Influencing without formal authority

Contributed by: Meera Siva

Wouldn’t it be great if we can master the art of influencing people?

Jim Keene, CFA, in his talk “Influencing without formal authority”, shares some tools and methods to enable just that. Jim is the Founder and Managing Director of Atherton Consulting Group, San Francisco, USA which provides strategy consulting and leadership development services to wealth/investment management groups and entrepreneurial ventures.

Jim is an investment management leader and coach with over twenty-five years of experience in wealth management, venture leasing and commercial real estate investing. He has co-authored the book Retire on the House: Using Real Estate to Secure Your Retirement (Wiley). He holds B.S. in Business from Syracuse University where he graduated magna cum laude, an M.S. in Management from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Jim is Past President of the CFA Society of San Francisco, President Emeritus of The Cancer Support Community of San Francisco-East Bay and Past President of his class at Stanford.

Why influence?

Research shows that non-sales people spend a lot of their work time – about 40% – trying to influence decisions on investing capital, assigning roles and utilizing resources. Influencing is particularly important in the investment business where various committees operate – investment committees to allocate investor capital, management committees to determine roles and responsibilities and wealth management teams to make recommendations to clients.

Jim draws on work from Dr. Robert Cialdini (The Psychology of Persuasion) and Patterson, Grenny and Maxwell (Influencer: The Power to Change Anything) to provide methods and tools to ethically influence decisions.

Tools and methods

One method is the principle of reciprocity – people reciprocate to a concession, service or information you offer. You can use that opportunity to make a specific request, either right away or suggesting you will respond at a later time. Two, you can take public commitments and bank on people being consistent in their response to influence decisions. Social proof is the third way wherein testimonials of people/groups similar to the one you want to influence can be used to achieve a certain result.

People tend to ‘like’ others who are similar to them and this can be a handy method as well in building consensus. If you are seen as an authority – credible, knowledgeable, expert – in a field, you can leverage this position to drive decisions. It also helps to admit weakness first and state any limitations or risks in the proposal. Doing your homework and addressing concerns of people who will be in the decision committee ahead of time through one-on-one meetings or in the presentation will help improve your chances of success.

Scarcity, if genuine, can also nudge people to act. In one reported case in the financial world, scarcity of information, created by sharing supply trouble issues exclusively with a select group of people, made investors place 6 times larger orders than normal.

These methods can be used at a personal, social and structural level and as a motivational and ability factor. For example, whenever we consider making changes or influencing decisions, we should ask ourselves two key questions:  1) Is it worth it (motivation)?, and 2) can we do it (ability)?  If the answer is no to either question, then you may not want to pursue the influencing effort.  If, however, the answer is yes to both questions, then we should consider what personal, social and structural factors will help us succeed. 

In order to soften our resistance to change, we learn to make undesirable practices more desirable (personal motivation).  Just like athletes, in order to stretch our capabilities we learn to surpass prior limits (personal ability).  We learn how to use peer pressure to influence others (social motivation) while finding support to influence through strength in numbers (social ability).  Influence masters teach us the importance of effectively designing rewards and creating an accountability structure (structural motivation) to influence outcomes.  Finally, in order to best enhance our chances of succeeding, we consider how we may need to change the environment we operate in to get results we desire (structural ability).


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