New Series: Radical Influence Pillars Will Keep You Standing Tall, Confident, Competent, and Reputable

six pillars radical influence
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One of the main purposes of the Radical Influence Network (RIN) is to enhance the management effectiveness of the corporate functions that can heavily shape and protect reputation. There is a set of organizational capabilities and management methods that help these functions achieve their goals.

Why is Patagonia so thoughtful and stakeholder-sensitive? What makes Gitlab be so transparent? What makes Marriott International so diverse?

Companies like these have strong externally-facing functions that listen well and are deeply integrated with how the business is planned and operated.

RIN uses the term “influence function” collectively to refer to a range of organization units. Traditional functions that face externally, such as, public affairs, government affairs, external relations, investor relations and so forth are all in this group. However, newer functions that have emerged in recent years such as Environment, Sustainability, and Governance (ESG), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) that, through programs, or the lack of them, can significantly affect reputation. More recently, some companies might have units called Impact, or Community Enhancement that would also qualify. Other traditional corporate staff functions may at times have a portion of their activity fall under this rubric, such as human resources, legal, or procurement.

Since the list can get long, we have found it a lot easier to just collectively call them influence functions.

Based on our observations across a wide range of industries and company sizes, we have concluded that there are six capability areas that, when mastered, distinguish top performance from the rest of the pack. This is not based on exhaustive academic research but based on my decades of experience as a management consultant.

Of course, there are other key areas beyond the six identified that top performing influence functions need to master, but most of them would be affiliated with “good management” in general. One might be the ability to find the appropriate talent to fill key roles. Another might be to stay within the annual budget. Activities must comply with legal requirements. These are rather obvious and hold for every corporate function.

The Pillars of Radical Influence represent the core capabilities that underpin and drive effective and efficient influence in a way that shapes and protects corporate reputation. The pillars represent the distinguishing factors, not the entire recipe for success.

In ESG, CSR, DEI, or Legal, there are specific technical knowledge and skill areas that are core to the function. Yet the function can never fully separate itself from how the organization is perceived and how its reputation evolves. Sustainability requires professionals with technical expertise in environmental science, biology, and chemistry. Diversity and related functions require professionals with knowledge about the experience of other human resource practices that usually require special study. Analysis of data on current staff is required to evaluate various policy and program alternatives.

Yes, these functions have specific objectives internally, but they are also watched carefully by stakeholders, so they have an outsized impact on the organization’s reputation.

The departments we are focusing on have influence in two ways: externally with stakeholders and internally with leaders who can shape company behavior, and in turn, company reputation with stakeholders. The duality of influence, both direct and indirect, distinguish influence functions from other corporate staffs.

Master each of the six “pillar” capabilities, and you will earn a reputation among peer executives in your company of being well-managed and having your act together. You will significantly increase the probability of performing well and achieving radical influence with your internal business partners and with key stakeholders and shareholders.

Success at all pillars produces exponential impact in total. It’s the way to reach radical influence.

Here is a brief introduction to the Six Pillars of Radical Influence that we will cover in this series:

1 - Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness is the ability to comprehend what is happening in space, time, stakeholder, social, and political contexts. As a result of the information explosion, we are experiencing due to the success of social media platforms and other information technologies, the job of monitoring all the relevant sources is no longer able to be affordably accomplished by humans. Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are now essential for adequate information access, sifting, interpreting, and planning, so that the social and political analysis is feasible. Good situational awareness enables the next pillar, Issue Management.

2 - Issue Management

Issue Management is a system to identify, define, and manage the design and implementation of response to gaps between your company behavior and that of stakeholder expectations. It includes stakeholder analysis and engagement processes. Knowing your organization’s portfolio of issues, whether risks or opportunities, is the start of the process. Understanding their relative value to the organization is a critical next step that is covered by the next pillar.

3 - Value Management

Value Management is the ability to recognize risks (that destroy value) and opportunities (that create value), and relate them to impact on corporate business operations, company strategy, or reputation. Articulating this value has historically been a challenge for most influence functions, but there are practical and acceptable ways to quickly bring value into the conversation on any issue. Doing so will reduce skepticism and earn the trust of business executives, and eliminate a lot of internal debate. This pillar is arguably the most important of all, yet depends on the prior three pillars to operate well. Poor awareness, or poor issue management makes it difficult to deliver on the value stream. If you do not recognize key issues, or organize them well, it is hard to sort them according to importance to the business and be a good advisor to business

4 - Business Partnership

Business Partnership is the process of providing expertise and advice to business leaders with respect to your department’s scope. Executives rely on facts and information that are supplied to them by influence functions. This might include data about public sentiment, or regulator preferences based on conversations and research. Executives also rely on sound advice that reflects the subject matter expertise of the department This could be political navigation advice from government affairs, or it could be advice on the technical nuances of various sustainability measures proposed by stakeholders related to carbon footprint reduction.

