Coaching Great Leaders
Get Your Ideas on the Move by Effectively Influencing Up!
By Marshall Goldsmith
The great majority of people tend to focus downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than results. They worry over what the organization and their superiors ‘owe' them and should do for them. And they are conscious above all of the authority they ‘should have'. As a result they render themselves ineffectual. Peter Drucker1
Organizations around the world suffer when key employees cannot effectively influence up. Think of all of the knowledge you have accumulated over the years, the time you have spent perfecting your skills, and then think about how your knowledge can potentially benefit your organization. The chances are great that with just a small investment in learning to influence up, you can make a huge difference to the future success of your organization.
First, ask yourself: "Who is my audience?" Every decision in the company is made by the person (people) with the power to make that decision. That is your target. If you can influence the key decision maker(s) in the organization, you can make a positive difference. If not, then you will make much less of a difference.
The following five suggestions are intended to help you improve your odds of successfully making a positive difference by effectively influencing up:
- When presenting ideas to upper management, realize that it is your responsibility to sell—not their responsibility to buy.
Influencing up is similar to selling products or services to customers. They don't have to buy—you have to sell! It is your responsibility to achieve results. No one will be impressed with you if you blame management for not buying your ideas. As a matter of fact, it is disempowering to you when you focus on what others may have done to make things wrong, rather than what you can do to make things right. Spend more time developing your ability to communicate your ideas and less time on blaming management for not buying your ideas.
- Focus on the contribution to the larger good, not just the achievement of your objectives.
Ask yourself: "How do my ideas relate to the needs of the organization? What impact will they have on the overall corporation?" Most often, the needs of the organization and the needs of your unit or department are connected; sometimes they are not. Look into it. Prepare to explain it. Don't assume upper management already knows. Explain to them the connection between the benefit to your unit and the benefit to the larger organization.
- Strive to win the big battles. Don't waste your ammunition on the small points.
Do your homework! Before challenging the system already in place, thoroughly analyze your ideas. Don't waste your time on issues that will only modestly impact results. Focus on issues that will make a real difference and know what they are before you "challenge the system."
- Present a realistic cost-benefit analysis of your ideas. Don't just sell benefits.
The resources, time and energy of organizations are not limitless. Know that if upper management says "yes" to your idea, they may be saying "no" to someone else's. Prepare yourself for a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea; prepare for objections before they occur and point out how the benefits of your plan will outweigh the costs.
- Support the final decision of the team. Don't say, "They made me tell you," to direct reports.
Whether upper management gives the idea a yea or nay, go out and try to make it work. A lack of commitment to the final decision can sabotage its chances for effective execution. Managers who tell their coworkers, "They told me to tell you," are seen as messengers not leaders. And you want to be seen as a leader whether your idea is implemented or not. A simple guideline for communicating difficult decisions about which you don't agree is to ask yourself: "How would I want others to communicate to their people if they were passing down my final decision and they disagreed with me?" Treat your manager in the same way that you would want to be treated and you're on the right track.
You may have spent years developing your functional or technical expertise. My hope is that by making a small investment in learning to influence up, you can make a large and positive difference for the future of your organization.
1 Drucker, P. F. 2001. The Essential Drucker. New York: HarperBusiness. pp. 207.