be Agile Leaders and Change the World Together! (Amazon)

Collet, B. (2019). Agile leadership. (Online course).



Maggie Sun

MBA, certified agile coach and experienced strategy analyst, specializing in business agility, agile leadership, Beyond Budgeting, and general management.