Acknowledgement Makes Change – The Power of Influence

A number of my clients ask if I have any suggestions about how to help people change that are just pretty rigid. I always point them to the same resource, a book called, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. It offers a powerful model on how to impact change on a personal, team, organizational group level that is both proven and intuitive.

Let me walk you briefly through the model and hopefully, you’ll find some insights about how you can impact some of the challenges you’re facing in your personal or professional life.

And you won’t be surprised it’s a recognition example! Let’s jump in…

Motivation and Ability

No matter at what level we are trying to impact change, we have to impact it on two levels. One is motivation and the other is ability. When we’re motivated and we’re able, then we can make a change. However, there are different ways we will need to target motivation and ability depending on the level of change: at the individual, team or structural/organizational level.

When it comes to personal change, for example, I was working with a team of individuals, that were incredibly stressed. In fact, we write about it in chapter four of our book. This team was having a difficult time seeing anything good about each other. They felt hopeless that anything could be done to improve the relationship on the team. They complained, were negative, and often took sick days instead of finding ways to improve their situation.

Influencing at Level #1: Individual Level

You can probably imagine that ability and motivation felt rather low with this group, and yet, on an individual level, what they started with was trying to impact their motivation to try again. Building motivation at an individual level, according to the model, is all about making the undesirable desirable. It was undesirable to recognize each other in the team; they felt frustrated, stressed, and undervalued by each other, colleagues and other departments. We also had to increase their ability to be able to recognize each other; in the model, this is about helping them surpass their limits. This team had lost faith that they even knew how to be positive about their situation again.

So, what we started to do was offer them very small strategies that could be easily taught and understood in 5 minutes or less. Brief, fun and easy approaches to acknowledging themselves and each other. How to give and receive feedback and to make suggestions so that people could hear them. The outcome was, all of a sudden, those things that were undesirable, such as giving feedback or recognizing a colleague, felt desirable. They began to try with the people they trusted and branched out from there. They were able to surpass their limits and surprised themselves at how naturally they could appreciate people on a daily basis.

Influencing at Level #2: Team Level

As a team, this started to build an energy. That’s where again, when we look at the motivation for a team in this model, change happens by harnessing peer pressure. Healthy peer pressure that is!  As people are trying these new strategies, it got to a point more than 50% of the team was making an effort. Now the folks complaining or being negative was in the minority; negativity wasn’t quite so fun or easy any longer.

The other piece is the ability in which the team level is strength in numbers. We can achieve so much more as a team when there is a shared capacity and effort. When the majority appreciated each other and gave feedback, they made inroads in fixing longstanding problems and voicing issues they had been brushed aside. The group was able to start to make a change that not only felt better but made work more functional, productive and enjoyable too. That further built energy for change.

Influencing at Level #3: Systems Level

At a structural/systems level, when it comes to motivation, it’s designing a reward system and building in accountability to reinforce the desired behaviour and outcomes. What they decided to do was track, at their daily stand-up meetings, how many acknowledgments were received the day before. Accountability in this way became a very visible way of measuring progress; they realized that without acknowledgments on an ongoing basis, they were going to go right back to how they were before. So, on the days when recognition wasn’t happening, their energy level, their support, their passion, and commitment, was noticeably down. They wanted to try to maintain the momentum and debriefed the next day how today could be different. They noticed and monitored when the strategies they learned had and had not been put into practice so they could course correct quickly and often.

People would come up with their own acknowledgments for others, such as: ‘Most Supportive Colleague of the Week,’ or, ‘Most Creative Supportive Comment When a Client was Yelling at Them on the Phone.’ You know, fun ways to be able to acknowledge themselves and each other.

When it comes to ability at a structural level, consider a change in the environment. The team began physically tracking it, but also, they started to use bulletin boards and whiteboards around the department as spaces to acknowledge each other, even when they couldn’t speak with each other in the moment. Or to acknowledge the shift before, or the shift coming in when they wouldn’t even necessarily be seeing each other or making eye contact. In other words, by harnessing and building motivation and ability at an individual team and group level to change some actual structures, this team went from being the least satisfied in the entire organization to the second most satisfied team in only two years.

That was how we were able to build a recognition culture where people willingly gave each other feedback by harnessing some pretty simple influencer strategies.

What other suggestions have you had that have successfully worked that have been able to change very difficult behaviour at any of those levels? Please feel free to comment on it. I’d love to share your ideas!

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
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Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
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Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

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