Influence. Our capacity to make change happen.
There is a common misconception that influence is something that you do to someone or something. This approach rarely leads to sustainable change. Influence is something that happens to us all, so our approach to influencing ideas, policies and practices needs to consider this.
It would be a mistake to think that some people have more influence than others. Of course senior leaders have more power, but anyone can influence change if you know how to harness it. Your potential influence as an individual or an organisation may not always be visible, but adopting these simple practices will enable great change.
1. Know your target
If you want to change someone’s attitude or behaviour, you need to know how they think. Who are they? What is the basis on which their opinions are formed? You need to understand the motivations behind their actions in order to develop the best strategies for engaging with them and influencing their view point.
One common mistake NGOs and social justice campaigns make is to primarily focus their lobbying and advocacy efforts around demonstrating support for their cause. Whilst this can have value in articulating mass public sentiment, it must be coupled with a range of other approaches that shift the opinion of the target decision maker.
2. Know what you want to achieve – and how to get there
It sounds like common sense – but we have all made this mistake. We are frustrated by the behaviour of a loved one or the situation we find ourselves in, so we raise the issue and list all the things that we don’t like. But the conversation ends with more angst than it started. What you have achieved is a clear definition of the problem – and this is important. But in order to enable change, you need to be clear about what solution you find acceptable.
As advocates for our businesses we can also make the same critical error. By simply articulating the problem we leave the solution entirely in the hands of the decision makers who as of yet don’t see the need for change.
Define your solution and how it will address different aspects of the problem you are trying to overcome and break this down into incremental changes that need to come into effect. The set a clear strategy and critical path for how you are going to get there.
3. Create a mirrored dartboard
If you keep throwing multiple darts at a dartboard, some of them may stick. The same goes for selecting tactics and messages to engage your target. But you won’t necessarily have the greatest impact, and most likely it won’t be an efficient use of your resources. More important than the number of tactics you use or the amount of times your message is seen by your target decision maker, is how you aim them.
Spending more time thinking critically about your own approach enables you to be more strategic in the way you engage. Holding this mirror up to ourselves and questioning why previous actions haven’t worked is a critical part of improving your aim and probability of a bulls-eye next time.
4. Be prepared to be influenced
Influence is a conversation. Just as when we are holding up the mirrored dartboard to ourselves and considering the effect of our actions on achieving the solution we want, we need to be open to change ourselves.
Sustainable change demands compromise – and this needs to be taken into account in our negotiations with decision makers. Be prepared to try and understand things from the other persons or businesses point of view. Only then, with an adaptation of your own perceptions, will you be able to come to an acceptable solution.
5. Measure the change
Implementing a framework through which to measure the effectiveness of your actions and the incremental changes that they achieve will lead to the most efficient success. Real time analysis allows you to refine your strategy and approach – as well as demonstrate the value of your activities. This will better enable you to communicate impact to staff and investors and is a valuable motivator when committing to long-term systemic change processes.
Contact us for advice and support in maximising your influence.