I used to think that culture change could be successfully driven from the top.  But years of experience have taught me that no change really happens until you get mid-management to change their mindset and give them new skills to succeed in executing a new strategy. This “change from the middle” is not optional.  Without it culture change will fail.  Therefore investing in the professional growth of middle managers, especially women, is essential for leaders who want to compete in a disruptive world.

Are you open to my evidence?  Are you interested in my experience doing this?

Would you like to know what the “magic bullets” of culture change from the middle are?  If you are interested, I have just opened your mind by using the “humble hammer.”

When I was young I thought I could convince people to change their minds by presenting logical facts and solid evidence.  I thought CEOs could change culture through an inspiring communications plan. But, after a great deal of frustration, I found that people resisted change if they didn’t believe they could individually be successful in the new culture. I had been working on the wrong issue. I thought that if people understood the need to change, they would.  I was shocked to find that people would consistently choose the psychological comfort of the status quo even if it were leading to failure if they doubted their own ability to do the new things required for success. What I discovered was simple.  When you ask people to change their priorities you need to teach them the new skills required to be successful at acting on those priorities. You can’t expect people to effectively collaborate who haven’t had to collaborate without teaching them how to collaborate.  Simply insisting that we are “one company, one team” doesn’t change anyone’s mind or actions.

I had to fail before I woke up to the fact that reason, logic, facts, and insistence alone are ineffective for changing people’s minds.  A closed mind keeps its opinions in a vault. I found out the hard way that talking to a vault is useless if you want to open it.  In my work with helping leaders become more effective and persuasive I dove deeply into the research on influence, and language in brain responses.  I discovered this is not a new subject.  The Greeks invented the discipline of rhetoric to teach orators to be persuasive. But today we know so much more about the science of persuasion.

Over the past decade brain researchers began looking at real-time neurological responses to language to see what kind of words and logic trigger our inner defenses and which kind open our minds to new ideas and decisions.

Is there someone’s mind that you wish you could change?  If they don’t change their mind are you willing to live with the status quo? If not, I have something you just might want to try.

I have been using a simple sentence I call “The Humble Hammer” throughout this blog to open your mind to try it.  I teach it and other Jedi mind tricks in a workshop called Words Matter that is designed to give people in low power positions, high power influence. (Women find these tools especially effective, but anyone who has little authority but great responsibility find these power tools invaluable.)

Here’s how The Humble Hammer works.

The key is to keep the listener calm and avoid triggering his/hers defensive response. Remember, anytime you were trying to change someone’s mind from a currently held belief it’s like sneaking into a house with a burglary defense system of motion detectors and laser beams.  The words that circumvent the mental defense system are  “I used to think…” what you’re saying here is that you understand that listener is a reasonable person and in fact you once believed exactly what they believed until you had new experiences, looked at new research, received new information or any other evidence that supports your new, more enlightened point of view.

The next keyword is the power word BUT. 

But is known as the pivot word. It tells the brain to focus all its attention on what you’re about to say next.  (Some people confuse the use of the word BUT with another persuasion technique called “Melting the Iceberg” which uses the word AND. I use the word AND to communicate two big ideas that are normally considered in opposition.  For instance I combine the value of sustainability AND abundance in the single ideal of sustainable abundance for all.  This creates a vision that nobody can be against.  No reasonable person should oppose a future of sustainable abundance.) In the Humble Hammer I use the term BUT to get and hold people’s attention for the experiences or fact that have changed my mind. Remember I’m not asking them to change their mind, yet. I am simply explaining that I thought what you thought until I had a new experience or discovered new information.

When you get your listeners attention and interest, you present your case with recommended action. The action you recommend should always be the easiest action to say yes to, so you can engage the listener in the solution as you move forward.

For instance, when I am pitching a CEO about the need for culture change I always suggest that I get some first-hand data from focus groups from their middle management. The result is a burning platform for change. That’s an easy yes.

When I recently went surfing with my young grandson I wanted to paddle out into some bigger waves than he was used to. I said. “ I used to think that waves this big were pretty scary.  In fact, they would make me very tense. BUT over the years I’ve come to love surfing bigger waves because it’s the one action sport where you have soft landings in water instead of hard landings on concrete or snow. You get the thrill without the risk. So now I find bigger waves just exciting instead of scary. Let’s go out and just catch one wave and see how you feel after that.” We had a blast.

It’s that simple.

You can put the Humble Hammer in your own words as long as you use the formula:

  1. What you used to believe to be true.
  2. What you know to be true now based on your experience.
  3. Recommend low-risk immediate action to get data that will convince the decider to fully align with your new recommendation.

Here are two variations:

I used to think___________________________. BUT as I have learned from experience a more effective approach is to____________________ and therefore I recommend we ________________.

When we started I thought _____________________, but as new facts have emerged it has become clear we must now consider__________________  and therefore I strongly recommend we _________________________!

The greatest power a person can have is the power to open a closed mind.

Try the Humble Hammer today and see what happens.

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