Do you lack organizational power? Are you competing for influence against people who have it and know how to use it? Welcome to reality. Organizational life doesn't always provide a level playing field for competing ideas. People outside the inner sanctum of decision making often find themselves at a disadvantage. Their ideas are not recognized or solicited and access to decision makers is often blocked.
Not every company operates this way. Back in the days when founders Bill Hewlett and David Packard ran HP, employees understood that they could go directly to Bill's or Dave's office if they had something important to say. Likewise, Motorola had a policy of accommodating open dissent that made it possible for engineers, managers, and other employees to publicly argue with their bosses on matters of interest to the company's future. If an engineer's or a bench scientist's new product idea was turned down by an immediate superior, he or she could appeal to a higher-level decision maker. That type of openness is commendable but seldom seen.
One way to level the playing field of influence is to develop a network of support. It's easy for a lone employee who lacks power to be ignored or discounted; it is much harder to ignore someone who enjoys the support of many in the organization. The “strength in numbers” concept is widely understood and implemented by unions, coalitions, and alliances. A union steward has more influence over management than he would as an ordinary employee. A coalition of environmental groups has greater clout with a congressional representative than would any member group on its own. When a start-up pharmaceutical company allies with a larger company that has broad distribution, its potential market impact is greatly multiplied. You too can enhance your influence by building a supportive network.
Whether people recognize it or not, just about everyone in a workplace participates in a network. Your network includes the following people:
- Those with whom you collaborate and share information, for example, the informal group that meets for lunch occasionally to swap ideas for cutting through red tape
- Those on whom you depend when you're in a jam, for example, the woman in the warehouse you call when a replacement part must be rushed to a key customer
- Those who depend on you to make them look good, for example, the colleague who relies on you to create the electronic spreadsheet models she cannot figure out how to do
- Those with whom you're personally simpatico, for example, the guy in the finance department who was on your college rowing team
- Those with whom you share important workplace goals—for example, the four people on your product development team
You won't find your network on the organization chart. That chart indicates official reporting relationships. Your network is unofficial, ad hoc, unmapped, and held together by mutual needs, common aspirations, and personal bonds. It operates in the spaces between the tidy chart boxes. Don't be surprised if your network includes peers and people above and below you in the pecking order of authority.
So, you already have a network, but how much does it contribute to your influence? Logically, your network contributes to the extent that its individual members:
- Have influence of their own
- Are recognized as important contributors to key organizational goals
- Have expertise or knowledge valued by management
- Are reckoned to be trustworthy and reliable (two foundation attributes of influence)
- Are supportive of you and your ideas
- Enjoy access to decision makers
The more your network reflects these qualities, the greater its potential contribution to your personal influence. Obtaining standing in a network with these qualities requires effort on your part. You cannot claim it as a matter of right but must earn your place by:
- Being trustworthy and reliable in your dealings with others
- Providing support and doing favors for network members when asked
- Returning the favors done for you
- Contributing ideas and leadership
- Working with others toward shared goals
A network like the one we've described has no natural cap on member numbers, nor is it limited to particular departments or operating units. As an instrument of your influence, it will ideally extend into every area of the organization where you'd like to have an impact, and from which you'd like to gather information and support. So keep your eyes open for potential new members of your network. When you find them, get to know these people on a personal level. Then find ways to help them be more successful in their work. Share your ideas and gain their support. If you do this deliberately over a period of months and years, you will build personal influence and an army of support.
© 2011 American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher from Increase Your Influence at Work, by Perry McIntosh and Richard A. Luecke. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association, www.amacombooks.org