19 things to create influence, change and develop your career

The following is a list of ideas, thoughts and approaches I’ve developed during my experience in working for various different organisations. It sort of describes my approach and behaviors when I try to think about influencing and career development. It’s also worth saying that these are the things that worked for me. I’m an extrovert and a bit hypomanic, so this is my tool kit. What tools and behaviours have you developed?

1. Don’t send emails, talk!

Try and make a habit of going over to people’s desks and talking rather than emailing. So many good things can come out of conversations, you build your relationship with them, you understand more than you knew about an issue and it could make you think differently. You can also get immediate actions from your conversation without ping ponging emails. Once you’ve had the conversation… then send an email to confirm your chat and outcomes.

2. Talk to everyone before the meeting

If you’ve got a big meeting coming up with your stakeholders, meet them all first to get buy-in and understand their perspective. Avoid big ‘show and reveals’ and build consensus with as many people before as possible. Your big meeting should then just be about alignment and agreeing actions.

3. People take time to warm up and trust you

In large companies relationships can transcend hierarchy. Get to know people around you, what are their challenges, what matters to them? What are they trying to get done? You should be able to reel this off for at least 10 people you work with. This will also help you communicate your message more effectively if you can frame it in a way that matters to them.

4. Be persistent and never never give up

Whenever you’re pushing for the change you want, you may have to keep trying, keep asking and find a way. Don’t stop at your first or second ‘no’. In large companies, if it’s a good idea, timing is probably the factor you’re getting a ‘no’.

5. Timing is everything

I’ve often suggested a new idea, and been told ‘no’ or get no traction, then suggested the same idea 6-12 months later and had a totally different response. What is everyone’s focus? Store those ideas up and time them well. In large companies you get 1000’s of doors, some of them closed and some just open up when you ask suggest the right idea at the right time.

6. Start with a small change

Ok funny story…the first thing I changed when at John Lewis, was the lack of wholemeal bread rolls in the staff canteen. It irritated me that they only served 1-2 wholemeal bread rolls in the canteen per day, but had baskets as far as the eye could see of white stogey bread. So out of curiosity I asked if I could meet the head chef. We sat down and talked about why there aren’t any healthy bread rolls and suggested they might trial more healthier eating options for 2 months. They’ve stocked plenty of wholemeal rolls ever since. When I saw that I can get a small change from a different department and different context, I got confident. If I could make the ‘big machine’ change course ever so slightly, there must be other doors that can be opened with the right suggestion, at the right time.

7. Don’t assume that things are the way they are.. because someone else tried

In large companies things tend to settle into a stagnant pool of repetition . Processes, ways of working, just fall into place sometimes with no one intentionally deciding it should be that way. Question everything around you and challenge it, if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

8. Don’t work late

In 15 years I’ve worked late probably about 1-2 nights every 6 months. I’ve worked in agencies, small companies and large enterprises and had a good career. Working late doesn’t get you promoted, good work does and you don’t do your best work when you’re tired, knackered and don’t have a good work/life balance!

If you’re working late it will be for one of the following

  • Your company doesn’t know how to manage people and is overworking them
  • You’ve not set reasonable expectations with those around you
  • You can’t say no
  • You’ve not escalated it and said you’ve got too much to do
  • It’s a one-off or peak time of year.. but if this is happening every week it must be one of the above.
9. Never wait for that tap on the shoulder

Promotions and pay rises rarely come just by working hard and being ‘noticed’. If you want more money, or a promotion, ask for it. It’s ok to do so!

Just make sure you:

  • Get the timing right, set some time aside with your manager, or time it up with your appraisal
  • If your boss isn’t the decision maker, tell them you’d like to speak to the person that does.
  • When you get the right audience, run through your role profile, and match it against your achievements and point to the areas that you are over performing in
  • Don’t make it all about ‘wanting more money’, it’s about you wanting to ‘feel valued for what you do’
  • Make clear that you want more opportunities, if you get that, then make it about value and recognition.
  • For promotions write a new role profile that describes how you’d like to do your job.
  • For large companies… remember they won’t create a role just for you. They have to be able to replace you if you leave and they won’t want to make someone redundant. Getting promoted is about timing, need and ability.
10. Control the narrative

For any success or failure, make sure those around you understand your narrative of events, particularly senior management. Often this can become confused or fuzzy.. i.e. “ohh I thought that was because of…”. Making sure those around you have alignment on what’s happened (a project success or failure), whatever you think the learns and framing are.

