Experienced IT leader and executive coach Eric Bloom explains how to employ influence skills to earn your seat at the table. Plus, take the Office Influence Personal Assessment.
When I began my professional career, our technology group was named “Data Processing”. The reason was that in the earlier days of computing, that was all business computing could provide, the processing and summary of transaction data.
A decade later, as hardware increased in strength and power, software was able to become more sophisticated. These advances provided the tools to mathematically analyze our processed data in a way that could truly provide senior management with the data to make informed decisions on company strategy and direction. Our name was then changed to “Management Information Systems (MIS)”. During these earlier days of computing, we were a support function providing an important service to the business and that’s how we were viewed, as a service.
Time went on and Moore’s Law continued to prove true, computer hardware continued to advance, the internet was born, software technologies continued to advance, and our name changed again, to “Information Technology” (IT).
Today, barely a business exists that is not driven by the technologies that IT provides. IT-related activities are now a focal point and core component of almost every business endeavor.
Old habits die hard
But even with all these advances, and the increasing reliance on technology, the IT organization is still commonly viewed by many in the business as a service provider. Also, the CIO is still considered to be the head of a service, not an equal business partner.
As a senior IT executive, getting an equal seat at the strategy and decision-making table requires you to use the same office influence concepts, strategies, and techniques that others in the C-Suite use on each other and on you.
IT is the only corporate function that provides access and transparency into the prioritization, processes, risks, organizational culture, and priorities of every organizational function. Use this to your political advantage to help drive organizational objectives and your personal professional advancement. If you do it right, these two goals are perfectly aligned.
Influence in the workplace - what I call "Office Influence" - is achieved through the intersection of three key influence concepts:
- Influence Factors
- Influence Currencies
- Influential Presence
Influence Factors are techniques that effect people’s willingness to say “yes”. These factors are best described by Robert Cialdini in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In this book, Cialdini highlights the following six factors:
- Reciprocity: People generally return favors and treat others as they have been treated.
- Commitment/Consistency: Once people have committed to something, they are more inclined to go through with it.
- Social Proof (safety in numbers): People often look at the behaviors of similar others for direction on choices.
- Liking: People are more likely to be influenced by people they like.
- Authority: People are more easily persuaded by individuals perceived to be legitimate authorities, including people in uniform and those with certificates and diplomas.
- Scarcity: Things are more attractive when their availability is limited or we may lose the opportunity to acquire them.
Influence Currencies are things people want/need in return for being influenced. In their book, Influence Without Authority, and in other writings, Allan Cohen and David Bradford describe influence currencies as things a person values in exchange for their cooperation. While the word “currency” tends to immediately bring up the thought of money, Cohen and Bradford broaden “influence currency” into the following five categories:
- Inspiration-Related Currencies: vision, excellence, moral/ethical correctness
- Task-Related Currencies: new resources, organizational support, assistance
- Position-Related Currencies: recognition, visibility, reputation
- Relationship-Related Currencies: understanding, acceptance/inclusion, personal support
- Personal-Related Currencies gratitude, ownership/involvement, self-concept/affirmation
Cohen and Bradford summarize the concept this way: “Influence is possible when you have what others want.”
Influential Presence is your ability to influence others based on your stature, skills and personal attributes. In my book, Office Influence: Get What You Want from the Mailroom to the Boardroom, I divide the components of influence in the workplace into five distinct categories, listed with a few examples of each type:
- Personal Attributes - Internal: confidence, trustworthiness, loyalty, courage, vision
- Personal Attributes – External: follow-through, leading by example, friends and allies
- Professional Stature: job title, awards, accomplishments, professional experience
- Interpersonal Skills: emotional intelligence, active listening, public speaking
- Business Skills: teambuilding, mentoring, negotiation, goal setting
These five attribute types determine your influential presence and how seriously you are taken by your coworkers of all organizational levels.
The greater your influential presence, the greater your ability to use the influence factors and influence currency concepts previously discussed to forward your organization’s objectives and advance your professional clout and reputation within your organization.