Determining Influence

Many of the influencing tactics require you to have informal power. It is a good idea to understand what your major forms of informal power are, so here’s an evaluation tool.

  • Step 1: List your top 10 contacts that enable you to get work done. These contacts can be either internal or external to your organization.
  • Step 2: For each contact, assign a score from 1 to 10 indicating how much you depend on them. If a contact provides a lot of value and is also difficult to replace, assign a high score. Think broadly about the value your contacts offer. This includes career advice, emotional backing, support with daily activities, information, and access to resources or stakeholders.
  • Step 3: Do the same in reverse. Assign a score to yourself from others’ perspectives. Approximate how much value you offer your contacts and how difficult it would be to replace you. Be honest.

Next, look for red flags which could indicate that you lack informal power.

  • Do all of your contacts work in one team, function, product unit, or office building? This could indicate a limited ability to generate value beyond the basic requirements of your job description.
  • Do your contacts provide you with more value than you return? Such relationships are difficult to sustain in the long run. Asymmetries in dependence indicate others hold the power in a relationship.   
  • Is all of the value you give or receive concentrated in a couple of contacts? You could be vulnerable if you lose these contacts or your relationship changes.

Once you understand where your informal power lies, figure out how you can improve.

To address the unfavorable power scores, earn relationships by delivering value to your contacts. Ask yourself: what value can you deliver to them? One way is to develop and continuously improve upon a skill set that leads others to value your contributions. Then proactively use your skills to help others, well beyond the demands of your formal role. You don’t want to be the expert whom nobody knows.

Let your job help you. Manage your job description so that you can contribute to the workflows of multiple functions inside the organization as well as customers, outside partners, or regulators. Volunteer for cross-functional initiatives. View lateral transfers as a move up. By positioning yourself at the intersection of workflows, you position yourself to meet, learn from, and deliver value to a variety of diverse groups in the organization.

Get to know your stakeholders and collaborators better as individuals. You may be surprised how something that is rather easy for you to do carries significant value for them. Sometimes we freeze because we believe that we have to offer really significant contributions or do massive favors for others. Knowing others well can present us with helpful alternatives.

Outside of work, join social and professional ones. Shared activities have an underestimated impact on expanding our networks.

Your value is never solely defined by your ability to perform a formal organizational role. By creating value for diverse stakeholders and making yourself irreplaceable, you open possibilities for yourself within the organization and beyond. And, by doing so, you add value to your company.

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Being a Quality Salesperson

A core function of quality leadership is building the case of quality and raising the level of awareness and adoption through the organization. As we work to mature our quality system we build commitment. This is the salesperson aspect of our role where we go out and sell quality and the improvements we are advocating for.

Understand what the customer is buying

You first need to understand what the customer is buying. A person selling a food processor is really selling the ability to easily make tasty food. A person selling a car is selling a whole lot of cultural assumptions about mobility, and power, and the dream of success. Similarly, our stakeholders are not buying specific quality methodologies and tools (e.g. process management, knowledge management, risk management), they are buying something wider, which quality methodologies can deliver to them, and you need to understand what that is. Two of the more wider things that the customer wants that quality usually promises are protection and opportunity.

Quality at heart offers protection against deficiencies and risks. Quality protects against loss of capability.

Quality is also an opportunity – gaining more value from our resources.

Segmenting your audience

Every salesperson needs to know their market and their customer base which we can think of in terms of three market segments:

  • Those who ‘get’ the quality improvement and become immediately enthused, moving rapidly from first contact to positive perception and trial. These are your allies, supporters, and early adopters.
  • The folks who just do not care about maturing quality. They will engage with quality if they must, if it is part of the job, or if everyone ese is doing it. If the improvement is voluntary, or unusual, they will not bother. Moving them to the trial phase of buy-in will require a range of influencing tactics.
  •  Those who do not like quality, seeing it as a threat to their way of working, or even as a personal threat. These people will resist everything unless it is embedded into the very structure of the organization. They can be exceedingly difficult to move to the positive perception state, let alone higher than that. Here your primary tools are peer pressure, social proof, appeals to authority and compulsion.

Think through the types of quality initiatives you are working on. Those that are voluntary will only reach the first third, and that is the best place to start. Or you need more inescapable methods. I usually find for any set of improvements it is a mixture of experiment with early adopters, build social proof and introduce a few critical compulsions.

