How to Improve Your Influencing Skills for Innovation - The Big Bang Partnership

How to Improve Your Influencing Skills for Innovation

Influencing Skills  – How to Influence People who can Make or Break Your Innovation Plans

Why Influencing Skills Matter for Innovators

Influencing skills are essential for innovators. Whether you want to get that big promotion at work, get the funding or resources you need for an innovation or entrepreneurial growth, or change the way things at work are done, there are usually some decision-makers who you need to win over.

These people might be from inside or outside the business, for example bosses, shareholders, colleagues, employees, investors, key customer or suppliers, amongst others.

Being able to shape and implement effective influencing strategies will help you to get  to where you want to be, more quickly and successfully. Influencing skills are an essential part of your business skillset.

Read this article to learn, step-by-step, how to create a targeted, practical and ethical influencing action plan that will increase the probability of you getting the outcomes that you want. As an added bonus, download my free influencing playbook here.

What is the Meaning of Influence and Persuasion?

The definition of Influence and persuasion is getting others to do things by showing that there is a real and genuine advantage to them in moving in the direction you want.

Having influencing skills means that you have the ability to affect a person’s beliefs or actions, reaching agreement by discussion.

Influencing with Integrity

My choice of the word ethical in the introduction above is really important. This is not about manipulation, or Machiavellian manoeuvres. In my view, unethical motives benefit no-one in the longer-term, and are neither a rewarding way to do business, nor a sustainable way to develop your relationships, especially with those who really matter to you.

At the heart of the approach that I am sharing here is high integrity. It is perfectly possible to be very influential at work, whilst also considering the needs of others and striving to achieve a win-win for yourself and for them.

Influencing and Communication Skills

Influencing is necessary, though, because too often people don’t get what they want due to their failure to communicate effectively. They do not put themselves in the shoes of those key individuals whose support they really need.

The consequence is that, by not taking time to understand the perspective of others, they don’t explain themselves in way that other people can really get, and understand what’s in it for them. So, I am going to take you through a step-by-step process that you can use to make sure that you optimise your chances of success, using my Innovation Influencing Mix.

Have a pen and paper ready, preferably some sticky notes as well, and also download my free influencing playbook here. You can fill it in as you read through this article, thinking about something significant that you want to achieve that needs the active support of other people.

The Innovation Influencing Mix

Successful influencing at work requires a combination of skills and a great understanding of how other people think and make decisions. It’s actually a complex process, but I’ve broken it down for you here, based on the Innovation Influencing Mix (copyright Dr. Jo North, 2023).

Graphic to show key influencing skills that combine to achieve innovation outcomes
Innovation Influencing Mix copyright Dr. Jo North 2023

Step 1: Goal clarity – be clear about what you want to achieve 

If you’re not clear about what you want to achieve, you can’t expect others to understand what you want. Starting by articulating for yourself exactly what your target outcomes are will help you to align your influencing approach to achieve your goal. For example:

  • I want to become a director in 3 months, increase my salary by 20% and qualify for the company profit share, company car and private health schemes.
  • My goal is for the Board to see the potential of my new product development idea, and give me the go ahead to progress to the next step.
  • I want to raise $x of funding to launch and sustain sales of new product y as outlined in the business plan I’ve created.
  • I’d like my team to adopt these new, leaner and more agile ways of working that make the best use of our new technology, improving quality and efficiency.

Take a moment now to write down your own target outcome(s).

Step 2: People clarity – identify who can make or break your plans

The next step is to write down all the names of your stakeholders. Your stakeholders are the people who can really make or break your plans.

Also write down why and how their support matters to you in this situation. It is important that you identify who the stakeholders are in your project, which stakeholders are important and why. You’ll then be able to create an effective stakeholder engagement plan.

Either make a list of people, or write each name on a separate sticky note, to help you with the next stage.

