The Influence Game: When to Use Your Influence


A false sense of comfort can be your greatest enemy in the workplace. While you may think that you work with a group of adults, inside every one of those supposed grown-ups is an immature jerk. False comfort will blind you to the warning signs that someone is planning a setback for you. A false sense of comfort will blind you to opportunities for future advancement. Recognize when you are most at risk and most in need of political support.

⦁    If your company changes direction and you find your responsibilities reduced, you are at high risk. A temporary cutback in responsibility is an indication that there is a permanent downturn in the company’s need for you.

⦁    While taking on additional workloads or departments can boost your career, the move will put you at greater risk. Make sure that your new job, with its added duties is manageable, and that the work suits your abilities. Find out why the person who used to do your new job is no longer doing it. Learn what the company's goals are for the new department or project. Work hard to avoid mismatches. If your new duties are tied to what you were already doing, you will most likely be able to handle them. But beware of management dumping something on you just because they perceive that you are capable.

⦁    Risky projects can cut to the good and just as quickly to the bad. You can advance your position by lending support to a new project. But you can buy yourself a huge career setback if the project proves to be a loser. Be highly selective about the projects you back up. It is far better to be remembered for three remarkable successes than for four remarkable successes and a couple of spectacular failures. While failure can be a real character builder, the only way a failed project can be turned into a positive is for you to demonstrate clearly how well you learned your lesson.

⦁    When you move ahead financially while still working in the same job for a number of years, there are always other managers eager to do your job for half the money. Unless you own rock-solid political connections—something almost nobody really has—you’d better plan on continuously moving up if you’ve spent more than a few years on your lofty perch. If there's no place to move up, then you should plan on a lateral exit into a new organization.

⦁    When management loves the work that you do and wants to give you an opportunity that entails real responsibility and accountability, you’d better make sure that you carry some industrial-strength influence. This is especially true for risky, high-visibility projects. You’d better make sure that your contacts will support you.

⦁    When management offers you a lateral transfer or promotion, work your contacts to make sure that you are not setting sail on a trip to nowhere. This is true when changing departments or business units. I know a capable IT development manager who got along fine with his new executive, but the relationship was not strong. The company offered him a promotion to take over the data center operations. The manager took the promotion—and the additional money—thinking that the opportunity would round him out. Four months later, the company decided to outsource the data centers, and this manager had the arduous job of shutting down his entire department.

⦁    When your upward progress stops after a prolonged steady climb in the ranks during which your responsibility and authority grew, you are stalled and need to use your influence to find out what the future holds for you. Just as an airplane will fall if it is not making sufficient forward progress, your career requires sufficient forward momentum to stay aloft. The warning signs include:  your staff is reduced; positive feedback on your annual review but no promotion; you’re not included in meetings or not invited to join task forces. If you feel like you are being glad-handed, beware of the knife at your back. It may be time for some fence-mending.

⦁    When you get a new boss, you need to try to find some common political ground and assess their management style. Learn as much as you can about this person. Take time to learn what their needs are. If you want to influence your new boss, find out what they need and give it to them. Make yourself indispensable and provide them with what they need for their success. Be smart about it though, and work to ensure that the relationship becomes mutually beneficial.

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