Take these steps to build your influence inside and outside your organization.
How often have you had a vision of how to improve a process or situation but felt frustrated because you didn't know how to get your idea heard—not to mention implemented?
I've been lucky in my professional life to be part of a change management organization. Our job is to help solve complex problems, ease transitions, and make programs and processes work more smoothly.
When designing change management plans, I first listen to the executives to understand the end result they want. Then I spend time at the other end of the line—with the people actually affected by change—and take time to understand their frustrations and hear their ideas. Finally, I get to incorporate their "feet-on-the-street" ideas into better processes that facilitate the corporation's strategic goals while improving the daily work environment. That's a satisfying job.
But this kind of access and influence is rare within a corporation. And of course, I often feel the same frustration with the status quo in my personal life. Below are 10 simple steps you can take that can help you to build the influence you need, whether inside or outside an organization.
Here's a familiar example: My frustration with the disruption that time changes, such as Daylight Savings Time, can cause. I will apply the 10 steps to this example and outline what I would have to do to influence others to accept my ideas on how to improve this.
Understand the whole picture. I realize I don't know the history or current reasoning behind Daylight Savings Time. I've heard stories about farm labor, but I've never bothered to really understand why we do it this way. I have research to do.
Do your research. I need to understand the origin of the current process, and what problem it was meant to solve. Once I know the answers to these questions, I'm in a position to truly evaluate the feasibility of change.
Have baseline, cost, and return-on-investment figures. Once I've validated my ideas, the additional information I need to know is how much the current solution costs, what my proposed system will cost to implement, and what are the short- and long-term ROI of my plan.
For business environments, these figures include direct and indirect expenses and benefits; in the personal realm it might be the amount of energy, time, emotional distress, or other factors involved. Either way, being able to clearly explain these provides strong support for your idea if the numbers add up. If they don't, you need to rethink your ideas. Maybe the psychological benefit overrides everything else—but be prepared to support that before you start talking.
Develop a clear strategy and test in small increments. Once you've done your homework, revisit your ideas and deconstruct them into small, incremental changes or shifts in behavior. These should provide clear benefits, be relatively easy to implement, and allow your plan to gain momentum as you demonstrate success. Here's where your baseline is essential—you can't show benefits if you don't measure how things are before you start. It's much easier to get buy-in for small phases than the whole pie at once.
Here's an example: If you want to initiate a major shift from full-time work onsite to optional presence onsite for all members of your team, start with a plan for one day a month for optional offsite work. Of course, you have a baseline that tells how productive your team is today, with everyone working onsite. Then measure whether productivity remains stable, increases, or decreases with your one-day offsite pilot. Add on from there if your results justify the change.
When it's time to present, ask and listen. Finally, it's time to present your ideas. But before you do, it helps to ask questions that elicit a definition of the current state or problem from your audience. This helps you to understand how they see it, so you can formulate your ideas using the terminology and concepts of your audience. This way, it's familiar to them, almost their idea, and you've already gone a long way to diffuse resistance.
Give examples of others' success. As you interact with (not talk at) those you want to influence, share examples of similar types of changes from other projects you've worked on, or best of all, important shifts within the group you're talking to that everyone can acknowledge represent change for the better. Ask for that acknowledgment as you go—your audience will be buying in as you unfold your plan.
Don't push; nudge and accept feedback. Remember, you're acting as an influencer here. You don't have the power to do this by yourself. Your idea may need to shift to fit new facts or listeners' concerns. Don't hesitate to say you'll rethink and get back to them. Then do your research and share the results with them.
Their thoughts might be an improvement, or you might need to demonstrate why they aren't. Either way, you won't get anywhere by stubborn persistence. You need to be focused but flexible.
Assume some risk to get it done. If you're passionate about your vision, nothing is more convincing than putting skin in the game. Whether it's extra effort or resources at work, or your time and commitment at home, others are impressed with personal effort and will be more likely to join in.
Make sure the quest is worth the effort. After I started writing this article, I was motivated to do about three minutes of Internet research about Daylight Savings. As it happens, the practice of time shifting has a history that goes back to Benjamin Franklin. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established the uniform Daylight Savings Time policy at the federal level, which is now governed by the 2005 Energy Policy Act.
I found that getting rid of Daylight Savings has been proposed before, and at least one extensive survey was done that found almost 70 percent of the individuals surveyed were in favor of Daylight Savings. Thinking about it, I would have to get a petition together, lobby Congress, and stage a national campaign to abolish something most people like. All of which brings me to my final point.
Reassess your idea. Will this change be something that is against the grain and will take a huge amount of effort? Are you willing to put substantial effort into this particular cause or idea?
You only have so much time, energy, and intellectual capital to spend. Make sure this particular project is worth your investment.