If you view the world from the perspective of those you are attempting to influence, you are far more likely to succeed.
The ability to effectively influence others has long been recognised as a key attribute of successful workplace leaders. Indeed, in a recent survey conducted across the Chartered Quality Institute’s Next Generation Network, influencing was identified as one of the skill areas that respondents felt they would benefit most from developing.
The network is made up of young professionals under the age of 35 and the respondents from this group ranked influencing skills highest in terms of value to their organisation – higher than decision-making, coaching and other leadership skills. Overall, influencing was one of the areas they believed would make the biggest difference in their jobs and, as logic dictates, the area where they would invest most time in terms of developing skills.
Why is it then, that if we know the ability to influence is so critical, few of us invest the time and effort to develop our capability to do it more effectively? Why do so many leaders demand compliance from their people, rather than engagement when it comes to driving organisational change? The answer may lie in the fact that at face value it appears quicker, easier and requires less effort to do so. If my position in the company hierarchy or legislation and regulation support me, ‘Do it because I say so,’ is a far quicker message to deliver than helping the receiver truly understand why the change is taking place, the benefit of the change and the day-to-day impact on the individual. The problem is, that while the compliance approach may work in the short-term, if your longer-term aim is to drive engagement and buy-in, you are treading on dangerous ground.
Research tells us that about 70% of business change initiatives don’t work. Ultimately, they just don’t meet the aims, goals and objectives identified ahead of the change implementation. Why is that? Interestingly, the vast majority of these initiatives do not fail because the rationale for change is unsound, or because the quality of the solution is poor. They fail because those leading the change do not secure the engagement of the stakeholders impacted by and/or critical to implementing the change. Food for thought for quality professionals, for example, as they look to deliver system changes in the transition to the 2015 edition of ISO 9001 or 14001, or prepare for migration to ISO 45001.
Seeing it through their eyes
Influencing is a skill that can undoubtedly be developed. The starting point for any effective influencing strategy should be to view the world from the perspective of those you are attempting to influence. All too often during change initiatives, a disproportionate amount of time is spent on communicating WHAT the change is and not enough time on WHY it is taking place. As Simon Sinek explains in his best-selling Leadership book ‘Start With Why’, the Why tends to be far more compelling than the What.
Ask an aircraft mechanic to apply a new type of paint to a plane and they will do so, but explain WHY the change is required – and what results are expected – and they are far more likely to take care in the application. For example, by explaining the implications for performance and safety, they are likely to demonstrate greater buy-in and interest in the results. But that’s just the first step to persuasion – not everyone is so altruistic. Explaining how the mechanic will benefit may yield greater buy-in, for example, if the new paint requires only one coat or if improved results will enhance their career opportunities.
Understanding different motivations is crucial. When we’re attempting to influence others do we spend enough time focusing on the Why? Do we do as good a job as we could of securing engagement by helping the receiver recognise what’s in it for them, or the impact on their day-to-day role? Do we acknowledge that those benefits may vary for different stakeholder groups? Do we therefore craft and communicate our message accordingly? While those at board or director level may be heavily influenced by an initiative whose stated purpose is to increase shareholder value or improve competitive position in the market, would the same message equally engage a warehouse picker in the same business?
Nobody said that influencing was easy, but if we begin by seeing the map of the world from the receiver’s point of view, we’re far more likely to set ourselves up for success.
Dan Kleinman works as a consultant for Bywater, a leading provider of business improvement training. Bywater works closely with experts such as Dan and groups such as the CQI Next Generation Network to inform and develop training predominantly for auditors in management systems, covering a variety of international standards. In partnership they are offering a one day interactive Influencing Skills training course for anyone wishing to develop their influence, rather than authority. It builds the competence and confidence in the use of influence within the workplace.
Dan is managing director of Flame Learning & Development, which brings almost 20 years’ learning and development consultancy experience in corporate, commercial and public sector arenas, specialising in leadership development, sales effectiveness, team building and personal effectiveness.