INFLUENCING SKILLS: The Desperate Need For More Effective Influencing

OR "Why Influencing Is A Central, Not Peripheral, Skill Of EVERYBODY’S Work"

By Carolyn Crawford


"Learning how to motivate and enable others to change their actions may be the most important skill you’ll ever acquire.  It’s not merely curiously engaging (and it is); it also sits at the centre of what ails most of us. The lion’s share of problems that really bother us don’t call for additional technology, theory, philosophy, or data (we’re up to our necks in that); instead the problems call of for the ability to change what people do. And when it comes to this particular skill, demand far exceeds supply.” 

This excerpt, so neatly articulated, is taken from the introduction to the book ‘Influencer’ by Joseph Grenny et al. They go on to wonder why, given the incredible importance of influencing, people aren’t entirely consumed with discussing and developing their skills at every backyard barbecue and office party.


Needless to say, the authors had me at ‘hello’.  I’ve been involved in three meetings in the last month alone where clients have said to me “our people are brilliant technicians.  They are excellent analysts and write stunningly good reports that end up in the bottom draw, never to see the light of day.”  And the brief from there is always the same.  “We need our team to see themselves as business advisers to their cross-functional colleagues and senior leaders, not just specialist, back-office operators”.

The reality in this day and age is that no-one’s job is done, no report or proposal complete and no strategy fully devised until it’s been communicated successfully to others such that they engage with it and buy-in. Presenting and influencing are core, not peripheral, functions of everyone’s role. 

As Andzr Huczynski puts it in his book ‘Influencing Within Organisations’ “Competence on the job without the ability to make things happen in the organisation results in wasted effort….Influencing skills are now a necessary part of any job, whether you are in personnel, public relations, accounting or production….”

He goes on to say that coercion and authority, in flatter organizational structures, are no longer a realistic option. “The influence must be subtle and sincere to get decisions made in your favour: upwards with senior management, downwards with those who report to you and laterally with peers, co-workers and those in other organisations whose support you need.  It used to be said that in order to achieve success at the bottom of the corporate ladder you needed to put in time and acquire your professional and technical expertise.  We now know that while such expertise is necessary, it is not in itself sufficient.  Knowing your job is only one aspect of being effective.  The other part is being influential.”

And it’s these final few lines that are the clincher.  “While such expertise is necessary, it is not in itself sufficient”.  In a market where everyone has double degrees and where many are consciously or unconsciously skilled in presenting and influencing, it’s those with the capacity to work their way successfully through the organisation to get recommendations passed and changes implemented that are recognized and moved into positions of management and leadership.  As the old saying goes, “IQ will get you the job, but EQ will get you the promotion”. 


The point is two-fold.  Certainly buy a book, attend a course, listen to a talk, or journal your influencing efforts in order to analyse your successes and failures, because this skill is key to all of our personal and professional success.  But before exploring the ‘how’ of influencing, or looking to influence your team in doing so, start the process of influencing them in ‘why’ it’s such a crucial skill….and make sure that anything they read or attend also does so!  Ensure they understand that influencing is as essential a part of their role as their technical expertise and that success as an individual and team will always be limited to the extent that they perceive themselves as siloed technicians rather than influential business partners to their various stakeholders. 

And don’t forget to set up their KPIs and rewards accordingly.  But that’s a story for another blog!

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