Susan, an internal performance consultant in a healthcare
organization, is faced with a particularly challenging situation.
Steve, a finance vice-president, has requested that Susan conduct a
morale-building workshop for managers in his group. Having worked
in the organization for nearly seven years, Susan has built solid
relationships with people throughout the organization, including
the finance group. Based on her interactions with the staff, she
knows there are deeply systemic issues that have not been addressed
in Steve's organization, including his dictatorial leadership style
and concerns about the potential for layoffs.
Susan is caught between two extremes: losing credibility if she
goes forth with a morale-building course for managers, which she
knows will not address the real issues, and the very real threat to
her own job security if she refuses to fulfill Steve's request for
the intervention he has settled upon.
Does this situation sound familiar?
Most of us who have served as internal or external performance
consultants have found ourselves in situations similar to Susan's.
As performance consulting professionals we know that band-aid
approaches to organizational issues based on a manager's diagnosis
often do not have much impact. Yet, we want to either retain our
jobs in the case of internals or get the contract in the case of
externals. Is there another way?
I think so. Expanding your influence skills repertoire beyond your
comfort zone in order can help you achieve greater impact as a
The Oxford English Dictionary defines influence as "the capacity to
have an effect on the character or behavior of someone or
something, or the effect itself; a person or thing with such a
capacity; the power arising out of status, contacts, or wealth."
We may speak of influencing our clients to implement a specific
intervention or professionals who have influence by virtue of their
knowledge, charismatic personalities or network of contacts. Jay
Conger, author of Winning 'em Over, offers a more
skill-based definition of influence: "the ability to present a
message in a way that leads others to support it."
Influence goes hand-in-hand with power. A number of sources suggest
that influence is about using one's source of power to effect an
outcome. Power is often explored from two perspectives: formal or
externalized power and personally oriented power.
As an internal performance consultant we may be afforded a certain
type of legitimate power by our organizations, particularly as
managers or leaders. As external consultants, we are often more
limited in the availability of our formal power.
Personal power, in contrast, is based on other factors including
our personalities, knowledge, achievements, and affiliations, as
well as our physical presence such as appearance and stature. It is
critical for performance consultants to be well-grounded in what
makes them unique and the value they can add to their
organizations. Lack of awareness about your own sense of personal
power often shows up verbally and non-verbally, potentially
triggering influence partners to doubt our message.
One of the major challenges I have observed in working with leaders
to develop their influence skills is the mistaken belief that if
they simply communicate the "right way," influence will happen. The
reality is that this is only half the battle. I may present a
compelling argument to you about why you should support my
proposal, but that does not mean influence happened. As Kim Barnes,
author of Exercising Influence suggests, influence lives
in the eye of the beholder and ultimately the only way we know we
have influenced others is through an observable change in their
A subtle but important underlying assumption associated with
influence for performance consultants, both internal and external,
is the fact that we rarely have control over the individuals we
serve. While it is tempting to think that, as performance
consultants, we can control the behavior of the individuals we
serve, the sometimes painful truth is that we can only control
ourselves and our own behavior.
Foundations of Influence: Credibility
Our success as influencers is based on more than just the
observable skills we use when having a conversation with an
executive. Before influence can happen, we must be seen as being
credible and trustworthy. Jay Conger suggests that the first
guideline of influence is building credibility with an influence
target on the basis of two factors: relationships and expertise.
Judith Hale, author of Performance Consultant's Fieldbook
builds upon the ASTD competencies defined for performance
consultants and offers a unique formula to achieve credibility and
influence. Using a cooking metaphor, Hale offers a "recipe" for
influence and credibility as a combination of essential ingredients
(relevant information, courage to speak up, interpersonal skills),
spices (trust, political savvy, dissonance, external status) and
cooking instructions (establish a presence, remain impartial, and
Influence Framework in Action
Having established the foundation for influence in the form of
credibility, how do we implement influence in our work as
Kim Barnes suggests that effective influencers consider four key
factors in what she labels the influence framework: the influence
goal or outcome, the nature of the relationship with the target of
influence, specific influence tactics or behaviors, and the
situation in terms of the personal, organizational or cultural
context of the influence target.
Let us apply Barnes's influence framework to Susan's case. First,
Susan's influence goal might be how she can influence Steve to
consider using a diagnostic approach by conducting some interviews
to identify the root cause of the morale problem rather than throw
a training program at it.
Second, because influence always happens in the context of a
relationship, Susan needs to consider the relationship she has with
Steve in terms of their past interactions as well as the present
state of the relationship. For example, if the relationship is
relatively new, it may mean she needs to build trust and
credibility with Steve in the present before challenging his
assumptions about the source of the performance issues.
Third, Susan needs to consider a mix of specific influence tactics
she might use in their conversation with Steve. The Barnes
influence model distinguishes between expressive and receptive
Finally, Susan needs to consider Steve's personal context in order
calibrate her influence approach. For example, this includes
Steve's leadership values, preferred style of processing
information, "hot buttons," and key concerns.
Influence Tactics and Skills
So what are words do effective influencers use when attempting to
influence a stakeholder?
Barnes's influence skills model defines influence tactics and the
specific behaviors associated with each. Expressive tactics include
behaviors such as telling, selling, negotiating, and enlisting.
Receptive tactics include inquiring, listening, attuning, and
facilitating. She suggests that effective influencers develop
strategies that combine both receptive and expressive behaviors
based on the unique contextual factors with the person they are
trying to engage.
Ultimately, there is no cookbook approach to influence. Different
situations warrant different influence behaviors. Our challenge is
to develop greater range in our approach to influence so that we
transcend our comfort zones and use strategies and tactics that are
relevant to the situation at hand. By doing so, we can more easily
earn a "place at the table" by engaging our stakeholders to
implement performance improvement strategies that add value to our
2006 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.