The HR Advisor as influencer
Arguably, life is all about power and influence. Even if your own life seems far richer than that, you have to admit that power and influence are often the deciding factors in the workplace…
For HR practitioners, this is potentially depressing. When was the last time you felt you had direct power in your organisation? Traditionally, HR has been perceived as offering advice, guidance, reasons why not, and being one step removed from the commercial realities of running a business. Hence, rather than a blunt use of power, HR tends to rely on a more subtle wielding of influence. And that’s why “influencing skills” and “professional courage and influence” are core elements of the CIPD’s professional standards.
(Incidentally, if all this sounds a bit negative, consider that the continuing trend for flatter, less obviously hierarchical organisational structures means that old-fashioned ‘position power’ that comes from a role or job title is one the wane. Everybody’s influencing now, and HR has been working like this for years…)
What is ‘influence’?
To influence someone is to have an impact on their behaviour or thinking, often through the presentation of facts or argument, but without orders or instructions. In other words, you’re not telling, you’re persuading. The goal of influencing is cooperation, not compliance.
In HR, except in cases of rigid, laid-down procedures or legislation, we’re rarely in a position to tell anybody to do anything. Instead, we persuade by pointing out that certain approaches will provide better results. Maybe we’re challenging a manager’s behaviour, making a case for including staff as stakeholders in a major change, or running a training course to improve management practices… much of our work is done through influence.
Influencing skills include observation, interpretation, active listening, feedback , awareness, self-confidence, timing, and empathy. However, great tools as they are, they don’t work in a vacuum. You can’t just ‘do a bit of influencing’ out of the blue, you need to build the foundations first.
Successful influence comes from building relationships with others. Your position and the way you can express it might be both sound and compelling, but if you don’t pay attention to the needs and concerns of the ‘influenc-ee’, your case is unlikely to succeed. This can be seen clearly in the CIPD’s new profession map, which categorises professional standards according to practitioner level (level of influence?); for example, one set of statements reads as follows:
- Fundamental level – Initiate purposeful conversations with a range of people
- Associate level – Take steps to engage regularly with key stakeholders to understand their preferred approach and needs
- Chartered level – Proactively develop and sustain relationships with key stakeholders to inform how you influence them
- Chartered Fellow level – Build and leverage a network of relationships with current and future influencers and stakeholders
In other words, the key to using influencing skills to successfully convey your argument/position/perspective is to build your network and reputation by genuinely engaging and understanding the people you wish to influence.
Who do you need to influence, and what have you done recently to connect with them?