Optimising return on influence

In almost all organisations there is an authority asymmetry. The number of people who are empower to say “no” is usually much greater than those who are empowered to say “yes”. This is because organisations are much more comfortable with staying the same than agreeing to changes. Empowering people to say “no” is a safe option.

It is also true to say that more often than not the  number of people you might have to influence to get something done is significantly greater than the amount of time available to do the influencing. This is why innovators often fail to get much done.
Consequently, its necessary to optimise the return on influence.
For an innovator, there is almost no upside available influencing those with the power to say “no”, because the best possible outcome is ambivalence, which is not especially helpful. On the other hand, there is every chance they actually will say “no”. Optimising return on influence means the best strategy is keeping your innovation under-the-radar from the nay-sayers as long as possible.
On the other hand, influencing someone with the authority to say “yes” might still get you a negative response, but at least you’ll have the chance to move forward. It is a much better value proposition.
How do you tell the difference?
Here’s a litmus check which almost always works. The person who controls the money is able to say “yes”. Everyone else can only say “no”.

2 Responses to“Optimising return on influence”

  1. David
    July 19, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    James,
    Your post implies that the so-called "Nay-sayers" have nothing of value to add to your various innovations. Do you think that is the case?
    Many of the "nay-sayers" have influence for a reason and are likely to be consulted at some point. Is it not better to get them on side early, rather than take them by surprise at a late date when
    a) they're likely to be annoyed that you've deliberately tried to avoid them
    b) it becomes markedly more expensive to fix the things that they're concerned about because you didn't ask their advice at the start.
    maybe if you approached these people early then they would be happy to work with you to help your innovation along, or even to improve it using their knowledge of the business?
    Alternatively, if you're so convinced that the "nay-sayers" will all block your innovation, maybe you should be asking yourself if you ought to be doing it in the first place?
    Sorry if I'm sounding negative, but I don't think it can be taken as a given at these people in the organisation are all wrong. some of them are perhaps, but some of them will have valid opinions and some of them might be useful to you, if only you were prepared to ask and not assume that they'll do their level best to ruin your ideas?
    For a business, innovation, impovement and change should surely not be done behind closed doors. Not letting anyone see anything just in case they say something bad. Should it not be done in the open so that other people can help shape the idea and improve it so it's a better fit and more useful for more people.

  2. July 19, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    David,
    Thanks for such a detailed comment.
    I agree, there are lots of stakeholders that one has to manage when a new project starts, and ALL of them should have a voice in what goes on. Clearly, you can't do innovation behind closed doors, I agree with you on that.
    But what I had hoped to get across in this post was that talking to nay-sayers when you're trying to get initial support for a concept is usually not helpful. 
    Before you can innovate at all, you have to get permission.
    What I was trying to convey is that most people aren't authorised to do innovation. Once someone who *is* says its ok, there's plenty of scope to involve everyone. But until you reach that point? … I think you have to be careful to maximise the use of your time if you want anything to proceed.

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