We were recently engaged by a Fortune 200 company to help solve a range of stubborn challenges endured by account managers. The issues will be familiar to anyone working with teams comprised of both internal and client-side people with diverse roles and expertise levels:
How to build account momentum and drive growth without the operational authority to hold others accountable.
Everyone agreed that better influencing and persuasion skills would help. And, indeed, Influencing Without Authority was the working title for the training workshops. But skills and tools don’t just leap out of the box and start performing. One doesn’t just launch techniques on a smartphone and solve problems with a few clicks.
Influencing skills, persuasion techniques – emotional triggers – as powerful as they are, are best learned and applied toward a particular purpose, within a specific context. Selling is the easiest and most common example. But crew coalition? Team member motivation? Getting alignment and agreement across a highly diverse group of differently-motivated individuals? Not quite as obvious an application as closing a sale.
How do you set a frame and establish objectives – not to mention measurements and milestones – for what is essentially the quality of a relationship..?
Set Goals and Define Roles
The precursor to change is a shift in perspective, which can often be achieved by characterizing organizational roles according to relationship parameters rather than operational frameworks, or roles. To be in an ideal position for influence and persuasion, account managers need to see themselves as leaders, yet treat their cohorts as both customers and as engines of potential. If “mentor” feels too presumptuous, account managers still need to adopt the role of guide and even guru, remembering always the wisdom of Lao Tzu:
To lead people, walk behind them.
See others. Observe. Ask questions. Support, feed, and fertilize as much as, or even more than, setting an example.
The marvelous Margaret Heffernan offers great insights into the importance of social capital to leadership and team success, based on her consulting experience with companies around the world. Her essential premise is that although we tend to lionize the stars of a business, those who she refers to as the “super chickens” (based on a famous experiment by William Muir at Purdue University), extraordinary organizational achievement is actually driven by the trust, rapport, and values shared by everyone.
Heffernan draws perspective from looking at many different pursuits and professions, and found particular insight at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, of all places:
“I went there to watch their auditions ’cause I thought, well, if stars matter anywhere, surely it’s got to be in show biz. And I was just amazed because, actually, what all the teachers there were looking for were not these spectacular fireworks of individuals. They were looking for actors who had something to give each other because, of course, in drama, it’s what happens between people that’s really exciting.”
Influence and persuasion is about getting beyond the obvious to the things that really matter to people. About getting beyond the facts and features and data that don’t connect with the emotional brain, and which demand a level of analytical energy the brain is reluctant to expend. With colleagues and teams, the level of interest and motivation needed to drive commitment and success must be based on goals and roles that really mean something.
“What’s the driving goal, here?” Margaret Heffernan often asks when she’s invited to consult with client companies. “And they’ll say $60 billion revenue next year. And I’d look at them and I’d say, you have got to be joking. What on earth makes you think that everybody is really going to give it their all to hit a revenue target? You know, you have to talk to something much deeper inside people than that. You have to talk to people about something that makes a difference to them every day if you want them to bring their best and do their best and feel that you’ve given them the opportunity to do the best work they’ve ever done.”
You may have to do some digging to learn what really drives each individual, and a company has to stand for something more than just revenue generation, but with emotional triggers as guideposts we have a way to communicate that’s more personal than vocational, and with forms the foundation for influence.