Have you ever wondered why some people seem to have more influence on how things turn out despite them often having no formal power? Maybe we're getting many things right, hitting all the high notes on personal, social, and structural motivation and ability, and yet we may not be working on the right things.
This is where the difference between power and status can help us understand better what's going on. Power and status are two major dimensions in social hierarchy. When we have no power, it is status that helps us be heard.
Because status is something we earn through respect and competence, only others can give it to us. Power gives us control over resources, and it's something we may be able to take based on that. But only focusing on power means we're missing the opportunity to develop status — and status helps us play the long game in relationships, and in life.
In relationships, when we have power but no status, we may use that power to retaliate by using that power to degrade others. This is the mechanism that locks bullies into a perpetual cycle of escalating consequences if not addressed.
When we're under the influence of raging emotions, we're not watching for our biases and assumptions creeping into our arguments and thinking. This prevents us from using reason to understand what is really going on. We may be too close to the dynamics and situation and seek comfort in all the wrong places.
This is why focusing on the issue is preferable to focusing on the people. Issues are more concrete, through evidence, they force us to look at specifics. To understand what is going on we want to gather information and look at data from more than one or two sources.
When we identify interests instead of sticking to positions we get to a better place in negotiations. In some cases we may be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is to find common ground. We may even get more of what we really wanted because we were able to put our egos on hold just a little.
Status is preferable to power — because people confer it to us, it reminds us that we earn it through competence and integrity, even in our own esteem. There's a direct correlation between what we do consistently, our behavior, and our ability to keep doing better.
Power is having control over resources — we can leverage it for good, of course, but unless we remember about consequences, we're tempted to cut corners. Our biases and assumptions create blind spots, even as we may have the best intentions.
Our values help us make choices every day, all the day long. But there's something else at play to sway us, and that is incentives. Some incentives are sneaky, they blind us to the unintended consequences of our decisions. We may rationalize afterwards, tell ourselves it's all good when we don't see evidence to the contrary.
The results of our thinking, words, and actions compound over time. Which means we may not see immediate evidence that something we decided or did will have catastrophic consequences for us and/or others. This is where history and our gut feeling can teach us a thing or two.
The long game
We call it that way because it's well into the future. It's very hard to see that far because 1./ we've gotten used to instant gratification, technology and digital tools make things very fast, and prompts to act very addictive; 2./ the system is rigged to have us pay attention to one expression of value, money.
In both cases, our attention is subject to manipulation. Attention is an expensive and thus scarce resource. It's expensive because it relies on willpower and rational energy. Our survival instinct, which is more primal, is now primed constantly by external distractions.
They are the makings of the perfect storm. Because in the current economic context, trying to predict what will happen long term is near impossible. But we do know that influence compounds. In good and in bad, the many little decisions and actions we take every moment create habits. Habits of thought are the most dangerous.
Consequences don't care if they were intended or unintended, they happen anyway. It's up to us to know how to value and understand, even when we are unable to predict. Here's an example to help illustrate the value of customer service over papering over promises. It works even with airlines, which enjoy near monopoly status in America and many parts of the world.
Airlines are getting away with doing less for more. They charge more for services that used to be included — things like food, luggage, even seats and ability to have a carry on. They do less of the services they used to provide — like answering the phone, finding a booking on their system, answering questions. Bonus points for being courteous to passengers.
We all have war stories. Two of the more egregious issues that made headlines recently involved the incident on United and the British Airways power outage. United generated a lot of the wrong kind of attention and now the video of the bloody passenger being dragged from a flight is on Wikipedia.
The British Airways outage wreaked havoc for 600 flights at the beginning of the busy late spring into summer travel season. Apparently the back up booking system failed. Cost cutting may well have been a reason. Having worked in the IT infrastructure services business for several years, I'm intimately familiar with the costs of ensuring systems stay up and have a strong backup. Because it costs more to recover, especially when there's no operational slack.
