Tag Archives: influence

The one with influencing chess

There is a lot of talk both on and offline about influencing CEOs with regard to the talent agenda. Whether that be the (so called) War for Talent, the need to invest and retain, developing better leaders etc, etc

What’s interesting to me (at least) is the focus is always influencing the CEO and I must confess that given the number of things the average CEO has to think about the idea that the focus is influencing them and not about even getting a meeting with them….

Earlier in my career, my influencing style was described (in a performance review) as that of a petulant 5 year old cheating at draughts. It’s quite a ballsy comment but I had a good relationship with my boss which allowed conversations of this direct nature but good relationships aside even I coloured a little at this comparison.

If you think of the rules of draughts, every piece carries equal value, has a limited ability to move and until a king is formed can only move forwards.

What she went on to describe was my influencing style as go into a conversation/meeting present at a given (or taken) opportunity my idea/solution and wait for everyone else to agree with me. When they didn’t I would metaphorically (or in one case literally) pout, take my toys and retreat to my private sand pit to sulk and think of mean names to call those involved.

Returning to drafts she likened it to the 5 year picking up one piece, moving it straight down the middle of the board and shouting “King me!” When a King was refused, moving the piece back and refusing to play anymore.

What she described to me was that building influence within an organisation was more akin to playing chess. You needed to build your position through thoughtful positioning with people in different parts of the organisation who could influence those at the top of the business who ultimately made decisions.

If you think of the rules of chess, it is by nature far more strategic, different pieces have different abilities and perceived value are more or less useful in building to an eventual checkmate.

She then coached me through a process in attempting to land a major change we were both working on. Both of us knew we would have little support from the certain teams (who were effected most by the change, let’s call them operations), finance would be behind us as it saved money, but the commercial and marketing leads could go either way.

Working up to a crunch meeting I worked with a senior member of the finance team to ensure the case was attractive and airtight. I worked with senior players in both commercial and marketing to build cases for its attractiveness to our customers and was even given the opportunity to speak to a couple of them. I worked with senior members of the (mythical of course) Operations team who, as it turned out, were grudgingly supportive of the outcome if not the process but I better understood their objections and could craft rebuttals and work arounds for most of them.

4 weeks later the crunch meeting came, I delivered the slide deck (including all my supporting evidence), took the questions, offered the rebuttals and sat waiting for the jury to deliver its verdict. 5 minutes of chatter, beard stroking, calculator pounding and conjecture followed but without input from the CEO who had sat watchful at the other end of the table. I must confess I feared the worst until in minute 6 the CEO uttered a phrase that made my day, week, month and bonus “Well….we’re going to do it, right?”

I was a converted Chess player from then on and although it has taken me some time (and on occasion I still fail) to control the rush of blood to the head when the objections fly, I think that conversation in that performance review probably had more of an impact on my career than most others.

So to bring this back to where it started, maybe people need to stop asking how to influence the CEO but rather ask how to influence the people who influence the CEO and how to influence those the CEO turns to when they want to validate something.

In the meantime, bishop to queen’s rook 7

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The one with the influential list

I have a confession to make….

I don’t really ‘get’ the lists of influencers that get published by various organisations at various times. Not that I don’t understand them but I don’t get how they are compiled, what they are based on or how they quantify or qualify the individuals named.

Actually, that’s not completely fair some of them make sense, like the Thinkers 50, as those people are changing the world around us and whether we want to be influenced by them is not really optional. I am talking more about the functional lists…

If I was to write a list of the people who have most influenced me it wouldn’t include the former HRD of a major supermarket gone on to lead the HR function of a major public body, it wouldn’t include one management consultant and it definitely wouldn’t include anyone who has 30,000 Twitter followers or a high Klout score.

The list would look something like this (and in no particular order):

  • My parents
  • My brother
  • My best friend
  • My closest friends
  • My first manager
  • My last two managers
  • Several people who have worked with me and for me
  • A coach I have worked with on and off for some time
  • A board colleague from a not-for-profit business I was involved with
  • People who have taught me and some I have studied with
  • The people I have met along the way who share with me and challenge me

It may sound naive to say I don’t get the lists as the chances are that some people on my list have been influenced by people who’ve been influenced by people etc but I can qualify and quantify why the people listed above are those I consider influential.

All of that being said rather than just confessing that I don’t get the lists I was trying to think constructively and to think of the actions and behaviours of those who I have seen be very effective influencers in an organisational context….

