As HR professionals and senior leaders, we often think on a macro scale when pondering the question “how do you change an organisation?” We’re often trying to change or implement things at an organisation level, or we’re helping managers create change at a department level or business sector level. And we’re often trying to do that with limited resources.
Any HR person or leader has a big challenge when trying to get each individual of a group to do what he or she wants. So, what’s the answer?
Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion talks about the principle of social proof which says that, if you don’t know exactly what to do, you rely on others around you to help you find the proper way to act.
It is quite possibly the greatest technique for persuading large numbers of people. And so it is well worth considering by HR and management.
You can put the principle of social proof into practice by influencing those who will be more easily persuaded first. By getting a few people to follow your lead and do what you want, other members of the group are more likely to follow your request.
You can think of social proof as a chain reaction. Your request is an explosion while the people you are trying to persuade are crates of explosives. The ones closest to the explosion (those more easily persuaded) are triggered (comply with your request) once you give an effective “explosion” using the principles of influence. The next ones who are a little further behind (less easily persuaded) are then triggered because of nearby explosions (witnessing other people comply with your requests). This process can go on until eventually, the most cold-hearted individual who completely refused to comply with your request at the beginning, starts thinking “everyone else is doing it so I must be wrong. I’ll do it as well.” The principle of social proof is extremely powerful and can eventually convert a defiant individual into agreement.
You can employ this principle in a number of ways:
- If you’re trying to persuade your organisation to implement a new process or initiative they are more likely to agree if they are first offered information about the success achieved by other organisations of a similar size and in a similar industry.
- If you’re trying to persuade managers to carry out a process, they are more likely to do so if they can see that their counterparts in other departments or geographies are following similar suggestions. People want to feel that they are part of an established community that already knows where it’s going.
- You can become more influential and persuasive on a personal level, not by using your own powers of persuasion, but by using the testimonials and recommendations of others that are similar to the people you are trying to influence.
Or if this is something you’re good at, what examples can you share of how you have benefited from social proof as a way of influencing and persuading others?