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SQLAndy

I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.

Do You Have Influence? Part 3

I talked about the basics of Influence in Part 1 and Part 2, today I’m trying something harder, showing you how to deliberately use your hard won influence to evoke change. Earning influence is perhaps not simple, but it’s an easy enough formula to understand. The risk is low. Not zero, but if you’re reasonably self aware and self filtering you can build influence. How long it takes depends on a lot of factors of course, but eventually you achieve some amount of influence.

I like to say that influence is a lot like karma, you bank it against the day you need to spend it. Much like money, you can’t take it with you. But…when you decide to spend it, you do so knowing that the power of your brand allows you to exert influence (the good part of this) and that the very act of doing so places your entire store of hard won influence at risk (the bad part). Taking the risk requires a measure of courage, or a lack of understanding that the risk is being taken, or, I suppose, a lack of interest in any fallout that results.

Let’s say that you write a blog post trying to cause a change and let’s assume that it’s a cause that most of those that follow your blog will have some interest in. You can use one of four strategies:

  • Try to influence your readers to in turn influence decision makers
  • Apply pressure directly to the decision makers in direct fashion
  • A mixture of both
  • Rant

Note: In practice the fifth option is to reach out directly and privately to the person you wish to influence, which I recommend, but it doesn’t always have the power of other options.

The first strategy of trying to get your readers to influence decisions makers is what all good groups (unions for example) do when they have an item up for discussion. They reach out to their members, explain the situation, and ask them to take action and explain what action to take. It’s not submitting a boilerplate email, but it does structure a response. Whether they listen depends on:

  • Do you have influence with them in this particular area?
  • Does it seem to be inline with what they know and expect of you?
  • Is the call to action reasonable (time, money, etc)
  • Whether they even read it

Next, we can write to apply pressure to a decision maker. Instead of emailing them, which may or may not cause a response, we write it publicly. No one wants to be taken to task by name in a public area, fairly or not, and so it’s more likely to cause a response. Not always a good one, but a response. It can be written obliquely (a technique I recommend) and it certainly shouldn’t be an outright attack (unless all other options exhausted!).

Should you combine them? To a degree they always are, but there isn’t a simple answer beyond that. Just remember you’re withdrawing from the karma bank, mind the balance.

So what about rants? Rants are unfocused calls for change, however reasonably stated. If you want to cause change don’t do anything without an understanding of how your action might lead to change. Don’t be ambiguous, state exactly what change you think is needed.

If you think about it, I’m describing politics and civic participation. If we want change, we start learning on someone that can help cause that change. We email them, we get others to email them, we start a petition, and we try to get news coverage. If we’re a little bigger we get a professional lobbyist (someone with influence) to lease us their influence.

My take; don’t do this lightly or in a hurry. If you’re going to try to cause change in whatever area, take the time to understand the issues from all perspectives, figure out who the players are, and what is a realistic amount of change. You’re trying to find the tipping point, the place where you can push most effectively.

Blogging about solving problems looks easy by comparison doesn’t it?

Comments

Posted by chuckboycejr on 28 September 2010

Hi Andy,

I don't think that there are only four strategies of influencing others.  I also don't think that "rant" is a valid strategy and therefore it should not be presented as one.

One obvious type of strategy you did not list was the appeal to the way things ought to be.  Think of MLKs "I have a dream" speech.  In it, he depicted the ugly way things were and how things could be better.

There are many other ways to influence that you did not discuss (e.g. Frederick Douglass' rhetorical use of subversion is a classic example found in college speech curricula), but the moral appeal typified by MLK is at least one more that should be considered.

Thank you very much,

Chuck

Posted by Andy Warren on 29 September 2010

Chuck, I'll have to think on those. Ultimately don't they have to include some call to action, even if done at an individual level, that is, not something where you're trying to build a group to exert more influence?

Thanks for the comment!

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