Instant Ideas and Collaboration
Many thanks to Raymond Phillips for writing this month’s feature article. Join us for the chat on 2 December on Influencing and Negotiating, 18:30 – 20:30 GMT
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Library and information professionals are in a curious position: our services, skills and knowledge contribute greatly to the organisations and communities we serve; yet we often remain unremarked. We often deliver our services unobtrusively; this may be the right thing to do but it can mean our contributions are not adequately recognised. This, in turn, can make it difficult for us to influence and negotiate.
What do I mean by influencing? I mean the ability to shape decisions, outcomes and sometimes the outlook within a community, organisation, or department. For me, influencing is about making sure my service or department has everything it needs in order to give the best service to its host organisation and to be adequately acknowledged and rewarded for doing so.
I am sure there is still much for me to learn about influencing – I certainly hope so; life would be dull if such a fascinating subject had already yielded all of its mysteries to me. However, here are a few things I’ve learned so far that I think are key to effective influencing in organisations.
Visability. By this I mean visibility of yourself, your team and your services. This will mean interacting with those you wish to influence in a range of settings, whether at meetings, online or one on one. Like many librarians, I used staff inductions as a way of showcasing my services and meeting people that I might need to work with or influence in the future. I also frequently visited people I need to speak to in their own offices. By doing this, I would get to see and understand their ‘world’ a little better. In addition, members of their team would get to see and know me and often build beneficial relationships with me.
Relevance. Not necessarily your individual relevance, but the relevance of your service to those you wishes to influence. This doesn’t mean trying to be all things to all people, but it does mean looking around for where and how your service might reach those who are underserved, especially those who are in a position to help you achieve your objectives but haven’t yet understood your relevance to them. In one the hospital in which I worked, the human resources team was both underserved and in a position support the library’s agenda in many ways. We created a simple current awareness update for them and encouraged one of their team, who was completing a master’s degree, to use the library’s resources. Though they had always been helpful anyway, their helpfulness and support grew once they understood what we did and how we could be of use to them.
Allies. One of the most powerful things you can do to enhance your influence in an organisation is identifying and cultivating, allies or champions. Those you identify and cultivate need not always come from the higher ranks of the organisation; they do, however, need to be adept at influencing others.
Listening. If this were a hierarchical list, listening would probably be at the top of it. This is because to influence effectively, it is more important to understand the person you wish to influence than to be understood by them. Influencing is best if you and the people you are trying to influence can benefit from the outcomes you desire. To achieve this you need to understand the needs, aspirations, and challenges of individuals you’re trying to influence. Also important is trying to keep up to date with the shifting ‘climate’ in your organisation. Organisations are dynamic and the internal climate can change due to external pressure, internal politics, and changes of senior staff. Keeping an ear open for these changes and working out how they might affect you agenda is a key skill for an influencer.
Your team. You alone are not going to have all the skills and qualities needed to influence effectively. Different members of the team, working to a common purpose, must use their skills and attributes to influence on behalf of the service. It may be that a particular team member is an effective and engaging public speaker or is good at cultivating one-on-one relationships with key personnel. Often, a team member providing an excellent service for a service user can be the most powerful influencing force. I have seen this work well several times. I can recall senior managers, having received an excellent service from one my team members, seeking me out to tell me what excellent colleagues I had. When appropriate, I would use such encounters to gently pitch an idea and begin building a relationship.
Preparation, persistence and patience. Preparation is about why, what, and who: knowing why you want to influence; what you would like the outcome to be; and who might be best placed to help you. I have sometimes found it useful to sketch out, using a mind map for example, a brief influencing strategy. I usually did that after completing my yearly business plan, as I found that having names of people I needed to engage with helped bring my business plan to life. Not all of your influencing work is going to yield quick results; influencing is often a long game. There will inevitably be setbacks, frustrations, and a few downright failures. The old cliché about failure being a better teacher than success has a lot of truth in it, I have found.
Avoid manipulation. For some people, the whole idea of deliberately setting out to influence others smacks of manipulation. The difference is that influencing is about putting your skills and services in the best position to serve a greater good. Manipulation in organisations is usually about deploying power to serve narrow self-interest. Needless to say, manipulation is best avoided, not least because it often backfires.
Negotiation can be fun, even when the stakes are high. Some of the techniques required for successful negotiation, have much in common with the skill used in influencing. For example:
Listening. Used well, listening not only helps build rapport – key both to successful influencing and negotiating – but also enables you to gain a better understanding of the person with whom you are negotiating. This understanding can help you to bargain more effectively. In some cases, listening carefully can give you the information you need to decide to walk away from a potential deal. This has happen to me on at least two occasions, where careful listening and gentle, open questioning led me to realise the any deal would not be in my service’s long-term interest.
Allies. This might better be termed ‘consortia’ or ‘partnerships’. I think partnerships are best when buying resources (journals, databases etc.) from large corporations. I managed a library in the NHS before key resources such as healthcare databases and electronic journals were purchased nationally. I learned a lot about negotiation and enjoyed being able to purchase electronic resources on behalf of my hospital. However, when I compare the resources available now via the National Core Content to what I was able to buy, I have to admit that the staff at my old hospital are far, far better served by national negotiations.
Preparation, patience. There is no substitute for preparation. I like to know as much as I can about the people I’m negotiating with and the organisation they represent. When I’m negotiating, I try to use the information I’ve learned beforehand as a supplement to, not instead of, listening. I attribute most of my ‘failed’ negotiations to lack of patience: mainly lack of patience with myself. I often felt that I needed to come to a quick decision or I’d appear indecisive; this was wrong. I think its far better to give yourself a little time to mull over a prospective agreement; to read the ‘small print’; and to talk things over with colleagues. Yes, there will be times when you get a strong gut feeling that a deal would be the right thing to do as quickly as possible. On the rare occasions I’ve had those gut feelings and followed them, things have turned out very well. However, in most cases, agreeing in haste leads to regretting at leisure.
Independent Information Professional
About the author:
Ray Phillips has several years’ experience of working in libraries and information services, including over 14 years managing library services in the NHS and the King’s Fund think tank. Ray currently works freelance as an information and libraries consultant, this includes working with organisations to create develop and deliver their information library strategies.