How to effectively influence decision makers (1)

“The great majority of people tend to focus downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than results. They worry over what the organization and their superiors ‘owe’ and should do for them. And they are conscious above all  of the authority ‘they should have’. As a result, they render themselves ineffectual.”  —Peter Drucker

 

Whenever I conduct training for Middle level managers of corporate organizations, I hear the same story almost all the time.

“The things you have taught us are very good. But how can you get our bosses to know the same thing? It would make our job easier!”

“We know these things are good but you don’t know the kind of bosses we have here.”

“What you have taught us is what we have been trying to get management to see for so long but they hardly listen! Maybe you need to talk to them.”

One great challenge common to every working environment is dealing with the expectations of people who are very skilled and knowledgeable in their field, especially when they have the feeling that they have a knowledge or skill advantage over their superiors. Peter Drucker defines such people as knowledge workers.  They are well educated and well trained for the positions they occupy. The only snag is that when it comes to influencing their superiors and key decision makers, they are highly deficient. Consequently, they feel slighted, sidelined and frustrated by what they consider ‘insensitive’ or ‘unprogressive’ leadership that is not ‘receptive’ to new things. If you belong to this category of worker, you must know the feeling.

More often than not, however, the knowledge worker is unwilling to admit that the problem could actually be him and his need to be properly trained on an essential dimension of emotional intelligence that deals with how to turn ideas into reality by influencing decision makers.

In influencing decision makers, the first thing you need to realize is the fact that life is not always fair. What this means is that the best and highest positions don’t always go to the most knowledgeable or most academically qualified or most skilled. So it is not unusual for a Harvard University graduate to be subordinate to someone who never attended any university! Decisions in any organization are made by people who are given to power to make them. It is as simple as that. Get used to that because no matter how inferior in knowledge you think they are to you, they have the position, not you! When you get used to that fact and are able to give yourself peace over it, you will feel happier and better positioned to influence them for the common good. Many years ago, I was a pioneer member of a new chapter of a Christian Fellowship that I belonged to. There was an older man who had accepted Christ at an outreach of our mother Chapter almost two years earlier. It was my privilege to lead him in prayers and thereafter follow him up until he was fully established in the Christian faith. When the new chapter was to be formed, he was nominated to be the President. I did not even get elected into the Executive Council of the new chapter! But I gave him and his team the maximum co-operation and made myself available if he needed my counsel on anything. Not once did I undermine his authority or felt that he was ‘subordinate’ to me in the faith. This made him respect me so much that he hardly took any major decision without running it by me. In fact, he publicly referred to me as his spiritual father even though he was my President! He it was who on his own initiative literally appointed me as a Board Member to ensure that I had an input into decision making. God helped us to run a highly successful chapter which endures almost twenty five years after! To effectively influence decision makers, send your ego on a vacation!

Imagine a salesman coming to you and shoving a product in your face with these words, “You need to buy this product now. In fact I would like you to buy some for your friends because I have a target to meet and I must sell a certain number to meet it”. Unless the salesman is your son or spouse, I don’t need to ask what your reaction would be! We make buying decisions in relation to the value proposition and its relevance to our needs. Even with impulse buying, we buy on a perceived need for the value offered, even if we later discover that we made a hasty decision. When influencing decision makers therefore, it is like you are making a sales pitch. You must target the impact of what you are proposing to specifically address a need of the decision maker and, by extension, the organization. Decision makers do not like being taken advantage of and they by no means want their position or influence undermined. So, shift the focus away from you and what you know and focus on what your knowledge would do for him and the collective. Help him to make the necessary connections between what you are proposing and the collective goals and expected outcomes. Until they make the connections, decision makers, especially if they are the insecure type, usually look at any idea that challenges their present paradigms or knowledge level with suspicion! Not necessarily because they do not see the value of the proposition but because they question the motive behind it.

Influencing decision makers often entails a ‘challenging’ of the system. Your proposition may be revolutionary in nature in a way that totally upsets the status quo. Its implementation may require additional expenditure, staff or even processes that may impinge on the bottom-line even if only temporarily. What this may translate to is a reticence on the part of the decision maker who needs time to be convinced. Initially, he may actually greet you with an outright rejection of the idea. Before you literally ‘challenge’ the system, therefore, do a proper analysis of your proposition. Rehearse it very well, putting yourself in the shoes of the decision maker. Study extensively. Write down the highlights in a way that makes it presentable and worthy of a second look. Be winning to lose some and win some. Do not concentrate energies on winning arguments over trivia. Save your gunpowder for the big battles. Do not waste precious time on arguing with the decision maker over which football team is the best or which restaurant has the best food in town. You may win the argument but you might have come across as overbearing, boorish and self-opinionated, traits that most decision makers hardly tolerate. Better to lose an argument than lose a friend…. continued

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!