Influencing Tactics

In their book Mind Gym Sebastian Bailey and Octavius Black outlined nine influencing tactics you can select from, based on the character and situation of the ‘buyer’.

To add context to these, I am going to provide an example of implementing Gemba Walks for leaders, managers, and floor level employees, with standard work that emphasizes pushing to a learning culture.

TacticIncludesExample
ReasoningUsing logical argument to make a case. Reasoning is necessary to support your case with all stakeholder, even if other influencing techniques will create the closing sell. You need to create a compelling logical case for quality improvement, and it needs to be a case for the individual was well as the company.Presenting  case studies and evidence on how this is successful.
InspiringAppealing to emotions and creating the vision. Inspiring people generates an emotional commitment to the vision. Being inspiring demands conviction, energy and passion but is especially effective with the early adopters.A vision of a gemba walk being the hallmark of quality culture and building a culture of inclusivity.
Asking questionsLeading the other person to make their own discovery of the value of the quality improvement.Drawing out examples of an individuals own experience of the value of observation and good coaching.
Ingratiating(Be a buddy)Your stakeholder will almost feel positive toward someone who makes them feel good about themselves.   This is not a great approach for people more senior than you, it comes across as sucking up. You also need to be sincere – people always detect insincerity.Friends helping friends get things done
Deal makingWhen you give another person something in return for their agreement with you. Your ability to use this approach depends very much on your confidence and ability to offer something in return. To keep trust, make sure you deliver on any promises made.Through introducing the Gemba walk we will see a reduction of human error deviations and we will be able to close minor deviations in three days.
Favor askingSimply asking for something because you want or need it. This works well only when the other person cares about you or their relationship with you. If used sparingly, it is hard to resist, but be prepared to pay back that favor!If you can support the Gemba Walk, then we will be able to free up the time for that important project of yours as a result.
Using silent allies (aka social proof)Using the fact that others are getting value from the quality improvement as an argument in its favor. Social proof is sharing the stories of people as like your ‘buyer’ as possible. This really gets to that big middle of uncertain individuals.   Each success, no matter how small, is an opportunity to gather social proof. Hold lessons learned, don’t be afraid to capture good feedback on video!Listen to Nancy here as she discusses how much Gemba Walks have changed the work in her team.
Invoking authorityAppealing to a rule is one you use late in the roll-out program to convince the laggards once the quality improvement has become a clear expectation.Your boss tells you to do Gemba Walks and enforces them happening (report a metric of how many Gemba Walks)
Forcing (“do it or else”)Bringing senior management in to demonstrate clear requirements with clear ramifications that can include temporary or permanent removal of the individual. This is a tactic of last resort.Do this or else
Influence Tactics
Influencing Tactics per Implementation Phase

Be prepared to spend a lot of time in “Yes…but…and” territory, especially in the Strategy Phase.

Building Situational Humility

The biggest thing I am working on is situational humility. How do I successfully balance the subject matter expertise my organization needs with the humility to truly lead? It is clear that such humility is critical to building psychological safety, and psychological safety is critical to building innovative teams.

Amy Edmondson’s powerful talk on psychological safety and teams

For most of my career I’ve been prized for my subject matter expertise, but there are huge limits, no one can know everything, so I am cultivating the following behaviors in my practices.

To build Humility do thisWhich meansAnd I do this
Know what you don’t knowResist “master of the universe” impulses. You may yourself excel in an area, but as a leader you are, by definition, a generalist. Rely on those who have relevant qualification and expertise. Know when to defer and delegate.I have a list of key topics that are both in my space and overlap and individuals who involving in the discussion is critical.

I’ve created a “swear jar” for every time I say something like “I have an answer” and at this rate I’ll be taking a lot of people out for drinks by the time this pandemic is over. It is all IOUs right now because I don’t remember the last time I used cash and I don’t think I’ve seen a dollar bill in 11 months.
Resist falling for your own publicityWe all put the best spin on our success — and then conveniently forget that the reality wasn’t as flawless. This is an interesting one for me. Having joined a new company 10 months ago it has been important to avoid the spin on my joining, and to not exacerbate it.

