Why influence is a competitive advantage

| April 29, 2016

In our work environment shaped by technological disruption we are expected to deliver more results in a faster time frame and with less resources. Michelle Gibbings has a strategy to get things done and make change happen.

Technological disruption is driving a wave of change so great that the World Economic Forum has termed it the fourth industrial revolution. It is predicted that this change will blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres and fundamentally change the way we live and work.

It’s not surprising that companies, both big and small, are on a drive to respond to this – across all sectors of their business. But these advances in technology are creating a working environment which is more, not less complex.

At work you are expected to deliver more results, in a faster timeframe and with less resources. The result is a more complex and bureaucratic working environment. There’s endless meetings, countless stakeholders to consult and shifting goal posts. This creates the inevitable sense of busy-ness, often with little progress to show.

Why? Because it’s hard to get things done. It’s hard to make change happen. It’s hard to navigate the complexity. The antidote to this dilemma is attaining the competitive advantage of being able to influence. This is not self-serving influence. Rather it’s focused on ensuring balanced outcomes and considering the needs of all stakeholders.

To do that, you need the optimal mix of technical and behavioural skills. Being technically brilliant is one thing, but it’s not the foundation on which to build a platform for influence.

Successful professionals know how to influence. They know how to get things done through other people and are aware of the environment in which they are operating. They know how to use their personal power to secure outcomes, enabling them to cut through the noise, get traction and make change happen. This creates competitive advantage in the workplace.

In contrast, those who can’t influence find themselves exiled from the organisation’s decision makers. They become ‘out of the loop’ on issues that matter. Uninvolved in critical decisions. Their voice goes unheard – all of which makes it harder for them to get things done. And professionals who can’t deliver results, don’t progress. This impacts their career, but also those around them. A 2010 Harvard study found that a lack of progress is one of the biggest de-motivators in the workplace.

People want to feel they are making progress on work that matters, and that their manager ‘has their back’. If their manager is powerless to influence outcomes, it impacts the team’s morale.

You can’t rely on traditional hierarchies to get things done. The organisational dynamics are different. It’s important to understand who influences whom, how decisions are made and what avenues exist to make progress and influence outcomes. This is about understanding the influencing factors operating in the ‘organisational system’ and having the nous to find the ‘the back door’ and leverage the informal networks though which decisions are often made.

Professionals who can influence know themselves and what motivates their behaviour, just as much as they understand others. They are able to manage their own behavioural responses. They are also equipped with the skills to:

  • motivate behaviour change
  • build solid stakeholder relationships
  • create coalitions of support for change
  • communicate in an authentic and compelling manner
  • negotiate important decisions

In doing this, they take ownership of their personal power. This is power that is derived from within and is consciously acquired. When a person has the right behavioural skill-set they can be more confident to hold their own with their peers and more senior stakeholders. This creates personal power and in turn generates influence. If professionals want to step up and progress in today’s complex and changing world they need to be able to influence.