Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to gain influence in an organization

Do they look to you?
Everyone competes for power and influence, but only some achieve it. How do they do it? For sure they don't approach it haphazardly.

Three professors who studied chief risk officers at two banks for five years discovered patterns of behavior that are instructive for the rest of us, whether we're on the inside as employees or on the outside as consultants.

The researchers are Anette Mikes, assistant professor at Harvard Business School; Matthew Hall, reader at the London School of Economics; and Yuval Millo, at the University of Leicester.

Effective influencers, they found, do four things:

Trailblazing. They find new opportunities to use their expertise. They cast a wide net to identify and frame issues that top management is not adequately addressing. This gives them a great advantage in the internal competition for key decision makers’ attention. At one of the banks the CRO made a habit of spending one day a week talking to staff deep in the organization, and her team members followed suit.

Toolmaking. The develop and deploy tools that embody and spread their expertise. One CRO came up with tools such as a quarterly risk report, which was presented to the board. Toolmaking was her opportunistic response to a perceived issue that warranted further discussion. For example, noticing that the quarterly risk report was prompting forward-looking questions from the board, her group decided to introduce formal future-oriented reporting practices, which in turn led to more new tools: scenario planning templates and early-warning indicators.

Team building. They use personal interaction to take in others’ expertise and convince people of the relevance of their own. Executives who use toolmaking need to enroll supporters and users. One approach is to co-opt people into collaborating on the creation of the tools, seeking their feedback and incorporating it into the design. One risk management group, for example, gave divisional managers early versions of the scenario planning templates. The managers could then discuss them with their senior staff, provide feedback, and see their own influence on the final templates.

Translating. They help decision makers understand complex content. To remain influential, experts need to help others use their tools and interpret the results. Although the quarterly report of one risk management group produced contained output from complex risk models, the CRO took great care to keep it free of technical jargon. For example, the first three or four pages were dedicated to a self-evident “traffic light” representation of risks. They also worked alongside board members and business managers as they considered the tools and their outputs. 

If they fit the organization's strategy and structure, and if the top leadership can be won over, and if the would-be influencer remains flexible, there seems to be little downside in using these tactics.

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