Our new boss arrived with an agenda and he wasn’t timid about it. It seemed that he gathered input from everyone but us. Because he was influenced by an array of people unfamiliar to us, the work environment became challenging, to say the least. Through this experience, I gained a new appreciation for the power of influencers inside and outside the organization. To be effective, you need to know the influencers in your organization, understand their perspectives and cultivate those relationships.
Here are six types of influencers about whom you would be wise to know more. You are likely to feel the influence of all or most of them. Develop skills now to recognize these influencers and learn more about them so that you adapt to accommodate their influence. For each category of influencer, challenge yourself to get “under-the-hood” to learn as much as you can using this framework.
- Know who they are – What are their names and backgrounds?
- Know their perspectives – What are their opinions about your industry or organization?
- Know their agenda – Why do they care (or not) about your industry or organization?
- Those who enable your organization to exist. Depending on the type of organization you’re in, this category of influencers may encompass big clients or, in my case, legislators and legislative aides who directly influence funding.
For those people in public sector leadership positions or in businesses who rely on legislated funding, you should know the names and positions of those who control the legislative agenda. You may think that it’s your Congressperson but it’s more likely to be the legislative aides who write the text.
- Who they are?
- What are their impressions of your program?
- Have you met with them to hear and understand their perceptions and questions? Our meetings sounded like this, “We prepared an overview briefing that we are can talk through; however, we’re mainly here to answer your questions. What is the best approach for you?”
If you are in the private sector, you know that all clients are important; however, some clients are REALLY important.
- Who are those clients who wield extra-large influence?
- Do you know who they are?
- Are you networking with them?
- Are you keeping up with their issues?
- Do you follow them on social media?
- Do you touch base periodically to listen to their concerns?
- Do they feel you are vested in their success? Your goal is to have a genuine feel for their mindset and interests.
- Influential organizations/associations in your industry. Whatever your industry, there is an association (or more than one) and other industry-wide organizations.
- What are those associations/organizations for your industry?
- Who are the association leaders and who are their board members? For large industry associations, the executive director and senior staff frequently carry great influence. The board chair and board members are also leaders to whom others pay attention.
- What positions do they take about key issues in your industry?
- What do those agendas imply for your organization?
- Influential people in your industry. Who are the movers and shakers in your industry? These are the people with influence – the thought leaders. Look for them on the boards of associations. Check out the speakers on industry panel sessions.
- Who are the sought-after speakers who pack the rooms at the conference?
- Who is interviewed for trade journals?
- What are they saying about the industry, issues and trends?
- What do they see for the future?
- If you don’t already know them, can you get to know them?
- How do their thoughts and ideas influence your organization or the direction of the industry?
The next three categories of influencers are related to your boss. Your direct boss has a considerable impact on your daily work life. In the last article, you were challenged to get to know her/him better. This time let’s take a look at the influences to which he is subject and the people to whom he’s listening.
- Your boss’s influencers from outside the organization. Perhaps you work for a boss who came into this position from outside the company.
- Who has his ear?
- What are they telling him? Knowing who has access tells you a lot about the likely perspective your boss will take. You see this play out in the political arena daily. High-level officials bring their past impressions and opinions with them into their new role.
- Who are the people your boss maintains connections with outside your organization?
- Where are they placed within your industry?
- What perspectives are they sharing with your boss that influence his viewpoints?
- Your boss’s inner circle of trusted advisors. Whether your boss is new to the organization or has risen through the ranks, she is likely to have a circle of trusted advisors within the organization. These are the people she calls for input, whose opinions she trusts, whose counsel she seeks.
- Who are they for your boss?
- What perspectives do they bring to the table?
- What kinds of persons are they?
- If you aren’t a trusted advisor, how can you make friends with those who are?
- Those your boss seeks to impress. Your boss needs to look good in front of someone.
- Who is it? Is it the board, a higher-level boss, the city council, or the public?
- Why are those people important to your boss? In the public sector where some leaders are appointed, they need to stay in the good graces of those who appointed them. Your boss will need to match her style to the interests of her influencers.
- Do you know the interests of those your boss seeks to impress? Elected officials need to look “good” to their constituents and that frequently means the media. If your boss is aspiring, he may seek approval from the company’s board members. Figure out who your boss wants to impress.
- How can you make your boss look good in front of them?
Managing these six influencers feels like a lot; however, in my experience, a little knowledge goes a long way. Try this: First, take inventory of the influencers in each category to identify the key players. Second, assess which influencers make the biggest difference. Next, take a deep dive into those few to learn more about their perspectives and agendas. Lastly, examine what those perspectives mean to you and your part of the organization. You’ll have the context you need to adapt your communication approach, position your work and develop relationships with the influencers. It’s worth the effort.