Sitting in my home office, working on some training materials, I noticed a book on my shelf. The book was Dr. Robert Cialdini's Influence. I had read Influence in a college consumer behavior course as a reference for the psychology behind consumer purchasing decisions. There is a very strong relevance between the principles in the book and gaining buy-in when managing change.

According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, there are six principles of influence. There is a significant advantage in leveraging these principles in change management initiatives because they can help ensure getting the buy-in necessary to support the change.

The Six Principles of Influence:


The principle of reciprocity can be simply stated that people feel an obligation to repay favors. A prime example of this principle is seen when you receive a package in the mail that includes a book of free address labels with your name and address on them. Included in the package is an envelope pre-addressed to the giver of the gift. This is a common strategy used by non-profits to get donations. They are not simply counting on people's good will, but are also using the principle of reciprocity.

One example of reciprocity in change management is giving your time to people working through a problem during a difficult transition. In the workplace, most people recognize that time is valuable. When you give your time to people in helping them work through a problem, they are much more likely to give you their time and support when you need it.

Commitment and Consistency

The principle of commitment and consistency refers to the fact that people by nature are both more likely to follow through when they have shown an act of commitment and are likely to continue in a consistent behavior. The value of a commitment increases when it can be publicly viewed. Public sign-up sheets are a way to gain public commitment. As an action is completed, people are likely to continue the activity as it reinforces their original commitment.

When getting resources on the team to agree to a task, it is helpful to put their name by the task in the meeting minutes and distribute to the team afterwards. Their commitment has been made public both verbally and in documentation. They are now much more likely to complete the task, than if they just verbally committed in private, or over email.

Social Proof

When people are on the fence about a decision, they look to others that have been faced with the same decision. People tend to sway in the direction of others, and their actions are validated as others act in a like manner. Attendees of a comedy show are likely to laugh when others are also laughing, hence the use of canned laughter. The value of social proof is increased when those exhibiting the behavior are relatable.

While this principle is fairly simple, it has strategic benefits in change management. When gaining initial buy-in, it is necessary to gain buy-in from a cross-section of the stakeholders. Stakeholders will look towards the decisions of others in similar roles if they are on the fence about the change.


People are more likely to do something when they are asked by people that they like. Typically, when you go to a party where a friend is hosting a sales presentation of some kind, you are more likely to purchase the product for a variety of reasons, but one of them is because the purchase will benefit someone that you like. Additionally, people are more drawn to people that compliment them and show a mutual liking.

Change is best managed with a sympathetic mind for those undergoing change. It is good to show compassion and compliment them on the activities that they are doing to help with the initiative. A liked and respected change agent will be more successful at implementing the change.


People will do extraordinary things, for good or bad, when directed by a figure of authority. Titles, appearance, and presence all contribute to the perception of authority. When determining the person of authority, it isn't always the person with the title, but the person with the most control over the actions of others.

Supportive sponsors are a key component of successful change management. In addition to the sponsor are stakeholders with a high degree of influence over others. These stakeholders must be given additional attention, because their support as a figure of authority is critical to project success.


The thought of a decrease in the number of items or opportunities in influencing people is represented by the term: Scarcity. When there is a fear of missing out, people are more likely to want the item. Retailers use the strategy often when advertising, "Limited supply."

In change management, rewards and recognition can be seen as a "limited supply" item. The first to adopt the change will be rewarded, but the seats in the first training course are limited.