Influencing Without Authority – Busting the Myth!
Very Senior Leader(VSL) – ‘Rachna, I love your idea. Can you make it into a complete proposal?’
Me – ‘Sure! Let me generate some more thoughts, do some cost-benefit analysis, make a project plan, devise an implementation strategy, and get the whole thing ready.
VSL – ‘Sounds great! This is urgent –so, when can I see it?’
Me – ‘By 20th?’
VSL – ‘Ok…’
Me (very excited) – ‘Is there anything else I can do? Like make some diagrams to represent the operating model, or do a conjoint analysis, or, ummm, pluck some stars out of the heavens….anything……..anything else…(I trail off as VSL has walked off in a BRISK LEADERSHIP WALK.*)’
The Twentieth – Proposal made and sent.
The Twenty-Third – Reminder- Verbal
The Twenty-Seventh– Reminder – Email
The Thirtieth – Reminder – Casual mention (struggling to keep the voice cheerful and upbeat) – ‘Did you see that proposal..?’
In about a month’s time, life is back to normal. By which I mean that the VSL does not know my name, or what I do, and gives me the same beatific smile he doles out to the security guard, the office boy, the urinal and any other object that he encounters during THE BRISK LEADERSHIP WALK.*
We often struggle to get senior leaders to look at our work, evaluate, remember, leave alone, action on it. In the same breath, we are usually told that we can be trusted for gold class work!
So, what does it take to influence without authority? If you have done all that you have learnt in training programs (Talk Crisply, Build Networks, Build Allies, Clarify Goals & Priorities and so on), and it has not worked, here are some more suggestions:-
Haunt The VSL: – This entails a series of simple interventions:
· Write on the windscreen of his car with blood (read: ketchup) – ‘Will you read my proposal today?
· Break into his house at midnight, wearing a white bedsheet, holding a candle and chanting the above statement. Using a skateboard to add a ‘gliding effect’ is a good idea: make sure you practice at home first.
· Slide down his window pane (borrow the window-cleaner’s harness), wearing a scary mask, with the same message tattooed on your chest. In blood (read: ketchup)
· Stuff a Corpse in the boot of his car with the same message written in blood (read: ketchup). If there is a challenge in finding a corpse, pick up anyone from the audience of the inspirational session being conducted by the VSL.
Use a post-it note:- Write your query on a note and pin it somewhere he is forced to read it. Say, on his wrist, secured with a nail, in case a tack pin falls off.
Use Coercion: – For this, you can abduct his significant other, which, in most cases would be his executive assistant. Keep deleting one file, at a time, from the EA’s laptop, in the folder, ‘Boss’ Critical Presentations’ till your demand is met.
Well, I could on and on, but I will pause here to share another experience:
Often, as I walk down this busy road, doing my weekend shopping, some salesmen approach me, selling educational books for kids. The books look good, are at half the price as that of regular shops, and have saved me the effort from walking into a shop, looking for them. But, I would, usually, shun the salesmen. One day, I tried to figure out what’s going on in my mind when I ward them off: –
1. What’s the catch?
2. Why should I trust him?
3. Will he snatch my purse as I stop to pay for it?
4. Why is he wearing such an ugly, un-coordinated tie?
Mostly, the problem is with me, not him. My prejudices cloud my thinking and veer me off the main topic – ‘Good books at Half Price’.
I think it’s time to shift the focus on ‘How to Influence without Authority’ towards the ‘authority’ that rejects the efforts at ‘influencing’. It’s time to evaluate work for its intrinsic worth than for where it is coming from. It’s time to build processes and linkages at the workplace to facilitate the same. It’s time to truly matrix the organization culture, note: regardless of the structure, it’s the culture and mindsets that need to get ‘matrixed’, if we want to derive the true worth of the term, MATRIX.
*Five notches faster than the average speed of walk. Even better if the person walking along with you is trailing, struggling to keep up. The risks are that the person may trip, fall in the shredder on the way. Since, you never had any eye-contact, or turned to look at him during this interaction, you may continue walking and talking. It will appear ridiculous to people looking at you, but, no one really gives feedback to the VSL. So, nothing to worry.