During my consulting to restructure entire enterprises to improve their performance, we entertained many hypotheses about what might be a useful course of action, and we would ask client leaders for their ideas as well.
Many of these ideas were very practical such as outsourcing certain types of work, renegotiating with suppliers to obtain better pricing, or taking new products and services to different markets.
When it came to what I call the “influence functions” many CEOs and their direct reports would hesitate to offer improvement hypotheses, mostly because they did not feel that they really understood how these functions worked or exactly how they created value.
Sometimes people just expressed skepticism about what value government or public affairs or corporate social responsibility produced, and questioned if you really need those functions at all in times when the company faced major challenges. Some openly questioned if the expenditure on trade association dues and government and public affairs staff and programs were redundant costs, and wondered if there was an opportunity to reduce costs by eliminating one budget or the other.
While this would usually prompt a long discussion and an investigation into the activities and value of both industry trade associations and company lobbying programs, it raised a larger question about how could such a significant disconnect about the importance and value of a department’s activities be so misunderstood by top company leaders? Why was it that there were two parts of the same company who were on the same collective team but were so separated in their view of the world? So much so that one questioned the need for the existence of the other?
Organizational capabilities are the collective ability of an organization to perform specific tasks to fulfill the chosen strategy while leveraging individual knowledge and skills. If an orchestra does not keep the beat and each musician play in tune, the symphony does not materialize. Does the collective organization behave in a way that everyone plays off the same sheet of music to make the influence functions relevant, effective, efficient, valuable, and valued?
This lack of communication and strategic alignment in the modern corporation is complex. But over time, it became clear that there were observable characteristics that set apart the high-performing influence functions from the ones that were clearly challenged in terms of their value contribution. The high-performers exhibit capabilities that the low performers do not. The high-performers focus on importing innovative ideas and focus on driving value. The Radical Influence Network is formed to identify the differentiating characteristics and to enable all “influencers” to adopt the high-performance capabilities.
If the key capability areas were isolated and shared easily, leaders in the influence functions would be able to up their game, overcome internal skepticism and dramatically improve their results. This led to the idea of a collaborative network of joint explorers and innovators in the influence functions. The goal is to reach extraordinary results through deep focus on a few fundamentals of strategically managing the function. This requires “radical” attention to how the function is designed, operated, managed, and communicated. This would produce “radical” results. So, the Radical Influence Network (RIN) was born.
The key capabilities needed for success today reach beyond generic management best practices, and reflect the realities of the complex political and social world our organizations and stakeholders operate within. They also reflect the fast-moving digital and visual windstorm that comprises our information flows. The pace of information flow globally has increased exponentially, with the volume of digital content in circulation in the last five years exceeding the production of information in all of prior human history. This content and data explosion has exacerbated the challenges for influencers to be data driven and to implement the necessary technologies into their operations to enable innovation and strategic insight.
Initially, the RIN focuses on the following six capabilities unique to the influence functions that drive “radical” performance – The Six Pillars of Radical Influence. The capabilities are expected to evolve over time as conditions change.
- Situational Awareness through AI – Organizations need to know what is going on and gathering this data is more complex and fragmented than ever before. In addition to tracking the media, it could be with respect to pending legislation or regulations, or competitor actions, technology changes and community or political reactions to these changes. Or it could be what is happening on emerging content platforms such as podcasts, discussion forums, community action groups, etc. We are all familiar with the Reddit Effect as retail investors attempt to disrupt the traditional short seller strategies of the stock market.The market examples are prolific, and the flow is so great that you need tools to aggregate, sort, and synthesize information without missing anything that is critical to your business. Like the battlefield commanders of old and modern – having strategic situational awareness is critical in understanding the battlefield and strategically positioning resources to be successful. Having a practical understanding of the cognitive science behind AI technologies, and establishing a toolkit that is up to the task is essential to this capability area.It is an interesting mix of targeted information as well as random stimuli that help keep the organization nimble, open to new ideas, and responsive to its challenges and opportunities.
- Business Partnership and Alignment – Business partnership has been an established practice for decades, heavily used by Finance and Human Resources to ensure their relevance and maximize on-strategy behavior. However, the concept applies to any corporate function. There are proven content and process aspects that produce the strong bonds needed between the influence functions and all other elements of the business. These are not taxing, but just take a little time to develop.
- Cognitive Science and Psychology – Ever since the best-selling book by Robert Cialdini called Influence, there has been a growing recognition that incorporating proven principles in program designs produces significantly more “influential” results. Adding these elements in a deliberate manner helps achieve “radical” communication results. However, if the message is off, these principles will not help. That is why the next two capabilities are needed in the equation.
- Issue Management -The book Issue Management: Origins of the Future by J. Howard Chase established the organization discipline of issue management. The concept has evolved somewhat and matured significantly since the 1980s. Companies identify their key public, social, or governmental issues and organize cross functional teams to understand the challenge or opportunity, develop an appropriate response, and execute it. This helps appreciate the issue from all sides and leads to more responsible and calibrated actions.Issues are the “unit of work” for the influence functions and can be used to describe its workload. Just like cases or suits are the unit of work for a legal department. Or projects are for IT, or new products are for R&D. Any company executive team needs to know its issue portfolio and its potential impact on company performance. That leads us to the next capability.
- Value Management – Any enterprise’s portfolio of issues will have its large ones as well as small ones. It is the job of the influence functions to know the relative impact of each issue in relation to the others. Usually profit impact or contribution to strategy serve as wonderful indicators to sort the boulders from the gravel. But you need the knowledge of the company strategy that comes from #2, Business Partnership.Years ago I used to call this “communicating“ value by the influence functions to executives. Now I realize that you have to manage on the basis of value to be able to communicate it. Public or government affairs professionals perceive it initially as a communication challenge, but when you manage on the basis of explicit value differences across an issue portfolio, summarizing it is super easy and carries the message so well that it does not feel like an after-the fact communication task at all.
- Functional Innovation – Improvements can range from the small steps of continuous improvement to the bold steps of transformation that touch on every aspect of the operating model for the department. Being able to conceive of an alternative future and reverse engineer the steps to get there are the mark of sound innovation leaders. There are best practices and known strategies to guide the journey. Learn from the experience of other functional transformations in the influence functions as well as across the corporation to guide your journey.
Note that none of these capabilities are political in nature and are independent of relationships in high places at the legislature or regulatory agencies. Having those relationships alone will obviously produce results that are subpar compared to having them to complement and leverage the six capability areas.
We will explore each of these Six Pillars as the RIN evolves. I expect that each could be an individual community and body of knowledge in and of itself. Imagine learning directly from experts in each of the areas as part of the Radical Influence Network. A Master Class of Influence. This is the community and knowledge that we want to share with you in the Radical Influence Network so that you can be your radical self, working in a radical influence function in your organization.