Friday, May 1, 2015

Increasing Your Sphere of Influence

Influencing change is as much about (if not more) selling yourself as it is about selling an idea.  But to be heard, people have to be listening.  This is why building up your credibility within the organization is critical.  Doing this takes time and dedication, but eventually you will find it is easier to influence changes in your organization.

Building Relationships

Really what we're talking about here is building and strengthening relationships.  You need to invest in relationships whenever possible, which should be all the time.  Consider this as an example:

You have a conversation with a person and it goes well.  You've both agreed on a problem, discussed possible solutions, and decided on primary and maybe secondary solutions.  You both leave the conversation feeling like your ideas and suggestions were heard and taken into account when deciding on a solution.  After this conversation, your credibility with that person probably went up, and in turn, increased your sphere of influence.

In contrast, if the conversation was mostly one sided, and you decided on the solution without much input or consideration of the other person's ideas, your credibility likely dropped with this person.  Future interactions with this person may start off in a negative position based on past experience.

The rate at which you gain or lose credibility when interacting with a person depends on the significance of the conversation, the frequency of interaction with that person, and the overall feeling that the person leaves with.  Never let a conversation with a person end in a negative way.  If it ended poorly, try to make amends immediately.  Most often this can result in a positive experience even when the initial conversation didn't go all that well.

Here are some other ways to build relationships:

  • inviting others to eat lunch with you, never miss an opportunity by eating alone
  • establish a carpool, lots of time of previously unused time to bond
  • offer assistance with issues that aren't your responsibility, shows you care about more than your problems
  • attend/host team outings

Selling an Idea

The second part of influencing change is selling an idea.  In my experience, I've been most successful when I've showed someone why a solution was better.  Create a proof-of-concept and do a demo.   Here's one of my favorite quotes about influencing change:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” - Richard Buckminster Fuller

Another key point is to be collaborative when designing a new solution or solving a problem.  People are more receptive to change if they feel they've actively been a part of it.  This also provides an opportunity to look at the solution from new perspectives and identify potential issues.

When proposing change, keep in mind that you can't always win everyone over at once.  Work off of the 10/80/10 rule:

  1. Influence the 10% who are innovative and receptive to change first.  These people are already driving the company forward, so they are most likely open to new ideas.
  2. Next, with the support of the first 10% influence the middle 80%.  This group of people are open to new ideas, but are also comfortable with the way things are.  Show them why the new idea is better.
  3. After that success, there will be significant momentum and most of the remaining 10% (the naysayers) will be pulled into the fold.
A warning though, don't discount what the last 10% has to offer.  This group will often have unique ideas into why a new system won't work.  Don't assume that these people are being stubborn and that their position is wrong.  Remember, when planning for change, think ahead of the possible reasons not to change and think about how to handle these reasons.

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