Today, innovation leaders need to play many different roles in order to transition from brainstorming new ideas to bringing these new ideas into reality. Based on the feedback I hear from innovation leaders, the most challenging role they still have not mastered is the role of “influencer”. While everyone in organizations loves coming up with ideas, it requires influence to get buy-in and get everyone behind a particular idea.
So how do you build your influence muscle as an innovation leader?
Here are three simple prompts to answer when you are looking to influence a major innovation initiative or project when it becomes stuck:
- Are you trying to convince people or are you trying to influence the project? Influencing is not the same as convincing or manipulating. I often hear Innovation Leaders say “I want to influence others to adopt my idea”, but after a few additional questions, I quickly discover that they want to convince, not influence. Convincing is trying to get someone to see the world through your lens so they agree with you. Influence is about being in service to others, not just serving yourself. To influence, you need to understand what a “win” looks like for other stakeholders. In other words, you need to take time to align the outcome you want with the outcome they want. In order to increase your influence, the first step you will need to take is to assess whether you’re trying to influence or to convince. And if needed, make the conscious shift to influence and being of service.
- What do other stakeholders need to believe in order to move in the direction you feel will deliver the greatest benefit? Sometimes we get so lost in “convince mode” because we’re focused on what we want. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to understand what they believe about the situation. Figure out what they would need to believe to see your idea or suggestion as benefiting them. Take time to inventory your current beliefs about the idea or results you’re trying to get to. And then take time to understand what the other person would need to believe to move things forward.
For example, I recently asked the head of a customer experience team “What would IT leadership have to believe in order for them to buy in and collaborate more with you?” He figured out that IT believed going along with the business side would mean giving up control and no longer being seen as an innovation partner. By empathizing with IT, the head of customer experience was able to focus on what IT would need to believe to move forward – that IT would still have a seat at the table for driving innovation.
- Who are primary beneficiaries of the innovation initiative or project? One of the executive leadership coaches I work with always reminds me to focus on the benefit to the people you want to influence. What’s in it for them? It’s hard to influence people if you’re focused on the benefit to you. To have influence in your organization, focus on the benefit to others. To answer this question, I recommend building a stakeholder map that describes all of the people and roles that will benefit from the initiative and how they will benefit if the initiative is successful. Once you have this stakeholder map defined, take time to validate if your assumptions are true about the benefits. After validating and refining your stakeholder benefit map, print it out and put it up on a wall next to your desk. This should serve as a constant reminder of who you are serving and why the initiative is important.
Although these steps sound simple, they are not easy. But they will help you transform your role as an influencer in your organization. Establishing yourself as an influencer helps you feel more authentic and engaged when pitching new ideas and delivering new innovative solutions.
Download our Innovation Influence Worksheet and use it any time you need to influence a major project or initiative that has become stuck. You can also use the worksheet whenever you need to get buy-in from key stakeholders and decision makers on a big idea. I use this same worksheet any time I’m going into a big conversation where I need to build influence or help align stakeholders around a particular direction. It helps transform my thinking, so the conversation isn’t just about what I want. By turning the conversation to the benefit for the people I’m serving, this worksheet makes me more successful in influencing others.