11. Don’t treat the bosses differently

When you meet someone senior, no matter what level, talk to them like a human being. It’s easy to get intimidated by their status, but what they will appreciate the most, is honest and authentic communicating. So just ask them normal questions, you’d ask anyone else before you plunge in..How was your weekend? How’s your week been ? How did you feel when X happened …? This will show confidence, help you transcend hierarchy and increase the likelihood you can influence.

12. Be vulnerable, authentic, have courage and ask for feedback

I know this sounds terrifying! I used to be quite guarded and kept my two worlds at home and work separate. I didn’t want to tell people what I’d been doing on the weekend (“a crazy dance hippy dance night” or “I felt nervous about this week’s presentation”). However if you can find the courage to be vulnerable and honest with your colleagues it can be very powerful. Also ask for feedback and their opinions on stuff. They will trust you and pay more attention to what you say. You can build more real relationships this way. However there is a careful balance you will need to strike. It is a mark of the place you work, if you feel you can do this. If it doesn’t feel safe to do so, then find the right time and share that feeling in itself with people. See how it is received. If you get shot down, and you don’t have the stomach for it, leave that place now!

13. Get to know people’s personalities and be curious

One of the most insightful exercises at work I did, was when HR ran a myers briggs session with my team. We all completed the survey and got given our ‘personality type’. At this stage I was very skeptical. They asked all the personality types to stand together in groups. All the people I got on with stood right near me, all the people who I struggled to communicate with stood at the other end of the room. The way they thought, and processed ideas was totally different to me. Meaning they needed a different way to be communicated with. Do you have an idea of what personality type you are or those around you? Have a play with this – https://www.16personalities.com/

14. Don’t blame people, blame the environment

Think strategically, don’t be short-sighted and blame people. Everyone’s behaviour and actions are all really a product of the environment around you (and their previous experiences). I believe most people are generally either ok, good or (rarely) amazing at the job. If you think they are behaving strangely, making poor decisions, it’s easy to assign that blame down to them being ‘crap at their job’ (I know I can be brutal in my thinking!). However I’ve started to think about this actually being more about the environment they are in.

Why are they thinking like that?
What do they think their job is and what are their goals?
Where did that impression come from?

How is your company configured in terms of culture to make people behave this way?

15. Don’t just do what you’re told.. Look around

You’re are assigned a job, objectives and tasks. But how did those things arrive at your desk or inbox? What happens to your work after you’ve finished it? What other teams are involved and how do they work, how wide can your understanding go? This is really important that you invest effort into understanding the wider picture around you.. or ‘zooming out’. With this you can start to master and influence those on a different level.

16. No one is clever-er than you!

In my 15 years of working in variety of different companies and environments, at times I’ve felt intimidated or lacked confidence when meeting more senior people. I’d attribute seniority to raw intelligence and dominance. As I’ve started to spend more time with people at higher echelons of power and influence, i’ve only encountered about 2-3 people who I realised we’re definitely a lot smarter than me! With everyone else, whilst I respect their experience, and opinion I could see that really, we are all about the ‘same level of IQ’, but just with different experiences. This is an important realization in developing your own voice and confidence.

17. If you’re in a big meeting and confused, you’re not the only one!

I’ve often found myself in a large meeting, feeling confused and not following what’s going on. In almost every instance where I’ve called it out, and said “sorry I’m not really getting this”, about 2-3 people would respond that they too felt the same. Don’t sit there in silence thinking it’s you! Chances are other people are lost too and you’ll show yourself to be courageous one if you can have the balls to say it.

18. Test, trial and learn

Larger companies are often afraid to commit to anything big. So propose a way to test or trial your idea. Make it small enough that it’s hard to say no, but can still provide enough proof that you were right.

19. Finally if you’ve made all the change and influence you think is possible then it’s probably time to move on!

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