In traditional hierarchical, command-and-control organizations, individuals were often able to rely on their positional power and formal authority to pressure others into doing what they needed, regardless of the others’ point of view or will. As organizations have become flatter and more matrixed, leaders across all levels of the organization must find others ways to influence and motivate their colleagues.
The phrase Influencing Without Authority is somewhat of a hot button in today’s business world. Being able to influence others without formal authority is a challenge that people see as the crux of many of their day-to-day frustrations. In matrix organizations, employees are often inundated with competing goals, deadlines, and battles for resources. It’s easy to get lost in this chaos and forget that everyone is ultimately working toward a common definition of organizational success. Follow the five tips below to jumpstart the process of becoming an effective influencer.
1: Bank Social Currency. To become a great influencer, you need to start before you get into a situation where you need to influence someone else. We refer to this as “Laying the Groundwork.” You should be setting yourself up for success every day by forming trusting relationships with colleagues, building your credibility within the organization, and developing and nurturing your network.
Don’t wait until you need something to begin connecting with others. You should reach out to help people and accept their requests to provide support on an ongoing basis. You can think of this as banking social currency.
In an informal survey taken by BlessingWhite, three-quarters of respondents said that they would be more likely to do something for someone else if he/she had done something for them in the past.
2: Do Your Homework. While you may be caught off guard at times, influencing is not something that should happen spontaneously or “on the fly.” Every situation is different — there are unique contextual factors to consider such as budget, timelines, organizational politics, constraints, historical implications, external market pressures, technology, competitors, etc.
Each of these factors can impact the approach that you take when planning for an influencing conversation. For example, if you know your department’s budget is stretched thin but you still try to convince your manager to invest in a new idea without acknowledging or considering the budget, chances are that you will be turned down before you finish your argument. Thinking through each part of the context can help you formulate your point of view and the key points that you want to touch on.
As you consider these situational factors you must also remember that you’re trying to influence other humans, each with their own perspective and approach. Every individual with whom you interact has individual goals related to his/her department or project assignments, individual preferences, needs, pet peeves, and motivators. This leads us to our third tip.
3: Follow the Platinum Rule. Since the beginning of time the “golden rule” seemed to be the mantra for living a noble life — treat others as you would want to be treated. If you prefer kindness, integrity and respect, give the same to others.
While this may ring true for more ethical, moral types of situations, when it comes to influencing it can actually be detrimental. George Bernard Shaw has been quoted as saying: “Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” George was onto something. The golden rule neglects to take into account people’s uniqueness in terms of innate needs and preferences, as well as the specifics of the situation and context.
Over time, the golden rule has morphed into the platinum rule, which asserts that we should treat others as they’d want to be treated — we’ll have greater success when we meet people where they are versus where we want them to be. This new rule has a couple of implications for influencing. First, you need to make sure that you’re communicating your thoughts, ideas, and perspectives in a way that meets the communication preferences of your audience. Ask yourself the following questions before planning your influencing approach:
Does my audience prefer a high-level overview or the details? Do they prefer formal or informal interactions? Do they prefer face-to-face communication or electronic? Do they need lots of context or do they prefer I get to the point? Do they require a lot of supporting data or do they want to hear the highlights?
By presenting information in a way that resonates with those you’re trying to influence you will set yourself up for success, as well as save yourself time and re-work in the long-term from having to reorganize or reframe your ideas.
Second, the platinum rule encourages us to think of how to position our ideas in a way that shows how they meet others’ needs. That takes us to Tip 4.
4: Target the Benefits Bullseye. Whenever you’re trying to obtain buy-in for something, it’s best to position it in a way that shows how it is of benefit. BlessingWhite leverages a model called the Benefits Bullseye, which encourages individuals to think of a range of benefits for any idea, assignment, or initiative.
Articulate how your idea benefits the customer, the broader organization, a specific team or department, and the individual with whom you’re talking. Depending on your audience, they may be more persuaded by hearing the benefits at particular levels.
For example, your CEO or president might be most interested in hearing the organizational and customer benefits. The head of your department might want to hear how your idea will improve the department or make it more successful in some way. The VP of marketing will likely want to focus on how it impacts the customer.
There is no question that when you can communicate how your idea will benefit the specific individual with whom you’re talking, your level of influence will increase. These benefits to the individual fall at the center of the model — in the bullseye. Many refer to this bullseye as the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).
5: Tie it Back to the Business. Finally, whenever you can, link your influencing goals back to the business. Individuals have an innate need for significance and being involved in meaningful work. BlessingWhite’s ongoing career research demonstrates that “meaningful work” — by which we mean the impact our work has on others or society at large — is one of the top three factors people look for in their careers.
Individuals will be more likely to buy-in when they see the impact that your idea or the assigned responsibility will have on the ongoing success of the organization. After all, if they are employees of the same organization they have a vested interest in ensuring its success.
By following the five tips above, you will set yourself up for success in influencing situations. Not only will you be able to drive ideas, initiatives, and points of view forward, but you’ll do so in a way that’s collaborative and inclusive, creating an empowered, engaged workforce.
Julie High is a consultant and instructional designer with BlessingWhite. She holds an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a BA in psychology and business administration from Muhlenberg College.
For more information on how BlessingWhite can help your organization, call 800-222-1349 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.