How To Be An Influencer

Many of us are not in the position to make decisions when it comes to whether or not to do a project, spend significant money or hire a firm you know could help the company.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for you to champion the project, idea, or company forward within the organization as an influencer. The role of influencer is often the most valuable if leveraged correctly. In this article we will explore some key components.

Not everyone can be the CFO or CIO, but those folks have so much responsibility that they have to rely on others to help them form an opinion and ultimately make a decision.  Many folks not at this level in their career, don’t really understand how to provide input to these folks and become a trusted advisor. Wherever you are in the organization it is possible to become a highly valued influencer or advisor.  If you don’t feel you have that position, hopefully this helps.

First step is blocking and tackling.  Hey, Unicorn, we are talking about business not football you say?  The basics, meaning you have to be doing your job right or managing your department right to be able to be an influencer.  If your own world is on fire, folks will want you to get that under control first, before they are interested in your ideas about strategy, growth or next steps.

Next comes awareness.  Where are you viewed in the organization?  You may have some fancy title, I often jokingly say I am the Commander of Space, Time, Earth and Dimension…. but alas in reality I am not. You have to know where you are to know where you want to go.  If you are just a team contributor, that is great, or maybe you’re a Manager or Director with some leadership responsibility, you can influence the process to help the right decision be made for your organization.

Very important is your credibility. You can’t compromise this.  Not because you are friends with a vendor or stand to gain in some way by having the organization buy something. Do the right thing for the company at all times to maintain this.  Also know what others think of you and your opinion.  Work hard to keep this in the highest regard, so they listen. Establishing trust with folks is perhaps the key to success in this process.

Communication has to be the key area many influencers fail in. If you haven’t presented to an executive before, know they have very short attention spans, won’t read huge documents and respond well to visual graphics, videos, clear ROI and financials and upbeat messaging.  Use your time with these folks like a precious commodity.  No executive wants someone who is badgering them constantly about some new idea. So plan your approach, message, and delivery.  Be positive but not spastic excited over the topic and do your homework.  Anticipate lots of questions and have the answer to most.

Build a following.  You may need a Manager or colleague to join you in your quest to influence something to happen.  Share your topic you wish to move and get their perspective on who to talk to, as they may have a communication channel you don’t that will help.  The more groundswell there is, the more leadership will listen.

Do your homework.  An idea that isn’t well flushed out with a plan of who, what, when and why won’t go very far.  Executives will want to understand effort, cost and benefit.  It is okay if you do this homework up front and work with a vendor to gather and put the information into a digestible format.

Understand the decision cycle.  Know what the process is for the idea your bringing forward, maybe it has to be budged or get Board approval.  Who do you need to socialize it to, in order to grease those skids?

Create urgency.  Why is this important now and how does it compare to other efforts in flight?  Think of discussion points that will help the executive understand the consequences if they don’t move on this initiative?  Without urgency many good ideas remain just that, a good idea that never moves to action.

Leverage your vendors.  Your vendors want you to succeed so the project gets moving so they are happy to help you with research, product info, documentation, speaking points, etc.  Most executives don’t want to hear from the vendor first, so use them to prepare you to peak the executives interest, then you can introduce them. Be honest with your vendors that you are not the decision maker but think the product or service would be valuable at your organization. Share with them what benefits you see, who the key players are and participate on a strategy that makes you both successful.  Know what you can and cannot do and don’t over promise.  Meaning don’t promise a meeting with the CIO if you yourself have never even met him.  Go back to credibility, you want to maintain that with your vendor partner too.

Prepare for an uphill battle.  Often ideas that don’t directly come from the leader don’t get championed forward.  Yep there I said it.  Is it right, nope.  Let the leader tweak the idea a bit perhaps so they feel they have contributed and now have ownership too. Realize you may have 5 leaders to convince and get onboard to get this moving.  It may take a long time if it has to be planned in a budget, etc. just realize it is worth it. Be ready for many people to object or find fault, that is just part of the process.  Take time, listen and answer their questions.

Schedule time to get proper attention to the idea. Mentioning something to a leader in passing will get you a quick and casual reply.  The old catch them as they walk to the elevator trick usually isn’t the best approach.  Schedule a quick meeting once you have your homework underway to let them know you see an opportunity here and you are researching it further.  Tell them what you will bring to the next meeting like cost, effort, ROI, etc. Know what you want going into this meeting and don’t try to get agreement or a decision.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.

These key items will allow you to influence projects and decisions at your company without being in that big cheese position of power.  Often folks that are influencers are raised to positions of higher leadership, as they have demonstrated moving ideas into action.  It is much easier to have an idea and then complain about how you’re not a leader or that will never work here.

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