Being an influential individual or an influencer is becoming an ever increasing necessity for nearly every walk of life. Whether it be Market influencers that lead fashionable trends or personal influence to have an impact at work, there is a growing need to genuinely understand the perspectives and situation of those we interact with. In this post i'm going to walk through my tried, tested and successful method for actively managing those that matter most to me.
The unseen problem
All too often when interviewing, coaching or generally discussing personal development we encounter people who genuinely believe that they are good influencers or stakeholder managers. But as soon as you scratch the surface of why they believe that they are good at this, or what in their repertoire of skills makes them so proficient, you learn that the answers are a bit thin.
The qualitative nature of influencing and stakeholder management means that many people have an inflated sense of their own ability. I see this as 'sleep walking' through an activity that is absolutely crucial to many facets of life. It stems from a lack of awareness on how to influence and stakeholder manage better. And is also based on an assumption that, due to a friendly and agreeable demeanour and relationship with most people, a person must just be getting it right.
In summary, the unseen problem is that most people lack an Awareness of their stakeholder management landscape, and therefore can't take Active measures to influence effectively.
The first thing to do is plot and map out the various groups of people that matter to you or your business. This is best done as an uncoordinated Brain Dump of names, teams or organisations that you interact with. Spend no more than 10mins on this in the first pass. There is no need to have absolute coverage and capture everyone now, there will be plenty of opportunities to add later. Try to keep the list down to c.10 groups to begin with. Make them the most important according to your gut feel of their 'Influence' over you and/or your organisation.
Now score each individual, group or organisation out of 10 for two topics.
1. Influence - this is the level of influence that THEY have over you or your organisation and what matters in that context. I.e. your direct boss would probably be a 9 or 10, as would their boss. Or a client organisation may also score highly here. Lower scores would be reserved for those that perhaps have an indirect influence over your key fields of interst. E.g. a subordinate that works for another manager in a different team, but on occasion is involved in overlapping work. You may have an interest in keeping them motivated or consider putting them on a succession plan for possible progression into your team. But for the time being their ability to directly influence your activity would probably be low.
2. Advocacy - this is where we look to capture the largely subjective opinion you hold in your gut for how highly an individual or group thinks of you. In many industries the NPS (Net Promoter Score) is used to bring a measurable figure to general advocacy. In a similar manner we can make an assumption for the advocacy of those who matter to us. Take a stab at scoring out of 10 what these people / organisations think of you (10 high, 1 low). This may be a measure of something along the lines of 'Out of 10, how much do they enjoy working with me?' or 'Out of 10, how much value does this customer feel they gain by working with me/my team?'
Now plot this group onto a simple chart so that you can better visualise the layout of your first 10 key groups.
Plotting your key groups onto a chart is the first step in genuinely understanding where you need to work harder. By attempting to quantify Influence and Advocacy you can now start to address the areas that may have been neglected.
For e.g. in this situation, the Risk Team have relatively low advocacy. It may be high time to address the priorities of the risk team and show support. Similarly, James, Katie and Janet are key team members but may not think highly of you or your management approach. Perhaps it's time to progress your employee engagement agenda.
It's now time to put your actions in place and build advocacy where it's clearly needed. If you're working as part of a team you may decide to do some man-marking of key stakeholders and divide the effort of building advocacy on behalf of the team.
To do this, you need to make some decisions about whether the groups on the chart are in the right place or if action is required. The most straightforward method of doing this is to colour code the markers along the lines of Green = Acceptable Position, Amber = Not Ideal, Red = Immediate Action.
This view now presents some clear themes of people and or groups that need to be addressed. Allowing you the planning opportunity of considering your next steps either thematically of in groups. For e.g. Many of the team members have rather low advocacy scores. So a focused effort on improving the work environment or empowerment of the team may be a positive step. Or to survey them and take action based on their feedback.
These actions should primarily focus on improving Advocacy, but often you can bring key individuals up the influence scale either as a by-product or purposeful step in the action. For e.g. Many of the junior team members are looking to progress their careers and in building their engagement you may be creating staunch supporters of the future.
Now it's time to capture the actions:
1. Undertake employee engagement activity, career development and planning to actively support team members in building their future.
2. Delegate responsibility, as a development opportunity, to Katie for managing the teams Risk Log. A key objective here being to ensure Risk compliance and as a by-product demonstrate team support for the Risk team's objectives
Baking it into your routine
The method described above is just the beginning, but will set you up to have a really clear view and actionable plan for improving your stakeholder network. To take this a steps further and make it a real influencers plan, it is important to abstract the groups that you use for review into Audience groups or target clients. Then similarly putting in place action plans that improve your products, services or engagement with the required groups.
The important message in this approach is to visualise your target Influencing groups and to take Action to improve your Advocacy standing with them. By visualising it and regularly reviewing the groups, you'll maintain a clear grasp, avoid neglecting anyone and ensure focused effort where it matters most.