Influence is the power to change or affect someone or something; or the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.
Today, the term “influencer” is usually used to describe someone who has a strong social media presence, but having influence in the workplace is also a very powerful tool. When used effectively, influence can increase the chances of a successful project outcome, because building a great solution is only half the battle — getting others to trust and adopt the solution is where influence can make or break your hard work.
How, exactly, do you start to use the power of influence at work?
Step 1: Actively listen to what your stakeholder cares about
It was very purposeful that the first step towards using influence is to sit back and just listen.
To define the problem and start working towards a solution, you need to understand what your stakeholder truly cares about. You cannot do that if you are the one doing the talking.
In previous articles, I have talked about the importance of asking “why” and separating out “must haves” and “nice-to-haves.” When you actively listen at the start of a project, you pick up clues on what your stakeholder cares about, and you initiate the process of building trust.
Step 2: Establish your credibility
If one person tells you they have a great idea for a solution, and another tells you that they faced similar problems in the past and have a great idea for a solution, which person would you choose for your project?
Both people had “a great idea,” but only one of them started to establish credibility.
Establishing credibility continues to help you build trust with your stakeholder and therefore is a key component to using influence at work.
There is a fine line between coming across as the right person for the job and being cocky, but an easy way to build credibility at the start of a project is simply making sure you introduce yourself to the teams you are working on/for by highlighting previous experiences or educational background.
Also, remember that your stakeholder has their own set of stakeholders who are invested in the project’s success. Arming your client with confidence that they have the right team working on solutions will help build trust through several layers of the organization.
Step 3: Do the work
After listening and showing that you are the right person for this project, it is now time to do the work.
A project can be broken down into different sectors:
- Research – This is where you explore what has been done before, and speak with subject matter experts to understand the intricacies of the problem. Research is a timely step, and especially difficult when you are excited to jump right in and start building things. Without a proper foundation of research, you will lose the influence that has been established with the stakeholder if they start asking you many questions that you do not have the answer to.
- Execution – This is the most straight-forward step and where you let your skills shine. One additional tip for project execution is to quantify things as much as possible for documentation and progress updates. As an example, if you notice “a lot” of variables have null values, try and find the actual percentage to help your stakeholder understand if this is a large or insignificant problem. While executing the project, start recording all the ways you are making the stakeholder’s life tangibly better, because this will help keep your stakeholder excited and engaged during each update, increasing your influence.
- Testing and Socialization – This portion of the project is where you think you have a good solution and want to uncover all blind spots before the handoff. The more work you put into this step, the more likely you are to influence the stakeholder to adopt your solution. Datapoints like level of error, limitations, dependencies, and integration roadmaps will help show your stakeholder that you have thought through everything.
Step 4: Present your solution in terms of what your stakeholder values
You are almost at the finish line, but the “make or break” moment is how you present your final solution. Influence, just like trust, is hard to build but easy to lose. The way you present your solution can be challenging because you are passionate about certain aspects, but your presentation needs to focus on what the stakeholder cares about instead.
For example, if your stakeholder cares about cost of implementation, focus on costs. If you spend the majority your presentation highlighting something like processing power or novel techniques, then you will struggle to get buy-in and your stakeholder will feel like you misunderstood the objective.
Use your influence and present the solution in relation to what your stakeholder values — this is why the first step of active listening is so important.
Step 5: Show your appreciation
Many will stop after step 4, but it is important to wrap up a project by showing appreciation to everyone who helped achieve the successful solution.
The reason for this final step is that you will most likely have to interact with stakeholders and subject matter experts again after completing a project. Their time is valuable, and if you want to solicit their help again, you need to show them that you appreciated the fact that they helped you. Showing appreciation is yet another way to build and instill trust and increase your influence in the future, because people are more willing to help others when they feel valued.
Mastering the art of influence is not rocket science, and most of us incorporate at least some of these steps in our everyday work. Taking a step back and thinking about how to strategically use influence right from project kick-off will help you build a solid solution that gets implemented, and help you to build lasting relationships with your stakeholders and others who have helped you along the way.
Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post.
After Solar Impulse, Kassalen helped Covestro develop its strategy for materials for the future of mobility, and shared her work at conferences around the United States. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now applies her problem-solving skills to the finance industry, where she works with teams to develop big data strategies and implement innovative technologies.