Want more workplace influence? Start with a personal strategic plan

Hard work is fine, and good fortune is fleeting—if it shows up at all. Instead, follow this advice for cultivating relationships and delivering on what your colleagues and clients need and want.

Most people believe (incorrectly) that if they do good work, their star will rise in the organizations in which they work.

We think, “I will get recognized.” Or, “I will gain credibility.” In effect, “I will have more influence.”

If you look around yourself at work, you’ll find just about everyone believes that, and yet the real question is, “In a world where there are many talented people, how will I distinguish myself?”

You need tools and skills, but you also need a plan. Influence doesn’t fall into your lap (unless you are Powerball-winning lucky). Yes, you can develop it (and your reputation) over time. So, you have two choices: Wait for it to come to you, or speed up the rate by going to get some more of it.

That won’t happen by chance; it happens by plan.

More than 70 advertisements were created for this ad campaign featuring Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy, and while they ran, Dodge Durango sales doubled. What is advertising, if not influence? Influence happens by plan, not by chance.

If you’ve sent a child off to college, you know that around their junior year in high school, if that late, a flood of email and hard mail comes to your home—advertising some of the 10 to 14,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. (and beyond). All those brochures look identical. Imagine the genius influencer who cut through all of that “noise” by thinking up this birthday card, which arrived at our home the day before my daughter’s 17th birthday.

Here’s what’s amazing: no return address on the envelope. No phone number or email address anywhere on the card; yes, you can do a search on “#GoMaroon,” but other than that, no contact information for the school.

I call the school on Monday, get to the admissions department and ask, “How in the world do you do this?” The answer should strike fear into the hearts of all of us, as it starts this way, “We have an algorithm…”

Well, apparently, that algorithm does a search by test scores, grade-point average and geography. (“We normally pull from kids in the Midwest.”) This all happens by plan, not by chance.

Let’s turn our attention to us.

How are you viewed in the organization you work for? How would you like to be viewed? What is your reputation? Your personal brand? A lot of people think this is not within their control, but it’s completely within your control.

The level of influence you want is directly related to the amount of credibility you have. How do others see your competence, your confidence, your consistency? Do they know how smart you are? The skill set that you possess?

We get to manage that every time we’re one to one or one to group. We use rapport (the intersection between communication and the relationships we cultivate) to create, build or alter the way we’re seen.

The skill set you need to master—to use rapport and to build credibility—is managing how you’re known, valued and trusted, which, put a little differently, is networking.

In this case, though, networking isn’t just the people that you know, but the ones you have some amount of currency with. Who knows you? Values you? Trusts you?

How can you be more known? How do you get credit for the good work you do without being perceived to be a “shameless” self-promoter? If you want this to be more strategic, ask and answer the following questions: (1) Who do I need to know? (2) Who needs to know me?

How can you be more valued? What can you do to build currency with others, the capital needed to have influence (while also getting your job done) and not working even harder than you already do? You need to know what others value. You may need to know their goals, aspirations and problems.

How can you be more trusted? How do you make what Stephen Covey called deposits in the emotional bank account to get others aligned with you? Does your “say/do ratio = 1”? Are you transparent in your communications? Are you accountable? Are you nice? Do you keep confidences, avoid gossip and have other people’s backs? Do you say “no” to stop yourself from overcommitting?

You need to create a plan, and you need to work it. In the classes we teach, people misconstrue my saying, “You need a plan” by believing I’m talking about a strategic plan the covers the next 365 days. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the next 365 seconds.

What meeting are you walking into in the next six minutes and five seconds? Who will you pick up the phone and call (or go to see) in the next six minutes and five seconds? In any case, how do you make sure those interactions turn out the way you want, rather than the way they will turn out on their own?

Look at your calendar at the beginning of the day; look at all the meetings you have lined up. How will you navigate your way through your day in a way that serves others—and you?

It happens by plan, not by chance. And, if I haven’t made that clear, see below:

This photo is a non-Photoshopped image of the International Space Station crossing the face of a full moon. It took Australian photographer Dylan O’Donnell a year of planning to get this shot after another attempt “was completely botched.”

He needed a down-to-the-second schedule of the station’s path, a full moon, the station crossing the moon in a location he could reach, a clock, the right photo equipment—and luck.

You see, the ISS crosses the entire face of a full moon in about 1/3 of a second. O’Donnell said, “If you think that it might be a case of sitting there with your camera and a clock, with one hand on the shutter release, you’d be absolutely correct.”

Then my friends, you need plan B, just in case plan A doesn’t play out the way you’d like.

Joe Friedman is a Ragan Consulting Group affiliate and a principal of Zehren Friedman Associates Ltd.

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