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Blog – Impact and Influence in the workplace (…and beyond)

By Isla Furlong

The May 2020 CamAWiSE event was from Natacha Wilson, founder and director of Cambridge Insights, a company that works with leaders, aspiring leaders and teams to maximise their positive impact on the world. Instead of a face to face meeting, she provided an engaging and interactive Zoom webinar and workshop addressing impact and influence in the work place and beyond.

To kick off, attendees were invited to introduce themselves on the chat function and tell everyone what they do and where they work/influence. While we weren’t in the same room physically, this was a great way to feel part of the audience and it was interesting to see the range of backgrounds represented on the call.

The first part of the webinar considered the meaning of “Influence, status and power”. We were asked to think about who comes to mind when we think about “power” compared to “influence”. Those in positions of power are easy to identify, while those with influence can be less obvious. There are many “influencers”, ranging from those, maybe short-lived, social media influencers to those who have been remembered through history to have changed the world. Generally, influence can actually be greater than power.

Next, Natacha asked us to reflect on whether status was important for influence. Some commented that it could be, perhaps subconsciously, in a work setting.  Natacha gave us time to consider what we each wanted to influence and at what level, stressing the importance of concentrating/focusing on one clear goal at a time. Interestingly, she used an interactive poll which showed that what most of the attendees wanted to influence was the culture of their organisation.

Choose your level of influence*. Slide credit: Natacha Wilson, Cambridge Insights* Permission for use agreed by Cambridge Insights.

Next, moving on to “spheres of influence”, Natacha reflected on levels of influence ranging from those with small impact at the personal/immediate levels through to large impact at the level of culture and cause.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar determined that we can only influence 150 connections so we were invited to think about our current connections and identify our top 150 people who influence us, and who we can influence through followers, communities, teams or connections.

We should think about how can we grow links. To get engagement, there is a hierarchy ranging from informing a passive audience, then consulting, with collaborating and cooperating providing the most willingly engaged audience.

It’s important to know your audience: understanding shared values and how others see the world takes time and effort but helps to enable you to bring people on a journey rather than simply tell them which path they should follow.

In the workplace or in an organisation, it is important to work out how decisions are taken and to think about both the formal processes (committees, steering groups, town halls) and informal (discussions before or after meetings, socialising, more ad hoc opportunities) and how you can use your influence in different settings. Another interactive poll during the webinar suggested that most of the attendees preferred 1:1 or small meetings as a means to influence others.

Even though you might not consider yourself to be part of the decision making hierarchy, it’s important to speak up. In the current climate, organisations are desperate to hear new views and suggestions but its important to bring a positive solution rather than focusing on negativity.

How do you boost your influence without authority? Natacha led us through some frameworks. Firstly the art of persuasion, defined as far back as Aristotle as showing ethos (character and reputation), pathos (empathy and sincerity) and logos (logical explanations). More recently Pearce and Conger (2003) identified the importance of shared influence and “lateral” leadership through cultivating a broad network, consulting, working together to develop trust, identifying solutions for mutual benefit and building coalitions. Another framework to influencing without authority sets out best practice steps for empowering others.

At this point, Natacha used break-out rooms in Zoom to split us into groups of 3 or 4 so that we could have a more interactive discussion around “the role of authority in your ability to influence others” and to think about what are “the benefits/challenges of influencing without authority”. This was a great opportunity to have some virtual discussions and to meet out fellow attendees. It worked really well.

We joined back into the larger meeting room again to hear about Natacha’s 3 take-home skills:  1) Find your voice, 2) Develop your perceptive skills (importantly, learn to listen!) and 3) Become a “change agent” to embrace the journey and encourage others.

There are enabling and limiting factors.  Studies by Johnson and Scholes have set out “The Cultural web” which describes factors to consider to give context to an organisation. Natacha invited us to think about the structure in our own organisations, how people connect and whether there were factors that were helping or hindering their purpose. For some inspiration, she referred us to the 2018 book “A good time to be a girl” by Helena Morissey, a career book for women in a transforming world.

Finally, we were left to reflect on what we will do differently in the next 30 days … and to see what happens!

Thank you to Natacha, especially for such a thoughtful and inclusive way of using the technology to allow participation and networking …. although personally I did miss the cakes at Lucy Cavendish!

Related article: New Job? Excel in your first 90 days with Natacha Wilson

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