by Marshall Goldsmith
Every decision in your company is made by the person who has the power to make that decision — not necessarily the “right” person, the “smartest” person, or the “best” person. If you can influence the key decision makers in your organization, you can make a positive difference. If you cannot influence decision makers, you will make much less of a difference. Once you make peace with these facts, you will become more effective in influencing up.
The following suggestions do not come with a guarantee. When you don’t have the power to control outcomes, you won’t always win. They are intended to improve your odds on successfully making a positive difference.
– When presenting ideas to upper management, realize that it is your responsibility to sell — not their responsibility to buy.
In many ways, influencing up is similar to selling products or services to external customers. They don’t have to buy — you have to sell. Any good salesperson takes responsibility for achieving results. No one is impressed with salespeople who blame their customers for not buying their products.
While the importance of taking responsibility may seem obvious in external sales, an amazing number of people in large corporations spend countless hours blaming management for not buying their ideas. We can become disempowered when we focus on what others have done to make things wrong and not what we can do to make things right.
– Focus on contribution to the larger good — not just the achievement of your objectives.
An effective salesperson would never say to a customer, “You need to buy this product, because if you don’t, I won’t achieve my objectives.”
Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers, not to their own needs. In the same way effective upward influencers relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.
When influencing up, focus on the impact of the decision on the overall corporation. In most cases the needs of the unit and the needs of the corporation are directly connected. In some cases they are not. Don’t assume that your managers can automatically make the connection between the benefit to your unit and the benefit to the larger corporation.
– Present a realistic cost-benefit analysis of your ideas — don’t just sell benefits.
Every organization has limited resources, time, and energy. The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea. Acknowledge the fact that something else may have to be sacrificed in order to have your idea implemented.
By getting ready for a realistic discussion of costs, you can prepare for objections to your idea before they occur. You can acknowledge the sacrifice that someone else may have to make and point out how the benefits of your plan may outweigh the costs.
You may have spent years in developing your functional or technical expertise. My hope is that by making a small investment in learning to influence up, you can make a large and positive difference for the future of your organization.