I’ve taken to keeping a list of problems and who is the right people who are not me that can solve them.
Never underestimate others The world is filled with other hard-working, knowledgable, and creative professionalsI purposely look for opportunities to meet with folks at all levels and ask them to collaborate.
Embrace and promote a spirit of serviceFocus on finding ways to help others to succeedI’m all about the development. Crucial for me here is stepping back and letting others lead, even if its more work for me as I spend more time coaching and mentoring than would actually take to do the job. But lets be honest, can’t and shouldn’t do anything.
Listen, even (no, especially) to the weird ideasOnly when you are not convinced that your idea is or will be better than someone else’s do you really open your ears to what they are saying. But there is ample evidence that you should: the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend to come from left field, from some associate who seems a little offbeat, and may not hold an exalted position in the organization.I love the weird, though maybe most when they are my weird ideas. Been working to strengthen idea management as a concept and practice in my organization.
Be passionately curiousConstantly welcome and seek out new knowledge, and insist on curiosity from those around you. Research has found linkages between curiosity and many positive leadership attributes (including emotional and social intelligence). Take it from Einstein. “I have no special talent,” he claimed. “I am only passionately curious.”I’m a voracious reading machine, its always been a central skill.

How I am trying to teach others to be curious and turn it to their advantage.
Elements of Situational Humility
Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

Leveraging some graphic resources

Let’s be honest – slides and presentations from quality professionals tend to be text heavy and graphic poor. I’m no expert here, but I have settled on a few subscriptions that help me produce fair to middling presentations and graphics.

  • SlideModel, SlideGeeks, SlideTeam – You probably don’t want all three (or one of the other competitors) but have a subscription to just one of these have saved my sanity more times than I can count.
  • NounProject – Oh how I love the icons this organization makes available. I use them everywhere! Presentations, procedures, technical systems. Great price structure, decent licensing. Now with a decent photo library too. Someday I will organize one of their Iconathons for developing a good set of icons around quality principles and tools.
  • Photolibrary – So many free and low priced ones out there. I don’t use photos nearly enough but I keep up a low level shutterstock subscription and use my monthly quota.

My goal this year is to use more graphics in my blog. Well actually my goal is to post more this year, 2020 was kind of a wash.

Conference Attendance

Conference attendance is both an important way to make connections and to grow as a quality leader. I’m here in Phoenix for the ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference, and in waiting for the event to begin I have a few thoughts on planning for conferences as part of development.

Plan your conference attendance 6-12 months out, and treat it as a rolling calendar.

Go and do some research on the conferences that make sense to you. It is easy to start with those of your professional organization, like the ASQ. Whenever you come across a conference and it seems to be in your wheel house, add it to the list. You want to pay attention to three key dates: When the conference is, when the registration deadlines tend to be, and when the call- for-speaker periods end. This last one is important because…

Speak at the Conference!

The best way to get value for a conference is to speak at it. Conferences compensate attendance, and that means your organization is much more willing to let you go (and pay for travel). Speaking allows you to talk about the work you, your team and your organization have done. This draws in people who are interested in the problems you are solving, which helps with networking. It serves as advertising, can help recruiting, and can build reputation.

Yes, you can speak at a conference. If you are new to it, speak at a local regional conference first. You get better by doing these, and I’m serious, the opportunity to discuss the issues important to you will be plentiful. Your team has solved problems. You have learned things. This is gold to others! There is nothing more popular than a good case study talk.

The people you meet at the conference will be more valuable then the talks you attend. Talks are usually fairly high level and are targeting a wide audience (yes, even mine). But they do help you identify people with problems similar to yours. And you will learn a lot. A few key tactics:

  1. Introduce yourself to each and every speaker you attend. Ask questions, follow-up, share. As a speaker I treasure these conversations
  2. Never sit by yourself. Sit by someone, introduce yourself and talk. Even we introverts can do this, and you will be amazed by what you learn this way.
  3. Engage in the hallway track – those impromptu conversations in the hall can often become the main event (well other than your presentation of course)

Make sure to take notes and share them. With your team back home, with the world. I will always take 3-4 key things I learned and do a lunch-and-learn or coffe klatch at work. I also like to do blog posts and share with the world. This will help solidify your key take aways and continue those excellent conversations.

Remember that conference attendance is part of your development. Do a retrospective and determine what went well, what was valuable, was it as valuable as missing those days of work would have been? Use that learning for the next conference. Take an iterative approach and plan for the next engagement.