How to Influence People
I’m going to admit something that might surprise you if you are a single person but probably won’t shock anyone who’s married. I get a lot of the ideas that I write about from conversations with my wife. These conversations stem from two roots. The first source of material is our daily conversation about work. We don’t always get a chance to do it, but it is rare that we don’t spend at least 30 minutes where we each talk about our day and reflect on things that we’ve done and seen. Oddly enough, that’s probably why I haven’t been writing very much over the holidays. We have not been at work and as a result there are many situations crying for attention.
The second source of ideas is more spontaneous and dramatic. These ideas come from conversations that boil over from frustrations with things that we experience in life that aren’t up to our expectations. This could be something simple, like slow service at a restaurant (almost always avoidable) or something complex like the reasons our government operates the way that it does. Each case gives us a chance to declare how we think things should be, and then challenge each other to find ways to drive situations closer to our desires.
Anyway, the point of telling you this is to give me a chance to point out publically how special my wife is and how much I owe her and love her. Without her I would be a completely different person. I tend to give a lot of before and after examples. The way I figure it, she’s one of the biggest reasons that there’s an “after”. She isn’t just a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas, she brings her own thoughts and ideas to the table and we all benefit from the results.
I have to laugh at myself sometimes. I sat down with the intention of pounding out a couple of paragraphs about my true topic… ah well, there’s still time I guess. Today’s topic revolves around leveraging relationships to accomplish your goals. The remainder of this article may give you the impression that I’m a bit cynical or that I use people to achieve my goals. I suppose that you could look at it that way, but I wouldn’t. In today’s world it is very difficult to be successful by yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a major company or the sole owner of a tiny company, you need the support of others to succeed. In some cases those helpers are your employees, sometimes they might be your bosses or peers, sometimes they may even be people like the UPS guy or the man who stocks the vending machine. You never know who you’re going to need or how they will be able to help you.
That’s the key thing that we all need to understand. We need help. We can’t reach our peak alone. Sure, you can do something, you can even reach your own personal peak, but your personal peak is nothing compared to what you can accomplish with friends. By ourselves we can look at the moon and dream. Together we can walk on it.
Ok Jonathan, that’s motivational and all, but what’s the point?
The point is that we seem to forget this life lesson when we’re working on our job. Our bosses can start to feel like our enemies. Our peers seem apathetic at best. How are we supposed to accomplish these amazing things when the people around us don’t want to work with us?
Let’s start with some personal accountability. You’ve heard it from me plenty of times at this point, you can’t change them. They are doing what they think is best for reasons that you can only guess at. However, you can change yourself. I’m happy to report that in this particular instance, changing yourself will also create a dramatic change in those around you.
I can remember what I used to be like. I started at BCBSFL in April of 1998. I was extremely immature and was absolutely blessed to make it through those first couple of years. My less than positive social experiences throughout my primary and secondary education had left me with a misconceived notion that the way to present myself was as a loner with a tough guy attitude. Obviously it was a poor choice of demeanor and it scared away potential friends and potential helpers, the only positive was that it seemed to keep me from getting picked on (to my face at least). That was a moral victory of sorts and it was better than what I had managed to achieve so far in life so that’s why I was choosing to act that way.
It was a pretty rotten choice. After a few years I matured a little and started to put in the extra effort that was needed to get noticed and I was able to squeeze a few promotions out of my natural talents. The problem was that the people around me were usually miserable, specifically because they happened to be around me. They weren’t the only ones, I was miserable too. The work was hard, mostly because I was recreating the wheel every time I had to accomplish anything. I can only think of 1 thing that I collaborated with others on in my first 5 years at the company, and the only reason for that was that it was an idea that we all wanted to see come to pass.
I share that to make sure you understand that you can change, no matter who you are or what your circumstance is. Take heart and keep reading :-).
It wasn’t really until 2006 that I learned my lesson and began to apply it successfully. I had moved into our sales organization. I was still an analyst, a data guy, but sales is a different animal. In my previous organizations success and failure were a little more obtuse. Nobody came out and pushed back on you, they just consigned your idea to various series of meetings that would slowly crush it into the cold death of oblivion through inaction. It sounds bad, but most people don’t even realize that it’s happening. It’s funny, they wonder why nothing gets done while propagating the behavior themselves.
Sales was different, at least it was for me. When I made a recommendation I would get responses like “Why should we do that?” “Can you prove it?” “Convince me.” That’s a whole new ballgame. There’s no room for false assumptions there. You realize that your recommendation really has a chance to be put into action, and it depends on how well you can sell it. That’s where I learned the key lesson about how to get things done. If you want somebody to help you achieve your goals and dreams you must first be willing to help them achieve theirs.
