Nina Spencer

Working Your Circle Of Influence…No Matter What

We've heard it before.. change initiatives, like shifting to a learning organization, can only succeed with "top down support!". What do you do if you are middle or frontline management, you clearly see ways to improve morale, productivity, employee satisfaction, etc., but, you can't get senior management on side? Do you choose to give up because you have a limited amount of positional power and authority to effect change?

Whether it's professionally or personally, there are always only four choices:

  1. Love it
  2. Leave it
  3. Stay and Hate it
  4. Change it (or change the way you think about it)

If you "love it", there's no issue. If things are so against your integrity, tolerance or ethics, you may choose to "leave it". Some choose to "stay and hate it". We all know some of these people. Some of them report to us and, sometimes, we report to them, but we all know that they "quit" years before retiring! The last choice is "change it (or, change the way you think about it).

The perfect scenario has the highest levels of management embracing and demonstrating new ways of thinking for organizational strength, health and development in the 21st century. But, in some organizations, lets face it, that's not happening! In those organizations, however, there are often beacons of light in middle management. It's important to champion these leaders by helping them realize why they are so painfully needed right where they are, even though they may not feel appreciated... to go for "door number four"... the choice of "change it ".

It's frustrating for middle management to see clearly but feel unable to influence upwards. The worst thing that these leaders can do is to go sour and let their employees know it. The best thing they can do is recognize their influence through the local, internal community.

If your middle management believe that continuous improvement is important to the organization's future, but sense the highest levels aren't "there" yet... Encourage your middle management to:

1. Remember the value of critical mass (influencing change over time, in small incremental steps).

2. Remember the circle of influence that is available. Lead by example in their own area...this takes longer, but walking their talk, day in and day out, over time, will get noticed. If it's worthy, staff will model their local leader's demonstration and send that message to others, through their demonstrations, in a hundred different, subtle ways.

3. Assess the way they present themselves in meetings in which they might influence upwards. Encourage them to reflect, "Do I come across defensively, angrily, righteously, insistently, or clearly, confidently and passionately articulating what I have to say (including concrete supportive data)?" "Do I assert or aggress?"

4. Admit the truth about the organziation's readiness to move in new directions. In many cases the company isn't against it but, viewed through prejudice of what needs to happen daily, senior management can't see the "pay off' of another way. If "they're miles away from embracing change, let go of long term vision. Concentrate on smaller steps along the way.

There aren't any short cuts to shifting organizational philosophies. If you choose "door number four", remember... the "shift" isn't an event, it's a process!