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Managing Up: How to Influence Your Boss

The ultimate challenge or maybe it’s the ultimate irony when it comes to influencing without authority is to influenceladder those with authority over us. Compelling a direct manager or senior leader within the organization to support someone else’s agenda requires patience, planning, and the diligent application of effective influence techniques.

The first thing you must do before devoting time to enhancing your influence is to honestly assess your intentions. Attempts to persuade someone with higher authority to consider an agenda that at its core is self-serving are quickly recognized as manipulative and potentially counter-productive to the interests of the organization. Promoting personal gain, especially at the expense of the greater good, quickly erodes trust and credibility. However, if the intention behind achieving targeted objectives is to benefit the organization, then efforts to exert influence will be applauded not rebuked.

Once you’ve passed the “gut check” on intentions, use the following process to improve your ability to “manage up.”

See the World as the Other Person Sees It

An important part of influencing people with authority is to begin to see the world from their point of view. Even if your manager was once a peer, keep in mind that the promotion came with a new perspective, modified priorities, and different pressures. Make time to walk in the other person’s shoes. Start by strolling down the value path. Ask yourself:

What does this person value? (Recognition, acceptance by peers, respect, networking opportunities, open communication, a sense of belonging, solving problems, helping others, etc.)

Once you’ve determined what the person values, consider what contributions you can make or actions you can take that would add value from this person’s perspective. For example, if your manager values problem solving, be sure to include well thought out options when communicating issues or opportunities.

In addition to value considerations, a terrific question to contemplate when walking a mile or two in the other person’s shoes is:

What keeps this person up at night?

This question forces you to think about his or her role, responsibilities, life outside of work, hopes, aspirations, as well as how his performance is being evaluated.

Define Your Objectives

Write down a clear statement of what it is you believe needs to be achieved. Support this statement with a list of relevant business reasons and/or confirming information. If possible, segment your objective into milestones. Decide which milestones are non-negotiable in terms of a successful outcome and which could be skipped or postponed without dramatic consequence to the realization of your goal. The greater the clarity you possess the better prepared you will be to articulate this vision in a compelling reasonable manner.

Set yourself up for success by visualizing the end result and sorting your “must haves” from your “nice to haves.”

Plan Your Approach

When influencing up the hierarchical ladder, cool heads prevail. Often, we let our excitement get the best of us and spew forth our ideas in a downpour of disjointed exclamations. A good influencer uses an empathetic understanding of the other person’s world to tailor his/her engagement approach. Three factors to consider when developing a plan for discussing issues, ideas, and opportunities with senior leaders are framing, communication styles, and timing.

Framing

As you plan what you will say, position your message in a way that demonstrates your knowledge of and respect for the other person’s perspective. Frame your case in terms of the value it can deliver relevant to the senior leader’s objectives, challenges, or organizational focus.

Communication Styles

Select a communication medium based on the manager’s preferences. If this is someone who prefers face-to-face interactions, schedule a meeting at a time and place that’s conducive to focused conversation. If the person likes to mull things over and study up on the topic, develop your case in writing and email it along with suggested times for follow-up discussions. For the chronic multi-tasker, break down your message into smaller chunks. Be prepared to deliver the pieces during fleeting windows of opportunity.

Timing

Timing is of the essence. Carefully consider the best time to approach the other person with your ideas. Face-to-face meetings and even pre-arranged phone conversations demonstrate courtesy and offer control. Once you have a meeting scheduled, send the person a bulleted list of objectives or key points for the conversation at least 24 hours in advance. When it comes to “bad news,” inform senior leaders as soon as possible. Always have options for resolution prepared when presenting a problem. Remember, people need time to absorb information and process their thoughts. Give the person space to “catch up” to you in terms of experience with and depth of knowledge about the information.

Present with Passion (but don’t over do it)

State your ideas with conviction and clarity. Modify your style to honor the other person’s preferences. For example, if your manager is a visual person, use images to illustrate key points. For a numbers person, be sure to come armed with relevant data. If your manager is a relational person, use stories to captivate while you communicate. Stay on point. Try not to become defensive when the person with authority questions your game plan. Challenging your ideas is not an attack on you personally but rather a sign of interest, an act of collaboration, and even an indication of progress toward acceptance. Lastly, maintain the credibility of your case by adhering to this sales axiom: Don’t Sell Past The Close. When the other person has either agreed with you or indicated that they need time to evaluate the situation, thank him or her for the time and exit gracefully.

Realistically, these steps are proven but not bulletproof. If your direct attempts to influence a senior leader are fruitless, the indirect route is a solid Plan B. Use the process above to enlist the support of another senior leader who is respected by the person you are trying to influence.

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