There has been a great deal of research done over the last few decades on influence, which has yielded some fascinating insights into how to engage with your stakeholders. Dr. Cecilia Falbe and her colleagues compiled and researched a range of distinct tactics which are commonly used in the workplace. They then set about considering the likelihood of the tactic being successful. The great thing about their work is that it provides a quick checklist of different approaches you could use, so that you can decide which one fits your purpose best. Provided you are aware of the likely consequences, you can potentially engage much more effectively with the right selection.
- Inspirational Appeals: Here you seek commitment to your goals by appealing to your stakeholder’s values, ideals and aspirations. This is directly related to the earlier sections of this chapter, as it is the behaviour built on your vision and benefits work. Unless you did that preparation, you are likely to be unconvincing if you try an inspiration appeal.
- Consultation: The essence of this tactic is engaging your stakeholder in developing your detailed proposals or plans – before you’ve made up your own mind. Care is needed to avoid the accusation that you are just going through the motions. A sincere inclusion in your decision-making process is a great tactic to get people onside before you’ve even started. Or if you have already got moving, this tactic could involve you engaging them in problem solving.
- Rational Persuasion: The use of logic and rationality is an extremely popular tactic when dealing with stakeholders, but there are limitations and research has shown that, in actual fact, it is not the tactic most likely to succeed! Yet, in certain situations, it may well be the best option with a particular stakeholder.
- Ingratiation: In a nutshell, this tactic is about getting a stakeholder to like you so that they are more likely to agree with you. Of course, we all want to be liked or at least respected, but this specific tactic focuses the main influence attempt on being liked rather than rationality or inspiration.
- Personal Appeals: Help! Often referred to as emotional appeals, this is where you might try to call in a favour from a stakeholder, or simply beg them to do it! It plays heavily on the personal relationship, friendship and sense of loyalty.
- Exchange: Typified by the phrase “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, this is often an open negotiation of terms. In an organisational setting, it could be a bargain struck with a stakeholder that if they support you on your goal, you’ll withdraw your objections which are holding back their project. Sometimes these exchanges are implied, with a nod and a wink!
- Pressure: Assertion and aggression are effective influencing tactics, but are often criticised as being unfair or wrong. This applies less to assertion, but aggression is to be avoided for most people. The type of pressure applied can also vary; and as it changes, so does the common view of its acceptability. Pressure can include threats, bullying, nagging and public humiliation (either verbal or through email).
- Legitimating: This tactic differs from rationality because it seeks agreement and the request fits in with other organisational policies or procedures. There may be good logical reasons for retaining a poor performer, but this tactic uses the legislation as the reason to keep the individual. In many ways, this tactic is borrowing power from other sources.
- Coalition: In the research, this tactic is referring the use of others to do your influencing for you. It is important to have other people on your side; however, excessive reliance on their influence is of limited benefit and risky in the long term. Unless you can win unaided, you will always be reliant to some extent on other people’s power.
In their results, Falbe and her colleagues reported that the most successful tactics were Inspirational Appeals and Consultation. Somewhat surprisingly, Rational Persuasion languished in the middle in terms of success. Least likely to be successful were Pressure, Legitimating and Coalition. At first sight, the surprise here is that Coalitions were in the bottom group. When you go deeper into the research, what becomes clear is that it is the specific use of a confederate to do your influencing for you which is less likely to be successful. It does not mean that you should not build coalitions – these are extremely useful in getting more and more people on the right page and is really what the Stakeholder Influence Process is designed to achieve.
A Little Exercise
For each of your main stakeholders, consider these questions…
- Which of the nine tactics have you tried before?
- Which were most successful for you with that stakeholder?
- Which have you not tried that could be useful?
- What tactics have you seen others use with this stakeholder? What happened?
- Which tactic(s) could you use to influence your stakeholder now?
Remember, there are no hard and fast rules here. What you need to do is adopt a tactic or a range of tactics which have been selected for a particular situation after careful thought. Blundering around with your favourite tactic will not be anywhere near as effective as selecting the right tools for the job in hand.