5 - Cognitive Science

The Cognitive Science pillar is about applying psychology and the science about how human brains are “wired” with shortcuts and biases that drive decision making. Cognitive science becomes relevant when interpreting public events and developing and implementing public as well as internal programs, including the advising and influencing of executives to do the right thing.

6 - Innovation

Innovation – to remain competitive, you need to improve in a systematic way in order to keep advancing. An organized functional innovation system will bear the best results, require the least amount of leadership energy, engage employees, and balance competing objectives. It will also enable the accumulation of improvements so that over time the results can compound, producing substantially greater results. We will discuss some of the typical innovations and their benefits, as well as some tips on how to get started.

Several observations to keep in mind as you learn about the pillars at a high level here and in this series:

Independent but Connected

Each of the pillar capabilities are connected to each other. In some cases, being poor at one hurts your ability to excel at another. While information from one can feed another, no single pillar can stand alone, fully isolated. This will become clear as each pillar is discussed individually over the course of this series.


If you conduct an honest self-evaluation of your company against these pillars, you will likely find that there are a few areas that need work. Great athletes can still excel without being the best all-around athlete. It depends on the position being played, and the overall circumstances of competition. Find your weaker areas and work on them as insurance against the risk of failure.

Helpful Navigation

Newer influence functions are spawning with co-incident technical responsibilities. Good examples are ESG or DEI. It can be a challenge to be data-driven when the data may make your company look bad. When that occurs, the pillars will help navigate the best path.

So, what happens if you just decide to ignore these pillars of differentiation? There are several risks:

  1. Your internal reputation will suffer. It may not be clear to peer executives how your function creates value for the organization, or whether the investment is worth it. That is why it is better to show them the value you produce, so there is no doubt or room for misinterpretation.
  2. Allocating effort in the wrong places. If you treat all issues as equal in value, then you will be under-resourcing important issues and over-resourcing minor issues.
  3. You might face budget cuts because you cannot defend the budget request in a compelling way. Tying all program effort to either profit or stakeholder impact, strategic plan accomplishment, or corporate reputation (in a way that separates the important from the minor) is what executives expect to be able to garner from interactions with your department.
  4. Reduce the startle effect. This comes from not being aware of how deeply a stakeholder group holds an issue, forcing your organization into reactive mode. With just a little structured monitoring, analysis, and planning, the risk of this can be reduced significantly.
  5. Be outshined or outmaneuvered by other industry players. It could be as simple as having other reputations look better than your neglected one, or it could be much more unscrupulous than that.

The list could go on. To avoid these disappointing outcomes, we have developed a scale of sophistication and effectiveness for each of the pillars to help leaders recognize where they are in the stages of development on each pillar. The scale runs from low performing, or following traditional behaviors, to truly excellent. The four levels on the scale are: Traditional, Aware, Practicing, and Radical. In this case, radical means excellent - thoroughly and completely achieving top performance.

Follow this series, as we will describe each pillar and the management thinking behind each one, provide a roadmap to achieving radical performance, and the benefits to be gained.

Think you stand tall against these pillars? Check your own cognitive bias.

Almost everyone reading this article will say that they have seen their organization exhibit at least some features of one or more of the pillars described here. That realization may lead you to think that you “aren’t that bad” and don’t need to give much thought to improving how your influence function is operated or managed.

But don’t fall for that trap.

Literature shows that one of the most common cognitive biases is overconfidence. Some people call it the Lake Wobegon effect, where Harrison Keillor describes a fictional town where “all the children are above normal.”

The Lake Wobegon effect, also known as the overconfidence effect, is the natural tendency of humans to think of themselves as better than they objectively are. It is one of the most common, well-documented cognitive biases.

Experience shows that executives claim to be following a process or practice, and that they are correct. Their organization did successfully display the attribute at one time, in perhaps a few rare incidents, or in a portion of the organization. That does not represent solid deployment of the practice. It may not be repeatable or standardized, or it may be deployed reliably in only a small aspect of the entire organization.

The existence of rare best-case examples cannot be claimed as evidence of reliable best practice, and cannot pass for being the “way we do things around here.” But don’t be discouraged because you have not mastered each of the pillar capabilities. Instead, view your examples of less-than-ideal deployment as worthwhile future innovation opportunities.

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