Book review: “Influencing Up”

Cutting costs has been a major focus for businesses since the beginning of the current economic recession. Due to this, more companies are discovering that in order to increase profits, develop new products and services, they can no rely solely on corporate leaders.

Instead, it is increasingly important for organizations to utilize initiative from all levels. How any person can gain influence and initiate effective action for change is the topic of the newly released book, Influencing Up, by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford.

Their premise begins simply: the world has changed — becoming more challenging than ever. In order to be successful, people must cooperate in increasingly complex ways. Employees must produce new ideas, influence customers and secure resources and support, just to get the job done.

This can best be accomplished by focusing on the two main themes of the book: 1) understanding the dynamics of power and overcoming any negative impacts; and 2) becoming a partner with high-powered people, both within your organization as well as others.

A key concept here is influence. “People can be influenced when they receive something that they value in return for their response,” the authors explain. “Therefore, anyone can influence anyone else if they have something valuable to trade and can be trusted to deliver it.”

In today’s increasingly complex world, workers at all levels are being forced to deal with people who are neither friends nor peers — often those with more formal power. This reality, the authors state, tends to produce dysfunctional behavior on both sides. High-power people tend to overvalue their contributions and undervalue others. At the opposite side of the spectrum, those with less formal authority are apt to underestimate their own power.

Solving this power differential necessitates adopting a mindset of “becoming a partner” with authority figures. More than ever before, relationships matter for success in organizations.

Cohen and Bradford advocate a non-traditional approach to developing relationships between parties of unequal power. Both senior and junior employees must “move toward a partnership in which both are concerned for the other, voice their interest and differences, and think win-win where possible.”

The days of “reporting to the boss” are gone, they argue. Instead, there should be a relationship of joining with the boss to accomplish both projects as well as larger company success.

The power differential can be intimidating — particularly if you are dealing with someone you don’t like. But it can be overcome. The authors suggest an eight-step model of how to create influence:

1. Determine who has to be influenced. Is it just your boss, or is it his or her boss who needs to be influenced?

2. Assume that each is a potential partner. Don’t automatically attribute negative characteristics to the potential partner if the first response is no.

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