In the specific case of the British Airways outage, damages for rebooking and compensating customers is estimated at more than $112 million. Some passengers may choose to fly other airlines in the future, buy only when cheap or discounted moving forward. Hard to tally those costs today.
United has had several incidents over the years. As for the United breaks guitars in 2008, this case generated a lot of negative comments and prognostications in social media. Yet, Gartner analyst Augie Ray points out that there was little to no impact to the company stock.
Some people claim United’s stock decreased in the days after April’s incident went viral, and they’re correct–but stocks move on a daily basis for all sorts of complicated reasons, and within a couple of weeks, United’s stock was trading no better or worse than its competitors. There is no indication this incident hurt the airline’s stock price, and even if it did alter the price for a few days, executives don’t worry about or base decisions on daily fluctuations of stock value. The same was true in 2008 when pundits claimed the viral video would damage United’s business, but in reality, the company’s stock outperformed the competition following that PR incident.
Nor is there evidence of a significant change in flyer preference or purchase behavior.
British Airways was hit financially by the unintended consequences of cutting costs in one lump sum. It's easier to get our head around that figure. Many of the inconveniences and war stories by customers don't have the same impact on the airline's behavior and decisions. But there's there and they accumulate.
United will not know that many avoid flying with them even as the choices of carriers are meager and create inconveniences. Perhaps we're forced to fly with them and try to minimize our risk by not checking in bags, not buying meals on board, and staying vigilant.
It's difficult to tally loss of opportunity or upside. Which is why it's dangerous to just look at the money.
In The Compound Effect entrepreneur and Success magazine publisher and editor Darren Hardy defines compound effect as the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices, behaviors, and habits. We earn success a little bit a time, in the moment to moment decisions that in themselves make no visible difference whatsoever, but the accumulated compounding effect is profound.
Understanding that the effects of small actions build over time helps us do something we may have struggled for years — to start. Whether we want to be healthier or pick a more diverse panel of speakers at conferences, we can make big changes with small steps.
When we convert everything into money, we miss or we pay lip service to all the other values. But they continue to compound through intended and unintended consequences to the point when they have impact on what we're measuring. By then, it may be too late, as in too expensive (likely) to fix.
We don't see because we focus on the wrong things. Most if not all businesses focus only on money. It's good to be solvent, but going after it for the sake of more alone leads to complications. Public businesses focus on their stock valuations. Which is why they don't see much else.
In the stock market there are no promises except for the offer to buy a share, and acceptance to sell a share. The corporation is a third party to the conversation and it's expected to warrant that the price was fair. In fact, the market transaction gives back to the corporation very little value in return — corporations sail on the wind of trade and not on the ebb and flow of sentimental share prices.
Which is why this is a problem for United and companies like it that focus too much on share price and too little on delivering actual value. Because it is the value they deliver that allows them to get value in exchange.
Forced lock in by monopolies and regulatory environments is why decline takes so long — but it does happen. Companies don't last as long as they used to today. Risk increases dissonance. Brand dissonance costs capital — social, intellectual, and so on.
We can learn from biology — there's some inertia. In the market it's built in, but eventually if we keep gorging on junk behavior, we do get problems. The less we address them, the more they compound... until we're in serious trouble.
Before we can change entire organizations, we need to affect how people behave at individual level. To compound influence we want to:
1. Find the right things to focus on and measure — there are good measures and bad measures. A useful measure would tell us how we're doing with the real target we want to change, it drives behavior. Do the right work on the right things.
2. Find the vital behaviors — we must focus on the high-leverage behaviors that drive results. In the service business, and all business is service, we want to remain observant and notice things. This helps us correct issues when the cost is small, too.
3. Find the key habits — to stack the odds in our favor, we need to identify the personal, social, and structural forces that are shaping the behaviors we want to change, and enroll them. This is where we work with the substance of influence by affecting motivation and creating ability, the skill and understanding necessary to act appropriately.
Understanding how we create influence helps us downstream on learning how to connect with it. Because we're operating on universal principles, we have the added bonus that we tap into natural veins of human motivation.