Learning the power of persuasionSeptember 2015
It’s 8am on a damp Monday morning and I’m locked in a tough negotiation. I’m trying to persuade my five-year-old daughter to put on her clothes so that we can head off to school. We still need to fit in tooth brushing and hair brushing before we have to leave the house, but so far my reasoned arguments are carrying no sway.
Whether we realise it or not, we all spend a huge amount of our time trying to influence others. Whether it’s persuading your toddler to at least try his broccoli, your neighbour to turn down the music, or your CEO to approve funding for your next project, we are all influencers.
An essential skill
Being able to influence others is a key life skill and it has particular relevance within organisations where traditional linear lines of management have been replaced with flat, matrix style structures.
The positional power of the command and control system will only get you so far when working in this type of organisation, whereas learning how to use your personal power to cross functions, cultures and national boarders is always far more effective.
That few CEOs, certainly of large, listed companies, would argue against the case for CRS is testament to how successful the profession has been in influencing leaders over the last 20 years. But there is still much to be done to ensure that rhetoric equals reality.
The role of the CRS professional is still to help propel organisations forward towards more sustainable and responsible business practices, making the ability to influence and persuade as important as ever. Having secured the support of senior leaders, the next big challenge is to change the mindsets of those mid-level managers who, under pressure to deliver against their own targets, are usually the most challenging to engage with the CRS agenda.
Here, our ability as practitioner to influence and move others will need to be grounded firmly in our understanding of the business and its objectives and built on strong internal networks that themselves are built on mutual trust and shared purpose.
Are good influencers born or made?
Speaking to our members at the ICRS, it’s clear that of our five competencies, influencing and persuading is the one people find the most challenging. Our webinars on the topic have proved to be our most popular and the topic is a perennial favourite at any gathering of CR professionals.
There was a time when it was thought that being able to move others was an inherent talent – like charisma, you either had it or you didn’t. But this simply isn’t true. As countless studies have shown, the ability to influence others is a skill that can be learned and refined just like any other. All any of us needs is the right insight, support and the opportunity to practice – a fact I remind myself of as I finally usher my daughter out of the front door.
Claudine Blamey is chair of the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS) and head of sustainability and stewardship at The Crown Estate
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