It may seem a little odd as a title, but it is vital that you make sure the goal you are going to use as a focus for the Stakeholder Influence Process is about influence rather than things happening, or milestones.
You are no doubt very accustomed to defining goals at work based on projects which have to be completed, agreements which need to be signed, etc. What I want you to do with influencing goals is to take one step back to consider what you have to influence in order to achieve that project completion.
When you focus your goal on influence, you will quickly start to generate ideas on how you can achieve that influence.
To develop this further, here is a working definition of influence which I find practical for the Stakeholder Influence Process…
Influence: Getting people to willingly act, think or feel differently.
There are a couple of elements of this definition which are worth exploring briefly. Firstly, I’m using the word “willingly” here because this will help you to focus on getting longer-term buy-in. You can get someone to do something by simply, telling them to do it — particularly easy if they happen to report to you! The fact that they would rather not do it does not mean that they wouldn’t do it. But turn your back for a moment, and they may go back to what they were doing before. Similarly, you could ask them to do something, and they would do it. Without adding in a little motivation to get them to want to do it, they may go back to doing what they were doing before the moment you turn away. Of course, they may still revert to their previous behaviour, but it is much less likely if you have been diligent in your motivational influencing. So including “willingly” in my definition will hopefully help you to stay focused on getting them to really want to do what you want them to do.
Secondly, it is often the case that we need to move hearts and minds; therefore, you want to work towards getting people to feel differently. A common example of this is getting them to be positive about a forthcoming change in procedures or systems. Similarly, on occasion, the most important thing for us is to get people thinking a little different. One example of this would be influencing a group of sales people to think about involving the marketing team at the right stage of the sales process. You might not need them to do something different on every occasion, just make sure that they think it and, therefore, make a clear decision about the need to involve marketing in the case in hand.
You will also notice that my definition includes a change of some sort. Strictly speaking, this is not always the case. Sometimes, it is necessary to ensure that your stakeholders continue acting/thinking or feeling in a particular way. However, most of the time you end up working on creating a change of some sort. Don’t get too worried about semantics.
The final point is that this definition refers to “people.” The reason for this is that the Stakeholder Influence Process will generate maximum benefit when it is focussed on helping you to build strategies to move the masses, rather than just individuals. It can be useful with individuals (particularly if they are very senior people, in which case you will need to create a campaign of action to get them to endorse your new idea), but this is not the usual use.
With this in mind, the next question to answer is…
What do you want/need to influence to dramatically improve your progress towards your chosen goal?
When you can answer this, you should discover where you need to direct your influence, and also your application of the Stakeholder Influence Process. This is what I refer to as your Influencing Goal in the rest of the book. You may wonder about the difference between a “goal” and an “influencing goal.” The latter makes sure to put the focus on how you need to move people in order to achieve the former. Depending on how you have defined your main goal, they could be the same.
For instance, if your main goal is to “achieve sales revenue of $650k,” your Influencing Goal right now might be to “Get the Marketing Board to sign off my sales strategy.” This focuses on people doing something different — signing off your strategy. Alternatively, if your main goal right now is “The board will sign off my marketing budget of $250k,” this is both a goal and also your Influencing Goal. Most of the time you will need to influence quite a few different things to get your budget, so you can settle on an Influencing Goal, which is the most critical thing you need to influence right now to accelerate you towards the sign-off. Still confused? Don’t worry, just move on. The difference will soon become clear once you’ve been through the process a few times.