Your Best Friend/Worst Enemy: Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can make or break any learning program. Here's how to meet its challenges.

By Brent Filson - 11/2007

You develop and disseminate a crackerjack training program.  On paper, at least, it exceeds the expectations of your executives.  Your boss his happy.  Your clients are happy.  And then ... it all goes somehow haywire. 
This beautiful,  results-oriented program flips into a ditch out in the field.  Despite its high-level sponsorship, few people want to put it into action, and those who try do so half-heartedly or quickly stop.  What happened? 
The program may have encountered what I call PPV, the Peer Pressure Virus.  Found in all organizations, PPV describes the physical/ intellectual/moral force exerted by a peer group to have its members conform to specific attitudes and behaviors. 
Peer pressure takes on the qualities of a virus when it invades the body of your organization and lives off it to further its own existence.  Like a virus, it’s easily transmitted through person-to-person contact; and once it starts replicating, it’s tough to control, let alone eliminate.  
Even though the PPV can make or break any training program, few learning leaders know what to do about it. 
Here’s how you can prevent PPV from infecting the your organization at the “cellular” level, or once there,  how you can control it and ultimately defeat it.
First, understand that peer pressure will always impact your programs.  You don’t have to determine IF it exists but HOW it exists. 
From your organization’s perspective, there are only two kinds of peer pressure, good peer pressure and bad peer pressure.  Good peer pressure promotes the aims of your organization.  Bad peer pressure, of course, thwarts those aims. So, peer pressure can be your best friend or worst enemy.
Second, you must act.  Doing nothing about peer pressure is not an option.  Whether it is positive or negative peer pressure, you must deal with it with a specific intention so that the effect you can have on it is certain.
When you leave it alone or ignore it or deal with it vaguely, the result will be correspondingly vague – and ineffective.  It’s the difference between gazing at a target and shooting an arrow directly into the bulls-eye.

Here’s a powerful tool to analyze the power and scope of peer pressure facing you.
Third, you yourself cannot compel negative peer pressure to be changed or eliminated.  Only the people involved in it can do so.  It’s their choice, their free choice.  Your job is to create the conditions in which they make that choice.
Go here for a process that will help you create those conditions.   
Fourth, only peers can change peer pressure.   And they will only do so when their interests are at stake.  So you need peers who are your “cause leaders” to make the changes you want happen. 
And the best way to get cause leaders is through Leadership Talks.
Fifth, monitor and evaluate the progress of your cause leaders.  Changing peer pressure is an on-going task.  Do that through the Leadership Contract. 
Though viruses can be deadly, they can also be beneficial.  In therapeutics today, viruses are being used as tools – such as gene-to-gene transplantation vectors -- to cure some of humanity’s most feared diseases. 
The PPV can be deadly too.  It can cripple or ruin your best training programs.  But you can also use it as a tool to get great results by reinforcing and supporting good peer pressure and by diverting or eliminating bad peer pressure. 
And the difference between whether good or bad peer pressure influences your organization could very well be you, the learning leader.

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Brent Filson
Brent Filson