So, to steal a tried and tested format, here is MY (subjective) list of the 7 habits of great influencers…

1. They have convictions but are not blinkered

They will have a clear and likely strong view but will be open to hearing alternatives and understanding the pros and cons of alternative

2. They are clear in their reasoning

Their conviction is backed up by thorough logical thought and not based on a single whim/set of data/conversation. They are able to explain their view and why they came to it

3. The outcome is more important than the credit

The best influencers I have seen are those that are wedded to the change or the outcome not those who are all about seeking the glory of leading a decision. The downside of this is often they don’t get credit or recognition whilst ‘false idols’ do…

4. They play the long game

The best people I have observed realise that Rome truly wasn’t built in a day and that to change things they are going to have to build support, build influence sometimes from the bottom up and that isn’t achieved in one conversation or meeting

5. They see the whole board

It’s a line cribbed from “The West Wing” where the President is playing Chess against one of his advisors and a global diplomatic situation is evolving. Those I admire approach influencing like chess and see all the players involved and do number 4 (the long game)

6. They know the hills to die on

Some situations/meetings will not go your way, some will make what you are trying to do seem impossible. From experience it’s knowing when to deploy your full influence/argument and when to hold off, retreat and rebuild through building

7. They know the price

Influencing requires many things but one of them it appears to me is credibility or maybe more directly organisational collateral. The masters know what it’s worth, how much they’ve got and to point 6 when to spend it. To use a poker analogy – sometimes they fold, sometimes they go all in but they know the value of the bet and of their hand.

That’s my list. Agree, disagree or have an 8th point then I love to hear them. In the meantime I’m off to lobby for a place on the list of “influential bloggers who have worked in L&D and studied organisational behaviour” it’s a small list but our lobby is very powerful 😉

Afterword: having just reread that I think I may get 3 points and a fine for overuse of cliche!

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The one where it’s in your name

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Actually about a year ago in an office about 20 miles from where I am sat, I had a problem with my laptop at work. I had just returned from an overseas trip and it apparently was no longer “part of the domain”. Being a well schooled user of corporate IT I checked the network cable and switched it off and back on again and nothing… At the time I was 25 minutes away from a 1 to 1 with my boss, my phone was ringing and in a delegatory moment I asked our team administrator if she would mind calling IT and asking them to sort it out. In the following minutes whilst on another call I heard the following “but don’t you know who it’s for?” and my blood ran cold.

I like our IT team, they have a real customer service mentality, care about their metrics and deal with everyone fairly and with equity, and so the idea that our well meaning administrator was trying to using the (somewhat questionable) power of my job title to get this sorted really bothered me.

A wise man once said (actually it’s a supplier who was informally coaching me at the time) that every time you refer to your boss or a senior person when discussing a decision or course of action that what you are signalling to the other person is a) I don’t have any power or influence here and b) I am using their proxy to drive this course of action. This really bothered me also. Both in a professional sense but also in terms of my personal pride and view of myself in that organisation. It made me stop and reflect how many times I had opened a sentence with “I’ve been speaking to Clare and…” or “Clare and I have discussed this and…” thus signalling I was the monkey and Clare was the organ grinder.

I wrote a while ago about the different forms of power (blog here) and whilst hierarchical power works, in light of this comment from my coach it always felt to me like admitting defeat “I can’t win this argument on logic or reason so I’m just going to use rank”

So park me and the reflections for a moment and consider this:

How many times do people you work with in your organisation making emphatic reference to a senior person when trying to make a point?

Stop and think about it…

It’s a lot isn’t it?

Having asked myself the same question some time ago I embarked on a piece of informal research (or as some may call it – trying to get my own way) when something I was trying to achieve was thwarted or struck down with a ‘senior person reference’ and my findings showed there were roughly four realities behind the ‘senior person reference’:

1. The senior person was against my course of action and had empowered a member of their team to manage this with me

2. The senior person had asked some questions around the course of action and wanted to explore it more to understand the purpose. This had been misunderstood as not wanting it and the misunderstanding was driving the subsequent conversation

3. The senior person had made a cursory comment about the course of action but their team member had a strong view which was being backed by the cursory comment.

4. The senior person had no view, had not been part of the discussion and could go either way on the issue

Fortunately for our organisation (although not necessarily for my objectives!) the majority of the references fell into item number 1 and required a trip to the drawing board. However on the odd occasion that the others on the list snuck out, it was very interesting to try and resolve the issue and also understand the dynamics that were driving the behaviour.

So I will leave you with a few questions, which if this gets commented on are actual questions, if it doesn’t then of course I completely intended them to be rhetorical:

How often and how severely have you come up against numbers 2, 3 & 4?

What are the context/behaviours you think may drive that?

And finally, what is being done in your name? (that’s definitely rhetorical!)

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