Robert Cialdini has spent the better part of his career scientifically studying the principles of persuasion. His research has led him to conclude there are six main principles that guide persuasion. If you haven’t seen this 11:50 minute animation that summarizes his conclusions, you should. What follows are practical applications for these principles as they apply to change management:
The reciprocity principle states that people are more likely to give to you when you have given to them first. Cialdini’s studies found that a waiter giving a mint to customers at the same time the bill is presented results in an increase in tips. Not quid pro quo, rather when you give expecting nothing in return, you often get something anyway. To apply reciprocity in change management:
- Bring a treat to the kickoff.
- Provide SWAG to support the initiative.
- Talk about actions the organization has taken in the past that supported the people, amplifying the message.
The scarcity principle states that people want something more when they believe it will soon be gone or run out. For example, skyrocketing sales of Concorde tickets when it was announced that there would be no more Concorde flights. To apply scarcity in change management:
- Highlight what they stand to lose by not making the change (or not supporting the change, not being involved in the change, etc.)
- Offer an opt-in process for a chance to be on the change team and make it clear that if they don’t sign up now, they won’t be able to influence the process.
- The old way might be “turned off” so they will not be able to do their work at all if they don’t get on board.
The authority principle is that people are more likely to believe in an “expert” opinion. Think “4 out of 5 doctors recommend”. To apply authority in change management:
- Have the leader communicate and lend authority to the change manager, lead, or coalition.
- Share testimonials in support of the change from those who are engaged in it (e.g. new software).
- Engage an outside expert to communicate the benefits of the change or the process of changing.
The consistency principle is that people are more likely to behave in a certain way if they have previously indicated that they would. Cialdini used the example of peoples’ willingness to display a large lawn sign after displaying a small postcard in their window on the same topic. Applying consistency in change management you could:
- Use a Verbal Upfront Contract
- Ask for a smaller commitment. For example, instead of asking people to populate a dashboard, ask them to identify and track just one or two metrics.
- Obtain their public commitment, for example, through an action log.
The liking principle is that we are more easily persuaded by people we like, people who are similar to us, or people who pay us complements. In change management:
- The direct manager or supervisor should work to connect the big picture change to what’s in it for the individual as they (should) have the closest relationship.
- Talk about the mutual goals and benefits of the change initiative.
- Provide genuine compliments when they try something new – the results are less important than the effort in the beginning.
The consensus principle appeals to the human desire to be part of the in-crowd. People look to others to guide their behaviour. Social proof is the idea that if others like it, it must be good. Applied to change management:
- Use data to demonstrate that others are using the new system successfully (in your environment or another).
- Use case studies from your beta trials or other companies (particularly if they are industry specific).
- Find the early adopters and encourage them to vocalize support.
Next time you hear, “I tried everything and they just won’t change!” make sure they’ve applied all of these principles. Change is really hard. So far, however, there hasn’t been an effective alternative.
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