Think as widely as you can, using these prompts as appropriate for you:

  • Family
  • Shareholders / investors
  • Bosses / leaders
  • Associates
  • Peers
  • Other departments / functions
  • Direct team
  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Other key stakeholders

Stakeholder Mapping

Now it’s time time to start your stakeholder mapping. Place each stakeholder onto the grid below. Either write names directly onto the grid, or attach each sticky note where you think it sits.

2x2 grid matrix  - importance and level of support, for stakeholder map
Grid for Stakeholder Map

The grid has two axes. For each person, use these axes as follows:

  1. Importance of support. Decide how important having this person’s support for your plans is – low to high.
  2. Level of support. Decide how supportive of your plans this person is right now – low to high.
  3. Then place the name of the person where your decisions for 1 and 2 intersect.

Once you have worked through all your names, literally just plotting them onto the grid, identify who influences your most important stakeholders, i.e. in the medium-high category.

For each of these high importance people, think of who they listen to and are swayed by. Make sure that you add the names of those people who influence the influencers to the grid as well. Locate them appropriately in terms of importance and support.

Active Listening

The best way to ensure your point of view resonates with others is to become a good listener first. Active listening, a valuable skill, ensures that you genuinely understand the concerns, insights, and perspectives of those around you. This fosters mutual respect, an essential component in relationship building.

But remember, being a good listener isn’t just about the words spoken. Body language is a key part of interpersonal skills. Savvy innovation leaders are attuned to the non-verbal cues of those they interact with on a daily basis.

You can download my free, advanced listening skills workbook here to learn more.

Analyze the Communication Needs of Internal and External Stakeholders

You now have a really useful, visual map of where you believe your decision-makers sit.

Just seeing this on paper, rather than carrying all the information in a disconnected way in your head, is incredibly helpful in itself. It allows you to step back and assess so that you can plan your route to success.

Work through these items now, making sure that you:

  • Put yourself in the shoes of each person. Do your best to see things from their perspective, even if you don’t agree with their views; and
  • Strive to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

1. For each of those people in the high importance, high support category.

Write down the actions that you will take to keep their support levels high on an ongoing basis. This is important. Complacency or lack of attentiveness to supporters is risky. It’s better ad easier to maintain support than it is to regain it once it’s been lost.

2. For every individual in the high importance, low support category.

Write down the actions that you will take to increase their support levels.

3. For every individual in the low importance, high support category.

Write down how you you will maintain their support and use it productively.

4. For those in the low importance, low support category.

Make a mental note to keep an eye on things, just in case anything changes.

Step 3: Create a Compelling Case for Change

The next step is to create a compelling case for change. Paint a picture of the difference that your innovation or ideas will make. Make sure your it connects with your key stakeholders on an emotional level, as well as making great business sense.

Thinking about the emotional connection to the change you want to make skyrockets your influencing skills to the next level. Remember that humans make decisions and take action based on how we want to feel. We then explain them to ourselves based on logic after the event.

To achieve this emotional connection, find the common ground where your goals overlap with those of your stakeholders.

“People don’t buy WHAT we do, they buy WHY we do it.”

Simon Sinek

Use the power of data and evidence to support your assertions and build your innovation business case. Be clear how you will measure your innovation success.

Create a vision of what your innovation will achieve, and how you will get there, through storytelling techniques and principles.

If you’d like a definitive guide to becoming a successful change maker, you’ll find my article and videos here useful.

You may also find my guide to successful presentations helpful, too.

Step 4: Improve your Influencing Skills through Emotional Intelligence

Working on building your emotional intelligence will lead to better working relationships and increased self confidence. Plus, the ability to understand how you can adapt your behaviour and approach to influence others. 

You’ll also be able to take on board feedback from your colleagues and business decision-makers with a growth mindset. This will help to strengthen your innovation plans. Diverse perspectives contribute to reducing potential risk and blind spots.

Before you interact with your key stakeholders, take the time to check in with how you feel. Adapt your mindset if how you feel isn’t helping you to get the impact and outcome that you want.

