handful of cashEveryone in the audience watched expectantly.

The speaker had just challenged someone from the audience to come up on stage and try to get him to let go of a $20 bill from his clenched fist. The first lady steps up and pries on his fingers, but doesn’t have any luck. The next guy is bigger, stronger. He gives it a little more effort, but he isn’t able to force the man to let it go. Continue reading

If you haven’t already, check out yesterday’s post how we can vs. why we can’t. Today’s post is a spin off of the influence ideas, and we’ll be looking at how to structure options to get people to choose what you want.

There’s a brilliant guy out there called Dan Ariely. He once did an informal study about options, and I still love referring back to the results. A magazine was offering three options to subscribers.

  • Option A provided online only access for $80.
  • Option B provided paper copies for $150.
  • Option C provided paper copies and online access for $150.

He wanted to study how people responded to those choices, so he offered A, B, and C to his students. They were split between Option A and Option C, with more people choosing the higher price option. Nobody chose option B.

Then he took out option B (less benefits than Option C but at the same price). When he resurveyed on what people would purchase, more people chose option A than option C, reversing the results from the original survey.

The basic premise is offering a third choice that is comparable (both B and C offer paper copies) but somewhat inferior (Option B did not offer online access) will drive people to pay more for the bundled option since it looks like a better deal.

Making it work (at work)

We could take that to the workplace by offering at least three solutions. Option A will solve some of the problems and will be the easiest/cheapest to implement. Option B will solve different problems and will be more costly. Option C will solve both sets of problems but will cost about the same as Option B. If you can structure your choices like that, you’re statistically going to have more people selecting Option C than either other choice.

Here’s an example. We need to fix our health insurance. The vendor is not giving us what we need and we are trying to give our employees the best benefits we can. Our options:

  • A: Add some voluntary coverages to our benefits. This improves our range of benefit offerings with little to no expenditure.
  • B: Change providers to get access to new benefits at an increased cost. This allows us to meet our employees’ benefit needs but doesn’t provide the voluntary coverage.
  • C: Change providers to get access to new benefits at an increased cost and roll the voluntary coverages into the deal. We pay more but are able to meet our employees’ benefits needs and offer a wider range of options as a recruiting and retention tool.

That’s a quick and dirty example, but it’s pretty obvious that if you really want progress, options A and C are the only ones people will want when compared with B. However, if you took B out of the mix, many companies would settle only for offering A since it is the lowest cost.

In other words, you can influence people at work if you structure the options properly. Pretty cool, eh? 

I absolutely love that quote (and the idea behind it). Instead of focusing on excuses or reasons you can’t make something happen, keep searching for ways to do it. Look for opportunities, not limitations. There are already enough people in the world who are ready and willing to tell you how something can’t be accomplished. Let’s work on cultivating more people that look for ways you can be successful. I have a recent example that touches on this to help hammer it home.

None of the above

(By the way, I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m sometimes guilty of this, so I’m preaching to the choir with this one!)

Often times someone will bring two options to their manager to make a decision.

  • Option A will be their own idea. Their pride and joy. And they will spin it to sound like it is the most brilliant idea ever concocted, even if it has some number of negative side effects.
  • Option B will be a terrible idea that nobody would agree with.

As an example: we can either change to this new insurance provider (my idea!) or we can stop providing insurance to our employees and let them all die of horrible diseases before the week is over with (terrible idea).

Make sense? Good.

The point is the employee knows that offering one really great option and one really poor option is going to force the manager to choose. However, the good manager will turn it back on the employee with a response of “none of the above.”

Managers, if you want to do it right, here’s the game plan: Instead of settling for two less-than-ideal options, ask for more. Push them to give you three, four, or five options; ask for at least one more viable idea to level the playing field. Ask why they settled on offering just two. Don’t let them get away with trying to push their own agenda if there is a better option still available.

Again, this illustration is centered around asking your staff to do more than the bare minimum. Don’t let them assume something can’t be done. Don’t let them get away with listing reasons/excuses for why something isn’t possible. Ask them to go further and look at “how we can” options, even if they are a bit far-fetched. You never know when one of those ideas could fit perfectly.

So, confession time. Anyone else out there guilty of either jumping onto the “why we can’t” bandwagon? Or maybe some of you need to challenge your people with more “none of the above” choices? I’d love to hear some stories!

how to influence othersAKA: All Knowing but not All Powerful

There’s much to be said about influencing people at work. It’s part art, part science, and part random chance.

HR is like that. Our role is more subtle. We offer support to managers but never take over their roles (even if they ask you to). They are paid to manage people. Let them earn it. :-)

With great power comes great (responsibility) headaches

It can be frustrating to see the big picture and have no power to directly influence the outcome.

  • Bad employee? You can’t fire them yourself.
  • Poor manager? Good luck putting them on a corrective action plan.

But that doesn’t mean you are completely out of luck. A little influence can go a long way. And coupled with training, reinforcement, and good communication, you can overcome many of the problems that would otherwise be untouchable.

I talked with someone new to the profession recently and she was going through a tough time trying to define her role. She wanted to be in the thick of things, working closely with the managers she supported. While I understand and support the “in the trenches” viewpoint, I had to help remind her that she wasn’t the one responsible for doing the heavy lifting (performance feedback, discipline, terminations, etc.). That honor goes to the managers and leaders within the organization.

I’m not saying we don’t take a stand and fight for what needs to be done. I’m just saying that we might not always do that in a direct, observable manner. For those of you just getting started, don’t let that escape you. I was frustrated for a while until I realized that there were alternative routes to get to the results I was seeking.

One book I read and continue to reread is How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you haven’t read it, then you should grab a copy and take notes. It’s good stuff.

Do you have a way you like to secretly influence others at work? Any particular situations you wish you could change but don’t see a way how?