When we talk to clients about their influence challenges, we often find that those at the higher echelons of the organisation view challenges they experience when influencing external stakeholders as the most difficult, while those at a lower level tend to view internal influence challenges as equally so; particularly influencing upwards.
Improving the influence skills of those who aren't in executive or decision making positions can reduce some of the biases mentioned in this McKinsey report; biases that contributed heavily to RWE’s €10bn loss.
One key skill to improve, is the ability to frame an argument so that it resonates with superiors, because this increases the likelihood that the message will be listened to, thereby reducing ‘sunflower’ and ‘confirmation’ biases. A deep understanding of the decision makers in your organisation allows you to understand their strengths and weakness and the motivations and fears that drive them to make the decisions they do. This understanding is the first step to framing an argument for the purpose of changing a person’s view.
Another key skill for effectively influencing upwards is strong emotional intelligence: if the discussion with decision makers becomes contentious, you will have the ability to return it to a neutral, more rational discussion around the facts, which provides for un-emotional decision making; which was also a contributing factor to the cited €10bn loss.
Organisational decision making can be improved with changes to structural processes and installing de-biasing techniques, as outlined in this report. However, it can be significantly enhanced by empowering staff (particularly the lower echelons!) with effective influence skills.
We also saw champion and sunflower biases, which are about hierarchical patterns and vertical power distance. Depending on the way you organize decision processes, when the boss speaks up first, the likelihood that anybody who’s not the boss will speak up with a dissenting opinion is much lower than if you, for example, have a conscious rule that the bigwigs in the hierarchy are the ones to speak up last, and you listen to all the other evidence before their opinion is offered