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Mastering the art of influence

Apr 07, 2019

Just because you're not at the top of your organisation doesn't mean you can't indirectly influence people with the aim of getting the job done. Louise Molloy explains how you can influence those around you and further your career.

In this complex, fast-moving time, we often need to work with a variety of teams to deliver on organisational strategy. We can feel like cogs in a giant machine, reacting to never-ending demands. Traditional expert skills are valued but, increasingly, the ability to work with others with whom you have no direct line relationship is the key to getting anything done. Influencing without control, or lateral leadership, is how you can make that happen. The following can help, not only to indirectly influence, but also allow people to see you as someone who excels at lateral leadership.

Understand your organisational landscape

  • Confirm the power sources: Forget the organisation chart and everything you ‘know' about who's powerful. What are your strategic priorities? To deliver these, where does the power sit and why is it with that person? Then look at the organisation chart to figure out whose help you really need to get the job done.

  • Build networks now: Educate everyone on your team’s priorities and capabilities. Share information; make introductions; ‘catch up’ with colleagues across all functions. Use light touches to keep the lines open – then when you need to work with these groups, you’ll be confident when engaging.

  • Be curious: Find out others’ priorities and challenges. The more you understand, the more you can work together as issues arise.

  • Build an ‘evidence’ bank: Make the value of your team tangible. Data of this sort, while often known, is rarely collected in one place or systematically, so cannot be holistically considered. Aim to catch ‘soft’ information as you go and make it easy for others to understand. Mine the data; share insights.

  • Reframe politics: In a fair world, we would get the support we need, when we need it, to get the job done. In the real world, people have the problem of only being able to back so many horses. Understand that often, senior support (or lack of it) is not about you but something more pressing in your environment.

Navigating your landscape

  • Create powerful soundbites: Creating a powerful soundbite makes it easy for senior executives to understand your cause, own it and represent it to their bosses. They’ll love you for it. For example:

    “By redefining this process, we can:
    a. knock 10% off turnaround times (better customer experience);
    b. save 10% cost (better for the budget); and
    c. upskill staff in sales, finance and completions (better for staff retention; career development etc.).
    The teams came up with this themselves. It’s a great example of in-house innovation and cross-functional collaboration that our CEO has been talking about.”

  • Numbers talk and travel: Challenge yourself to present the ‘evidence’ you have collected in a relatable way. For example: “Our team processed 52 different requests in the month, eight of which were largely for the same information in different formats from three different departments. There's an opportunity here to streamline how we, as a group, can meet these requirements" This makes it easy for others to agree to support you.

  • Become a silence master: Learn to be quiet when it’s needed, and you will be considered steady and insightful. Why? Because people like to discover things for themselves. Allow them to ‘own’ your issue; by providing insight. This also prevents you from being seen to lack impartiality and helps you avoid being baited. Sometimes, it's best just to let a statement hang. Finally, breaking the silence with "How do we move forward?” or “What are we going to do?” can re-energise a discussion.

  • Create more choice: Sometimes it’s not possible to achieve what you need, so keep the door open for others to reconsider their position later. For example, you could recommend revisiting your proposal after year-end.

  • Why/what/how: When selling your cause, sell the why (reason and the benefit if achieve) and the what (so that the goal is evident) but also underline the opportunity to define the how (reminding others of their power, ability to influence and opportunity to be seen contributing to an important initiative).

  • Reward supporters: Give back to the people who helped you along the way with advocacy, information, profiling and networks. All constructive feedback should be about the work, not the person.

Influencing is an art and a science. It’s not magic. With just a little bit of foreplanning and clear thinking, you can frame your messages so that the right people hear them in the best way. By doing this, you find that people at all levels will be interested in what you’re pitching. Go on, flex your influencing muscles. At a minimum, you'll strengthen your profile and network, and you never know where else it will lead!

Louise Molloy is a Director at Luminosity Consulting & Coaching.