Influence over control

If you are like most people, I bet you brushed your teeth this morning and you have a well-ingrained habit of brushing your pearly whites. If I asked you where you got that habit from you would probably say, your mother or father. You’d be right. Here’s a question for you. Where did they get the habit from? I mean, why are we all religiously brushing our teeth? The obvious answer is to avoid tooth decay. The man who is ultimately responsible for this habit is Claude Hopkins. Chances are you’ve never heard of him, that is unless you have studied advertising. Hopkins has influenced generations of people, not just in the USA, where he launched his campaign to change the habits of a nation, but his influence in this area has extended to the entire developed world. This is the power of influence over control.


The peppermint effect

Before Hopkins revolutionised dental hygiene, the teeth of the US troops were so bad it was listed as a threat to national security. It was such an issue there was concern regarding the soldiers being able to do their job. Moreover, the problem wasn’t isolated to the armed forces. It was indicative of the habits of the American population at large. Only 10% of the population brushed their teeth regularly, and tooth decay was rife. Initially, when asked to take on the campaign to influence the nation, Hopkins wasn’t interested, so he took some convincing. Hopkins identified a habit loop (cue, routine, reward) and exploited the irritation that using mint in toothpaste causes after brushing. Have you ever noticed how it feels once you run your tongue over your clean teeth? He used the “feeling” of cleanliness to install a new practice, and dental hygiene has never been the same.


Keystone habits

Hopkins used a habit loop to create what is known as a keystone habit. (This is written about extensively by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit). The keystone in an arch is the central stone which locks everything else together.  A keystone habit is one that is central to everything else and has the power to transform your life or your organisation. Not only because they correlate with other good habits, they can also start a chain reaction creating other positive results in multiple areas. These habits have the effect of magnifying their impact by creating structures and processes that support and cement change.


Compare this to control

To control is to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command. When you attempt to control something, a few things occur. Firstly, control is imposed and open to being resisted or rebelled against. Human beings need to be ‘heard’ and feel part of something and be valued for their contribution. In short, to buy-in, we need to weigh in. Buy-in cannot and will not happen if control is imposed from above. This is when you have people saying things like, “Well I never really agreed in the first place” and deliberately hold themselves apart or back. No ownership, no buy-in. The best you can hope for is compliance or thinly veiled defiance. Besides, it’s not smart; innovation is stifled under such circumstances. Your best asset, the collective skill and intelligence of the group/organisation, is squandered.


The value of an aligned culture

Keystone habits create structures and practices which in turn create a culture which dictates behaviour. In an environment where people are heard, mistakes are welcomed and values are agreed upon and aligned on, what you end up with is a culture that dictates the behaviour but not from above. Rather, what you have is peer to peer accountability where people are influencing each other in agreed-upon ways for the good of all and in service of a shared vision. Values are not just espoused but lived up to and into. Control is hierarchical, influence, on the other hand, creates a culture where behaviour is a way of life. Values become ingrained and natural and have the effect of creating benefits in unforeseen and unpredictable ways.  Staff turnover is lower, productivity is higher and so is engagement.

Harness the power of the habit loop, identify the desired behaviours and outcomes, create routines with the appropriate cue and reward the behaviour when you see it. Celebrate your people and put them front and centre. What is celebrated will blossom.  If you are having difficulties and want a hand, get in touch