Who you influence and in what sequence matters. People are heavily influenced by their social networks. Monkey see, monkey do. This can work for or against you. The key is to get the right people on your side. If you're doing a project proposal or pitching an idea, who you pitch it to and in what sequence matters. You can either stack the deck in your favor and build momentum, or you can fight an uphill battle. In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about sequencing to build momentum.
Formidable Barrier or Valuable Asset
Influence networks can be barriers or assets. Watkins writes:
Example of Social Influence
"As we have seen, people consistently look to others in their social networks for clues about 'right thinking,' and defer others with expertise or status on particular sets of issues. The resulting influence networks can be a formidable barrier to your efforts or a valuable asset, or both."
Watkins provides an example of social influence showing how a group is persuaded:
"Let us return once more to the example of asking a group of people to do something embarrassing. Suppose that, in response to my request, a respected member of the group said, "No way, I'm doing that. It is disrespectful and foolish." Almost certainly no one else in the group would do what I had asked. But suppose the same person jumped up, grabbed someone else and said, "Let's do it! It'll be fun!" The odds are that everyone else would eventually follow suit. In fact, the last to rise, would feel social pressure to do so: "What's the matter with you?"
Now suppose I did an analysis of the group before this exercise and identified the most respected person. Suppose I met with that person before the exercise and enlisted his or her aid as a confederate to make some important points about group dynamics and social influence. The odds are good that this person would agree to do so - and that others would follow."
Gain respected allies early on. Watkins writes:
"The fundamental insight is that you can leverage knowledge of influence networks into disproportionate influence on a group with what my colleague Jim Sebenius termed a sequencing strategy. The order in which you approach potential allies and convincables will have a decisive impact on your coalition-building efforts. Why? Once you gain a respected ally, you will typically find it easier to recruit others. As you recruit more allies, your resource base grows. With broader support, the likelihood increases that your agenda will succeed. That optimistic outlook makes it easier to recruit still more supporters.
If you approach the right people first, you can set in motion a virtuous cycle. Therefore you need to decide carefully who you wil approach first, and how you will do it."
Who to Focus On
Watkins suggests focusing on the following first:
- People with whom you already have supportive relationships.
- Individuals whose interests are strongly compatible with yours.
- People who have the critical resources you need to make your agenda succeed.
- People with important connections who can recruit more supporters.
Key Take Aways
I have several large-scale projects under my belt so I can say with confidence that sequence matters. Here's my key take aways:
- Build incremental support. Divide and conquer. You don't need to win everybody over at once. In fact, unless it's a sure thing, you probably won't.
- Tackle your most influential critics first. This serves three purposes. First, it will expose you to some issues you may need to work through. Second, if you get them on your side, it sends a powerful message, helping you get more supporters. Third, it helps mitigate the risk that a powerful critic will derail your momentum downstream. Put it another way, a stitch in time, saves nine.
- Know when you're not the right person. If you don't have rapport with the people you need on your side, but one of your allies does, see how you can leverage them.
- Don't get blind-sided by social influence. The best ideas can get shot down, regardless of their merits. It's sad, but true. If you purely focus on the results, but ignore the people mechanics, you can fail. Even if you don't, you can find yourself working harder than you should need to.
- Consider an exec sponsor. The social influence of the right exec sponsor can carry you over the hurdles, as well as help shape the support all around you.
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