Influencing up is at once complex and vital work in any organisation. On the one hand, those on the ground and closest to daily challenges are a key source of information. They have experienced and mapped the barriers to progress, are often the authors of various “work arounds”, and are well-attuned to the sentiments of colleagues. In short, they are a rich source of data within the system. The question, then, is how to share this data in a way that is sensitive to pressures beyond one’s own surround.
The status quo is a powerful force, in large part because it is tried and true. At some point, the very status quo now holding us back was an engine of productivity. Influencing up involves disrupting that status quo in service to a larger purpose. And to do so requires a more nuanced understanding of the larger system.
When looking up, it’s easy to remain blind to the varying pressures those above you are navigating. The key to influencing up is in the very language of the phrase: it’s about getting up above the current challenge and gaining the perspective to see the various pressures in the system influencing the thoughts, behaviours, and practices of those senior to you. While your own view tends to represent a single constituency, those above you are juggling the wants and needs of multiple constituencies simultaneously. And that juggling impacts their actions and interactions.
To influence up effectively is to take into account that larger system and to offer insights and possibilities that meet needs beyond those of a single department or stakeholder. Relationships are the currency of leadership; as such influencing up demands ongoing ally-building and leveraging astutely your informal authority.
Before you attempt to influence up, consider these key questions:
- How have I built my relationship with those senior to me? How strong are those relationships?
- What are the pressures on those above me? To whom are they loyal?
- How might I frame what I am asking in a way that acknowledges those pressures?