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How to Design Powerful Change Strategies to Influence Key Behaviors

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

In the previous story To Succeed in Change and Transformation, Uncover Why People Behave the Way They Do, we learned how to identify the real causes of behaviors. In this story, we explore how to design effective change strategies.

A reminder: why is it critical to identify the real causes of behaviors before designing change strategies ?

If you look back at failed changes, I bet you’ll discover that it often comes from a poor understanding of the causes of current behaviors, which inevitably led to the choice of the wrong change strategy. When this happens, we don’t understand why our well-executed change strategy doesn’t produce the expected results.

When this happens, we don’t understand why our well-executed change strategy doesn’t produce the expected results.

For example, despite attending an agile training rated five stars, participants’ behaviors have not changed, because other parts of the organization prevented participants from using the new learnings. Sending people to training was simply not the right change strategy. Before considering training, we should have designed strategies to address the social and structural causes that prevented applying new learnings.

Assuming we identified the causes of behaviors, we can continue using the Six Sources of influence model to select the most effective change strategies.

The model explores six sources of influence on behavior, categorized between motivation and ability, and whether the source is personal, social (team and close coworkers), or structural (the rest of the organization and beyond). Playing across these dimensions provides a holistic view.

Let’s go over a few change strategies for each of the six sources of influence.

Personal motivation

The key here is to make the undesirable desirable.

  • Help people develop their self-awareness and discover by themselves why the change matters and how it will help them. As people elicit their personal values, there is a good chance that they can connect the change with their values, which is the most powerful way to ensure personal motivation.

  • Narrate the change with an inspiring vision: what will the organization look like after the change? Don’t limit communication to documents and numbers, tell a story describing the change with a narrative, a rationale, and emotions.

Personal ability

The goal here is to make sure people can develop the knowledge and skills to perform the change.

  • Give space to experiment with new ways of working

  • Ensure an environment of psychological safety

  • Provide training

Social motivation

Behaviors and habits are the product of the norm in their immediate environment. Aka group effect. It’s very difficult to behave in a way that is at odds with direct colleagues.

  • Encourage opinion leaders to show the way

  • Make your learnings and experiments visible and show courage to bring the rest of the team on board

Social ability

  • Challenge the formal and informal work process and work habits within and between teams

  • Enlist enablers, for example the people with the tools and information that will make the change easier

  • Asking for feedback is a simple and powerful way of engaging others. As you ask them to comment on your changes, they will inevitably start questioning their own ways of working

Structural motivation

The key here is to look for strategies that will reward the new behaviors and protect people who try the new behaviors. In other words, people who change should not feel at risk, on the contrary they should feel valued.

  • Reward the expected behaviors

Structural ability

  • Set up the physical environment to make change easier. For example, change office configuration to help collaboration in teams.

  • Set up the technological environment to make change easier

  • Adapt the organization structure in line with new behaviors


Good practices to design change strategies

Overwhelm your problems by using a variety of strategies

Influencing a single behavior will often require orchestrating multiple change strategies, because there are multiple underlying causes. This multi-pronged change approach will usually address changes at different levels, such as individual, social, and organizational.

Moreover, some strategies might fail to produce expected results. Don’t bet your success a single miraculous strategy. Diversify your change approaches.

Use the “invisible hand” rather than direct intervention

Notice that, as we explore the real sources of behaviors, change strategies will act primarily on the work environment rather than directly on individuals. In other words, effective change strategies in a complex human organization tend to focus on changing the environment to nudge people toward the desirable behaviors. This change approach is sometimes called the “invisible hand” in contrast to the “visible hand” approach.

The invisible hand changes the environment to encourage or discourage some behaviors, whereas the visible hand tries to force people into a behavior by making something mandatory or forbidden. Although it’s very tempting to rely overly on direct, visible hand strategies, in most cases invisible hand strategies are more effective. Invisible hand strategies change the environment so that desired behaviors emerge naturally; it’s an emergent change approach.

Be persistent

It takes time for strategies to produce effect. In failed transformations, they often conclude too quickly that a strategy doesn’t work and therefore jump from one strategy to another.

Seek to influence the personal motivation of people with strong influence

You can’t coach or train everyone. Some people have more influence than others over how people behave. They are de facto opinion leaders. If you can motivate them to engage in the change, it will naturally spread through the organization. This is also why in transformation we often say “leaders go first”.

Leverage the opinion leaders’ trusted sources of information

Opinion leaders shape their opinions by using specific sources of information which often consist in a limited number of websites, conferences, or magazines. For example, sending the CIO a well-chosen article from a trusted source can go a long way.

At Agile Leader Academy, we walk the talk: we make good use of this model in our training Exploring the Leadership Imperative.

Experts in change and transformation management tend to agree that executing change strategies is not the hardest part. The top challenges is to design effective strategies based on why people currently behave the way they do. The Six Sources of Influence model helps answer this crucial question.



The Six Sources of Influence model comes from the book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change (McGraw Hill) by Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A.

Images generated by OpenAI DALL-E

Bruno Collet advises and coaches leaders to develop the individual and organizational capability to anticipate and react to changes better and faster. In one word: Agility. His approach relies on action-learning with concrete practices, skills and behaviors. Bruno Collet executed top-level missions with several organizations internationally. He is also a recognized speaker, author and is accredited ICAgile instructor. Bruno Collet holds an MBA, MSc., as well as several certifications such as PMP, PMI-ACP, ICP-LEA (Leading with Agility), ICP-ORG (Adaptive Organization), ICP-ENT (Enterprise Coaching) and ICP-AHR (Agile Human Resources).


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