Archives For EDLD 5304

Knowing Your Why?

August 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

In the Influencer: New Science of Leading change, Joseph Grenny (2013) and his colleagues point to the example of how the eradication of the Guinea worm was accomplished through three vital behaviors and the supporting six sources of influence. The Guinea worm is a parasite that infected 3 million people in 23,000 remote villages in 20 countries. The Guinea worm was spread through the water supply for all these villagers. Once the Guinea larva was ingested a Guinea worm would hatch out of the larva and start to work its way out of the host’s body in whatever way it chose. This caused immense pain that was temporarily lessened when the infected person immersed themselves in water. The worm would then inject thousands of eggs into the water perpetuating a cycle that had lasted for thousands of years.

The goal of Dr. Hopkins from the Carter center was to stop the spread of the Guinea worm and ultimately eradicate the this blight on humanity. For the sake of using this example in EDLD 5304 this goal would be referred to as the result.

Three vital behaviors were identified that would prove to lead to the near eradication of the disease:

  1. People were required to filter their water.
  2. An infected person must not make contact with the public water supply.
  3. If a villager is not filtering water or becomes infected the villagers must confront them.

The Introductory section of Part 2 of the the book (pages 67-75 in the paperback version) offers a wonderful summary of the whole Guinea worm scenario and also provides a detailed explanation on how the six sources of influence came into play in helping to change behavior that ultimately lead the eradication of the Guinea worm.

This is a very helpful example to use in assessing your Guinea worm (your situation) and identifying:

  • Results you want to achieve and how you will measure them.
  • Vital behavior(s) you are trying to change.
  • Who are you organizational influencers.

Using this section of the book and the six sources of influence matrix from the 10x Your Influence Research Report should put you on the right path to building your own influencer strategy. So what’s your Guinea worm and what are you going to do about it?

View the status of the eradication of the Guinea Worm –


Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Professional.

Without being crystal clear about the results you wish to achieve and being zealous about measuring them you will not be able to identify the vital behaviors that are crucial to your change initiative. To be successful you must avoid three common mistakes:

  1. Fuzzy, un-compelling goals – the lack of clarity or a vague sense of what you want to achieve (Help students be successful…, Build the team…)
  2. Infrequent or no measure – if you don’t measure your progress you will not know if you are making any.
  3. Bad measures – measuring the wrong thing.

Focused and Measurable Goals

This is the point where where a lack of clarity will hinder your entire initiative. You must focus on measurable results you want to improve. Consider the following:

“I’d love to loose weight” vs.
“I need to eat fewer calories than I burn” vs.
“I will loose 40 pounds and 20% body fat by September 1 of this year”.

The final statement, loosing “40 pounds and 20% body fat” by a certain date is clear, measurable and timely. Deadlines are another measure that contribute to success by helping to create a sense of urgency. A clearly defined goal with specific deadlines, milestones, or points of achievement can be measured and it also helps us measure the right things.

In our weight loss example stepping on the scale on a regular (daily) basis will let you know how well you are moving toward your goal. Weighing yourself daily is also one of a few vital behaviors that can lead to the results you want.

What are Vital Behaviors

Vital behaviors are repeatable high-leverage actions performed crucial moments that will lead to the results you want.

For example the following are very simple behaviors performed at crucial moments that can prevent serious problems.

  • A health care provider washes their hands upon entering a patients room.
  • A food preparation worker washes their hands after visiting the restroom and/or prior to handling food.
  • Sneezing or coughing into one’s elbow.
  • Washing hands often during cold and flu season.

This list affirms that vital behaviours are often obvious and underused. It is a mistake to underestimate or ignore these obvious vital behaviors. Several years ago, a doctor failed to wash his hands prior to the examination of the treatment of a planters wart on my foot and passed on a staff infection that almost caused the loss of my foot.  My eldest son is zealous about washing his hands during cold and flu season and he is seldom sick. The power of using vital behaviors is that you only have to use one or two and you can influence significant change.

Additional Examples of Vital Behaviors

Vital Behavior Examples

How to Find Vital Behaviors?

The influencer authors point to the following four vital behavior search strategies:

  1. Notice the Obvious – recognize behaviors that are obvious but underused.
  2. Look for Crucial Moments – time when behavior puts success at risk.
  3. Learn from Positive Deviants – look to those who live in the same world but produce positive results.
  4. Spot Culture Busters – behaviors that reverse stubborn cultural norms.

The One or Must action

Perhaps one the most effective ways to help identify a vital behavior is look at a Crucial Moment and ask –

If you could do only one thing what is that one action that you must do that would change everything and give you the result you desire?

It is important to remember that you are looking for the fewest behaviors or even that one thing that will lead to change. It is also important to recognize that not all behaviors are vital and there is a tendency to confuse behaviors with process, workflows or tasks. Depending on the context a process can include multiple steps and many behaviors. You are looking for that crucial moment, that one thing, that vital behavior.

If we go back to our example of loosing weight. Conventional wisdom dictates that you need to eat fewer calories then you burn. So eating less and exercising more would be the logical behaviors to change. But these are not focused enough and don’t really get at the key vital behavior that will bring about the weight loss.

Planning out meals the day before, keeping a food log, or simply writing down everything that you eats are examples of vital behaviors that will lead to eating less. Similarly, driving to the gym, getting on your treadmill/bike/trainer, or putting on your running gear are the vital behaviors that will lead to exercising more.

Testing your Vital Behaviors

Behaviors are actions not results or qualities. You can test whether you identified vital behaviors by asking:

  1. Can you go and “do it”?
  2. Do these actions stop self-defeating and escalating behaviors?
  3. Do these actions start a reaction that leads to good results?
  4. What particular value is being lived?

Also keep in mind that there is also a tendency to confuse goals or outcomes with behaviors, especially if your goal or outcomes are action oriented. If it isn’t actionable, it isn’t a behavior. If you can’t go and “do it”, it’s not a behavior.


Patterson, K., & Grenny, J. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change, Second Edition. McGraw-Hill Education.

Meier, J. D. (n.d.). Vital Behaviors [Blog]. Retrieved from