The modern leader should have the ability to influence and persuade. Influence is a broad-ranging skill that is often focused downward in a company. However, it is even more beneficial when those influence tactics are directed toward senior management.
Not only does upward influence help drive initiatives and strategic goals, but it also is essential to establishing credibility and confidence. The concept is more than getting what you want. It is about acting as an integral employee who can offer broad-ranging skills to an organization.
The ability to influence comes from several key areas:
1. Knowledge of the Organization’s Strategic Plan
To have effective conversations, employees need to understand where the company is going, why decisions are being made and show no fear when asking additional questions. Knowing the company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) helps clarify leadership’s focus areas and provides insight into the emphasis of a people manager.
As an employee, organizational alignment helps open the door to learning how to best influence through effective questioning and providing support as needed. Many employees often do not take the time to fully appreciate the mission, vision, corporate social responsibility report and even the annual report to get more clarity on the business and its priorities. Spending time reading and getting to know these materials will give an employee solid knowledge of the company and the confidence to ask influential questions of key decision makers.
2. A Strong Manager/Employee Relationship
Knowing a manager’s goals, concerns, pet peeves and even what is measured from a performance perspective helps an employee drive initiatives. It also supports a line of questioning that can stem from a strong partnership and support over a project or task-focused actions. Assisting the manager in helping to meet their goals and priorities and striving to be a step ahead is not only a strong demonstration of strategic thinking, but it is also a leg up on others in the organization, because it provides a way to influence effectively.
For example, suppose a manager needs to address a process improvement issue that impacts several departments. In that case, the employee could ask questions about what concerns exist with the project, such as roadblocks or broken systems. Maybe the problem concerns the ability to meet deadlines.
Offering to draft a high-level strategy, helping with a roadblock or connecting the manager to another asset in the organization could help address deadlines is a method of upward influence. The moment taken to understand the situation and provide a suggestion helps the manager, but it shows that the employee listens, cares and is invested in the manager’s success. Even proposing to take a bit of work off the manager’s plate can help prove the employee’s skill sets and show that they are interested and focused on supporting their manager and thus the department.
3. Transparent, Thoughtful and Clear Communication
Knowing how messages are delivered and received can significantly influence the perception and effectiveness of conversations. It is essential to gain the audience’s hearts and minds when influencing decisions and advocating for yourself — mainly when asking for more resources, such as an additional headcount or a larger budget.
It is necessary to identify areas of opportunity while using non-threatening language to help drive thoughtful change. An employee who points out only what is broken in an effort to help move things along is often missing what type of communication can influence. Focusing on the necessary fixes while connecting it back to the strategic priorities can help with influence up, down and across any organization.
Lastly, an employee wants to know that their manager has confidence in them. This requires regular discussions that are centered on feedback. If an employee is not receiving regular feedback, then working to obtain it, whether through the manager or peers, helps identify strengths and weaknesses.
This ultimately leads to increased self-awareness, which can completely change how a person can upward influence. Self-awareness allows any employee to identify and demonstrate their superpowers, and it is critical to let those shine in any conversation involving influence upward.
Register for the spring Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) to hear Carrie Berg’s session, “The Importance of Educating Organizational Leaders on Upward Influence.”