In other words, how does doing what you want get them what they want? This shouldn’t be hugely surprising; Dale Carnegie said the same thing back in 1936 in his wonderful book How to Win Friends and Influence People (a book I highly recommend). Zig Ziglar is also well known for his motivation speeches with this topic. What was amazing to me was that it actually worked. If I took a little time to learn about the person I was dealing with, about their goals and dreams and figured out how my efforts would help them, I could accomplish more than I ever dreamed. In many cases you aren’t even required to change anything from your original plans. It is a simple matter of identifying possible impacts and verbalizing how that meets the other party’s needs.
Do you have something that you wish you could change about the work you do or the environment you do it in? Have you figured out a potential solution to a problem but found yourself watching dejectedly as it went nowhere. This is a critical concept for you to understand. Explaining to your boss or peers that it’s the right thing to do doesn’t usually cut it. Telling them how you figured it out is typically a waste of time. Take some extra time before you announce your findings. You need to understand who it will impact and how it will impact them 3 or 4 steps down the line from the initial change.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you find a better way to do something and can save 30 minutes of unnecessary work per day for everyone in the department. The first thing you need to do is figure out what the real impact of that change is. In rough numbers, 30 minutes a day = 2.5 hours a week and 10 hours a month per employee. If you have a 25 person department then that would be 250 hours per month. If each employee works 40 hours a week, then you’ve just found a way to eliminate 1.5 FTE’s. The company’s goal is to reduce administrative costs, so you’ll be rewarded nicely for this discovery…right?
Maybe. It really depends on the department’s current situation. If you are in a department that has already been marked for cuts and the manager is looking for a way to achieve them, then the information you shared above should be well received. But what if you’re working in a smaller department? In the business world, size usually equals power. Your manager may have a legitimate concern. If they find ways to shrink their department, they run the risk of making it unnecessary. If it gets small enough the company might combine it with another department and leave your manager without a job. As a result, each manager/director/etc. at any given company has a vested interested in making sure that they have plenty of people working for them.
Do they really think that way?
Yes, they do. Self-preservation appeals to even the most honorable manager. Still there’s something wrong with that thought process isn’t there? Seems short-sighted doesn’t it? You’re right, it’s extremely short-sighted, but that’s as far as some managers are able to see and as a result they make decisions based on that view. This is where your new skillset comes into play. You are going to show the manager how your change will actually help them.
You’ve already figured it out. Just because a team can do the same amount of work in less time doesn’t mean they have to get rid of employees. In fact, the team that figures out how to do more with less is usually rewarded. Obviously, that’s point number one. Do you know who gets credit for finding a way to do more with less? You probably guessed it; it’s your manager and their manager. You need to make sure that’s part of your sales pitch. You don’t care about the credit right now, but you need to make sure that your leadership understands how good they will look.
The other thing you need to be prepared with is a backup plan. The reason that people value leaders who find a way to do more with less is that they can add more work those departments without adding more people. That’s what you need to figure out ahead of time. What work needs to get done that isn’t getting done today? What can the department start doing with the extra 250 hours a month that will add value to the bottom line? It’s critical to figure this out up front. That way, when your manager is pitching your idea to their manager they will already be able to show what the added value of the change will be. They will both feel confident that they won’t lose any staff, and they may even be able to use the change as leverage for more staff. They are going to look really good as a result of this little change that you wanted to implement to make your job easier.
Wait a minute, I do all the work and they get all the credit? This sucks!
Ah ah ah… hold up there. Now who’s being short-sighted? Unless you work for a real turd your manager will probably mention that it was your idea. But even if they don’t they will think of you more fondly. You’ve found a way onto their radar. What is even more important is that you’ve just shown to your management staff that you have made a change in yourself. You’ve stopped thinking like an employee and started thinking like a manager. All of a sudden you’re going to find yourself participating in special projects, being asked for your opinion and receiving a new level of respect.
You should know that this isn’t just a show. When you start thinking in this way you really have reached a turning point, one that is hard to ignore. When you interview for future jobs you’ll have a ready-made example to share. In addition, when you finally get that management job you won’t be subject to the same learning curve as some other new leaders. You’ve already cultivated a leadership mindset and will make a more natural transition.
Seems too good to be true doesn’t it? It’s not, I promise. This path is much more difficult than the path you may be on today. It requires constant thought and evaluation about situations and experiences, but it is so much more rewarding. You’ll find that you’re called on when people need help because you know how to get things done. That’s as valuable as gold in the business world. You will be well on your way to success.
In the next article we will be looking at the added dimension of friendship and how that can help your cause.
Until then, be blessed.