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The Art of Influence / The Influence Continuum Wed 29 Nov 06

The November 1 issue of CIO has a very interesting leadership article by Allan Holmes on The Art of Influence.  In this article he shares some techniques for convincing others to do what we feel is needed.  This is especially critical for CIO's since this is probably (at least in my opinion) one of the most difficult parts of implementing a project.  Sales and marketing of ideas and concepts is a skill a CIO needs to be successful but is typically one that we are not comfortable with.

For me the key is his statement “To sway opinions and convince others to act, CIO’s need expert knowledge of their subject and its relationship to the business, the ability to adapt their message to how their audiences like to learn . . .”  This covers two themes that I think are critical to CIO's. 

Truly being connected with and understanding the business is essential to give your message credibility.  You have to be able to show the linkage between the business issues and how IT can help address them.  You also need to have them convinced that you are in this process along with them - that you are part of the team.  I call it ITBWA - IT By Walking Around.

The second aspect is making sure you get your message out properly.  Understanding how others learn will allow you to communicate that message effectively.  Facts alone aren't enough.  It is how you communicate them so that your audience understands and accepts what you are saying.  To communicate effectively you have to match your method of communication with the listener's method of learning.

In a sidebar entitled The Influence Continuum, Holmes points out that the need for strong influencing skills doesn't end with project approval.  You will need these skills and have to apply different influencing techniques throughout the project life cycle.  Holmes presents a synopsis of the various project stages from a book Managing the Dynamics of Change: The Fastest Path to Creating an Engaged and Productive Workplace by Jerald Jellison at the University of Southern California.  Jellison’s “J Curve” is a good description of the project life cycle and the various influence methods needed in each step.  I only wish Holmes had put even more emphasis on the statement “Inform business leaders and the CEO that change will temporarily decrease productivity and morale, but both will improve over time.”  Too many CIO’s fail to do this when they sell the project.  They present it as going right from the Plateau to the Mountaintop.  Unfortunately this is unrealistic and the result is it is often their successor that must take the company from the bottom of the Cliff, through the Valley and up the Ascent to the Mountaintop.  Skip that communication at your own peril!

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