Once your mindset is in a good place, you can then bring your influencing skills to the fore. You’ll be in a better position to truly listen to and empathize with your stakeholders. You’ll be able to communicate clearly, directly and sensitively, increasing the probability of influencing for a win-win outcome.

Cultivating Leadership Qualities and Soft Skills

A strong leader doesn’t solely rely on their leadership abilities in direct tasks. Soft skills are an equally important part of their arsenal. In the course of action to becoming a successful influencer, one should focus on:

  • Positive Attitude: Approach situations with a can-do spirit. A positive attitude can have a positive impact on the work environment.
  • Good Communication Skills: Not to be mistaken with mere talking. This encompasses clarity, understanding, and mutual benefits.

Step 5: Use the 6 Universal Principles of Influence and Persuasion

Robert Cialdini‘s research identified these 6 Universal Principles of influencing and persuasion. You can use these appropriately to strengthen your case for change and enrich your influencing skills. 

The 6 Universal Principles of influencing and persuasion are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Social proof
  • Scarcity
  • Authority
  • Consistency
  • Liking

1. Reciprocity

People repay in kind. Do good things for others, and they are more likely to do good things for you in return.

2. Social proof

People follow the lead of similar others. Enhance your influencing skills by identifying people or businesses that your stakeholders respect. Show that they have had great results from doing something similar to the idea or innovation that you’re proposing.

3. Scarcity

It’s human nature to want more of what we think we can’t have. Let your stakeholders know that they are special, that this is a unique and important opportunity. Also, that there is a short, optimal window of time in which you need to take action to get the best results.

4. Authority

When unsure about something, people defer to experts. Your influencing plan will be more effective when you demonstrate that experts support your ideas and innovations.

5. Consistency

Stakeholders support commitments and causes that are consistent with their own goals and values. Use your influencing skills to show how your proposals connect with your stakeholders’ priorities.

6. Liking

We are more likely to listen to people who we think like and appreciate us. Find the positive in everyone. Demonstrate your respect and appreciation, even if they hold very different views to your own.

Step 6: Use the Trust Equation to Strengthen your Stakeholder Relationships

When you’re asking someone to collaborate with you, or buy into your ideas, you’re asking them to trust you. Use David Maister’s trust equation to identify how you might strengthen trust in your key stakeholder relationships.

Trustworthiness is a combination of credibility, reliability, intimacy (also called openness) and a balanced approach to self interest. This means self interest that also prioritizes the interests of the other party, for a win-win outcome.

You’ve now got a really useful, actionable high-level plan. Use it to begin gaining more support for your target innovation outcomes. All that’s left is for you to go and make your plan happen!  Keep your grid updated as things change, so it always reflects the latest situation at all times.

Innovation Leadership

To innovate in today’s rapidly-changing world, the critical steps involve mastering the art of persuasion and refining interpersonal skills. It’s also about understanding that there are no truly wrong answers, just new ways to approach problems. Building mutual respect and discovering common goals will strengthen your relationships. This will, in turn, support your innovation process and open up a new way of addressing challenges collaboratively.

Great leaders, or those with great influence, aren’t just born. They’re made through daily refinement of their skills, role-modeling a good example, and most importantly, understanding human beings. It’s not just about the technicalities of leadership positions or the opposite effect of bad leadership. It’s about being a good human being, one who recognizes the needs, desires, and potential in others. This creates a win-win culture, that is mutually supportive.

Influence by Elevating Others

To be a good innovation leader, be a good influencer. And to be a good influencer, always aim to understand, respect, and elevate those around you.

What Works for You?

I will post more on specific influencing techniques for different people and situations in future articles. I’d love to hear what you think in the meantime. Where are your challenges, and what works for you?

As always, if you’d like any one-to-one support and advice, or would like us to run an online or in-person Influencing Skills training programme for your business, please do get in touch with me direct via the contact us form here.