As business leaders, everything we do should focus on setting our organizations up to win. But we can’t do it all ourselves. Which means we also need to get our employees obsessive and relentless about winning – a task much easier said than done.
If you’re struggling to build a winning attitude in your organization, I have some encouraging news. Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.
Not some of the time, but always. Which has huge implications for business leaders trying to shape attitudes and opinions in their organizations.
According to the scientists, when the percentage of a population committed to a certain idea or opinion is less than 10 percent, that idea or opinion will spread very slowly, if at all. However, once that percentage climbs above 10 percent, the idea will spread like wildfire. As long as proponents of the idea hold firm to their belief, once they begin to talk about it, opinions about that belief will begin to gradually change and then at some point suddenly shift.
As an example, the scientists point to last year’s tumultuous events in Tunisia and Egypt, where dictators who held complete power for decades were toppled in just a few weeks.
Clearly, the uprisings benefited from the use of social networking tools, which made it easier to connect with others in the population. But the scientists assert that the type of network does not influence the 10 percent tipping point. As long as the percentage of committed opinion holders remains at 10 percent or higher, it will eventually become the majority opinion, regardless of how or where it got started or spread throughout the society.
For business leaders, this means we can leverage our efforts to build a winning culture by engaging informal thought leaders throughout the organization. And once we get that critical 10% to care as passionately about winning as we do, the majority of employees will soon adopt the same point of view.
How do you engage those thought leaders?
Start by sharing your compelling vision of what winning looks like for your organization. Not just how the company will win financially, but how it will improve the lives of customers, employees, and all key stakeholders. Talk about how you positively impact others and the world.
In meetings and in one-to-ones with direct reports, share why you feel so passionate about winning. What is it about where the company is going that gets you fired up to come into work every day? Ask employees what your vision of winning means to them. How does it motivate them to produce the results your organization needs? How does it impact the way they feel about how they earn a living?
To give people reasons to feel good about what the company does, share positive customer feedback. Relate stories of how your product or service solves problems for your customers or improves their lives.
Celebrate the achievement of milestones, both big and small. Nothing reinforces the positive aspects of winning like recognizing the progress and success people make along the way to the company’s goals.
During meetings, place visual cues around the room to remind people of the importance of winning. Eliminate language that supports outdated ideas and old ways of thinking (i.e., “good idea, but it will never work; we already tried that; the customer would never go for that…”).
Ask future, active, past tense questions to help people understand what winning looks like. For example, when we have won:
- What will we have achieved from a financial and market-share perspective?
- How will customers perceive our brand?
- How will our competitors view us?
- What will our workplace culture (attitudes, beliefs, values and operating principles) be like?
- What will be our greatest competitive advantage?
- What will we be doing to continually innovate to stay ahead of the game?
- How will working in this organization be even better than it is today?
Future, past tense questions open the brain to figuring out how to get it done versus what is getting in the way. When these questions focus on winning, it gets people thinking about playing to win rather than playing not to lose. It opens the brain to explore possibilities and alternative ways of achieving that we don’t even know we can ponder.
Ten percent is all it takes. If we can’t get one of out ten people to believe as passionately about winning as we do, then we either have a lousy vision of winning or else we’re in the wrong business!