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How to influence decision makers in a corporate environment

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How to influence decision makers in a corporate environment

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Barack Obama. If ever there was an archetypal decision maker, he’s it. No doubt President Obama is intelligent, educated and has a very good understanding of how the world works. But do you really think he has deep and intimate knowledge of all the goings on of his country and the rest of the world? So much so that he can make informed decisions regarding all things, economic, social, corporate, environment and military? Probably not, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to possess such knowledge.

A decision maker like the president has an army of advisors who specialise in knowing about all that stuff, and whose job it is to feed him the information he needs to make important decisions. This army of advisors can be referred to as knowledge workers, people (perhaps like yourself) who know more about a particular subject than their superiors do. They would have years of education, training and experience in order to carry out their jobs. But often they lack a particular skill in this vast array of knowledge – how to effectively influence decision makers.

Whether your boss is the world’s most powerful man or a humble senior VP at a corporate goliath, the following ten tips will set in you in good stead for getting him or her to see things your way. (Sorry, that sounded a bit Machiavellian – perhaps we can discuss diabolical duplicity in another blog!)

1. Look to the greater good

Would a good salesman say to a customer “buy my stuff otherwise I won’t get my commission”? No they wouldn’t, they would relate to the customer’s needs instead. As a knowledge worker and influencer, it’s better to relate to the needs of the corporation rather than those of yourself or your team. Relay the impact your ideas will have on the corporation.

2. The burden of proof is on you

Influencing a decision maker is a bit like selling something to a customer. Rather than selling a product or service, you’re selling an idea. And like any good salesman, it’s your responsibility to sell it, not the customer’s responsibility to buy it. Blaming management for not buying your ideas is disempowering because you focus on other people’s perceived wrongs instead of what you can do better. If you don’t like something, change it instead of being a silent victim.

3. Consider the cost of your ideas

Prepare for a realistic conversation about how much your ideas will cost and be ready for objections. Understand and acknowledge what may be sacrificed so that your suggestion is implemented. Remember, all organisations, no matter how large, have limited resources.

4. Your boss is only human

Even the greatest leaders are fallible. If your superiors make a mistake, focus on helping them rather than judging them. You’re all in it together. In the words of Alexander Pope, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

5. Be courteous

No one likes a sycophant, but on the same token back-chatting or being rude to your boss is unproductive at best and could get your fired at worst. Avoid trash talking your manager and make sure the things that you say are going to help the corporation, customer and person you’re addressing. If they don’t, then bite your tongue.

6. Pick your battles

Don’t waste your people’s time and your own psychological energy on winning trivial issues. Accept losses on the smaller things and keep your eye on the prize by focusing on the greater objective at hand. If you seem easy going, co-workers may let their guard down a bit and be more open to your suggestions.

7. Toe the line

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, your ideas will be shelved and it’s frustrating. But that’s no excuse to act impudently when conveying to the team the final orders of senior management. Maintain your integrity with an air of enthusiasm and keep personal feelings personal. To do otherwise may sabotage the successful execution of whatever idea has been decided upon.

8. Let go of the past

Avoid whining about mistakes made in the past, it’s a waste of time and energy and spreads negativity which could hamper changes for a better future. Also, it’s just annoying. Focus on what you can achieve tomorrow and next week rather than on what went wrong yesterday or last week. This type of attitude can significantly influence management because you become a problem solver as opposed to a problem finder. Positivity spreads joy which makes you all the more influential. Let’s face it, people are more likely to do as you ask if they like you.

9. Winning isn’t everything

An important factor when trying to influence your superiors is to make a positive difference to the corporation. Actions speak louder than words, so focus on how you can do things better rather than what others are doing wrong. In a business environment, hours of heated debate without positive impact is beyond pointless. It’s a waste of shareholders money and an interruption to customer service. If you like winning arguments, join a debate club.

10. Don’t turn a blind eye

History has shown us that even the biggest corporation can and will be destroyed if it violates integrity and ethics (Enron and WorldCom being the most well known in recent times). Do challenge senior management on ethical violations, but don’t assume they were intentional. We’re all human and mistakes can be made; leave judgement out of it and present your concerns in a way that ultimately helps the organisation and its customers. People respect integrity which makes it an influential attribute to have.

Consider all that time and energy in becoming the knowledge worker you are. All the experience and wisdom you have acquired over the years and how much it could benefit the organisation you work in. Now take that same energy and enthusiasm to present this knowledge to the decisions makers in a way that will influence them with great effect. For example, if you’re trying to convince the higher ups to deploy enterprise collaboration technology within your company,  contact us or  request a demo first to arm yourself with all the information they’ll need to say yes.

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