By Yamini Naidu
HR professionals need to be “mega-influencers” who can amplify their professional influence across their organisation, to successfully impact stakeholders, leaders, line managers and team members, writes Yamini Naidu.
People. Technology. Risk. Get these three components right in business in this order, says Don Argus, corporate titan and financial visionary. Like Argus, successful HR professionals place people on top of this list; people make and break everything that follows. However as an HR professional, your ability to influence people is the key to your success. Influence is about creating shift, getting things done through other people.
Today, influence means getting people who “turn up to turn on”. HR professionals need to be not just influencers, but mega influencers. Mega-influencers, who can amplify their professional influence across their organisation, to successfully impact stakeholders, leaders, line managers and team members. What are the new tools of mega-influence that HR professionals are using today to amplify their success and why are they using them?
Hard power: ouch that hurts
The military model of ‘command and control’, or hard power was the first blueprint for workplace influence. “Get on the phone and don’t hang up until the customer buys or dies” stockbroker Jordan Belfort orders his salespeople in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. Belfort (the wolf in the title) exemplifies hard power. Hard power rules through fear. It destroys discretionary effort, stifles creativity and crushes innovation. This model worked in the industrial era, but it fails with knowledge workers who don’t respond to it.
Hard power damages your success. Hard power means you’ll always be pushing uphill in terms of influence. Hard power can unintentionally but effectively get people who turn up to turn off.
Hard power is dumb power; it’s grunt and muscle. Seasoned HR professionals are too smart to be lured by hard power; they use hard power sparingly and for the right reasons – short term results, such as when your people must follow rules around critical operations or issues.
Soft power: take it slowly
Then business professionals discovered soft power. Soft power influences through attraction, cooperation and connection. Harvard Business professor Joseph Nye developed the concepts of hard and soft power. Soft power is influence based on trust, with its main focus on relationships. It uses persuasion rather than coercion to create influence.
Soft power is ‘smart power’ because it recognises that people make the difference between success and failure. It is strong power without the sharp edges.
At the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg Nelson Mandela walked onto the pitch to a rapturous welcome. He wore a Springboks jersey (a potent symbol of white South Africa) and raised his fist in a symbol of black liberation, and in that one soft power gesture united black and white South Africans.
“Hard power rules through fear. It destroys discretionary effort, stifles creativity and crushes innovation”
But soft power has limitations in the influence stakes. Soft power is slow power – it takes time. Soft power is also difficult to do well and is subtle; it can miss its mark.
Hard power creates an impetus for action. Soft power if used well, sparks desire. But what if we want to do both and thereby amplify our influence? For over a decade, I have been working with senior leaders in corporate Australia and globally to answer this. In the process, I have uncovered and explored two further tools of mega-influence in the modern workplace: empathy power and humour power. Together, these three new tools for 21st century influencers help us engage and inspire action and results fast.
Story power: inspire me
Business storytelling is storytelling with a purpose and for results. Story power is a skill that can be taught and learnt and as HR professionals we can all get better at it. Here is a story shared by an HR professional. She needed to convince her leaders on the importance of continually striving to excel in terms of their people initiatives.
“When I was about 14 my Dad took me to the football every week. We would stand in the outer and being smaller than everyone else, I often missed out on seeing the action. One week we decided to bring along an old milk crate we had seen lying around to stand on. It was great – I was finally a head above everyone else and could watch the whole game. The next week we brought along the milk crate again but this time we noticed that a few other people had also brought along their milk crates. We were actually a bit impressed that we had started a trend. Unfortunately, within a few months nearly everyone had a milk crate and I was literally back to square one, back with the rest of the pack. My experience at those matches reminds me of what we are trying to achieve with our people initiatives. We can’t be happy with starting a trend and taking an early lead, we need to constantly be on the lookout for our next milk crate.”
This story worked for her business purpose – it inspired leaders to try new ideas often. She amplified her influence across her business by getting her leaders to think differently.
Empathy power: walk in my shoes
Equally potent is empathy power. What sets us apart as mega influencers is a deep empathic understanding of our audience. Why? Empathy is not sympathy – feeling sorry for a person or indulging their self-pity. Empathy is recognising their perspective sufficiently to help generate change through action.
Empathy power derives from climbing into your audience’s skin in order to understand their world. Empathy power rests on demonstrating caring by understanding other people, creating real connections and showing the courage to suggest solutions or offer options.
“Story power is a skill that can be taught and learnt and as HR professionals we can all get better at it”
After the loss of AirAsia QZ8051 in December 2014, CEO Tony Fernandes immediately took off on the same flight path to be with the bereaved families. He continuously used social media to connect compassionately with them. His authentic, deeply empathic response at a traumatic time was widely praised.
With empathy power, our focus is external. For success, our attitude is one of courage and service. By caring for our audience, we understand what drives them, which helps us create connection and initiate courageous action.
Humour power: why so serious
And, finally, the success secret of mega influencers is humour power. Generating laughs is an official corporate goal at Southwest, a major US Airline. Humour power is using humour skilfully, purposefully and appropriately to influence. Humour is the new frontier in influence. We are often afraid to use humour because we think it might be unprofessional or unsuited to work. However humour, like business storytelling, can also be taught and learned. “Make ’em laugh to boost engagement, spur creativity and improve analytical precision,” says Alison Beard in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article.
At the start of his TED talk, Benjamin Zander has the audience roaring with laughter by sharing this humorous anecdote: “Two English shoe salesmen were sent to Africa in the early 1900s to assess potential market opportunities there. Each sent a telegram back to their boss in Manchester. The first wrote, ‘Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes’. The other enthused, ‘Glorious opportunity! They don’t have any shoes yet.’”
Zander then links this to his message: that some people think classical music is dying while others see it as thriving. No matter what your message or your industry, humour can help you succeed.
Influence is the key to personal and professional success. Influencing others isn’t a dark art; it isn’t about luck or magic. It is a skill that, when applied wisely, will help us to increase our impact and success. Wield it with authenticity and integrity to amplify your influence across your organisation.
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