#75 Good Work Won’t Get You Influence

by Steven Cerri on October 6, 2008

“It takes more than exceptional work to get you there.”

Hello everyone!

I recently read another article in BusinessWeek. It was in their special issue called Business@Work, dated August 25-September 1, 2008.

I often use BusinessWeek as fodder for my blogs because it is filled with what I consider to be weak management information. It either presents articles that are naive regarding management or it contains research about management that is conducted by people who seem never to have managed a team.

So, as I was saying, I read an article titled “Good To Great Expectations”. It was a summary of the ideas put forth by Jim Collins in his books “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”.

Now, as indicated in the article, Jim has a good cadre of students doing the research for his books. I’m assuming they know what to look for in their executive interviews even though they haven’t managed anyone before. But that’s another matter.

That’s not what caught my eye. What caught my eye was a statement that is attributed to Jim.

The statement is, “If you produce exceptional work, your ability for influence is very high”.

Now that’s a pretty interesting statement. I guess the managers and executives who have sent me their direct reports to coach wouldn’t agree with Jim. Because, while I coach engineers as well as executives, much of the coaching work I do with engineers and technical professionals is because these people produce exceptional work and yet they can’t get along with their colleagues. They produce exceptional work and they are just about ready to be “shown the door”. In the worlds in which most of my technical clients live, both engineers and technical managers, exceptional work doesn’t automatically lead to increased influence.

It’s a mistake to believe that good work is all that is necessary to achieve influence.

Influence is made up of two components; content and context.

Content is the information. It’s what most people “believe” is necessary for success. Especially here in the United States. People think that content rules. Even Jim Collins seems to believe it.

But it doesn’t work that way. Influence also requires “context”. Context is the structure of the communication of that content, of that exceptional work, that allows influence to complete the process.

Just answer this question: Have you ever known or worked for a boss who didn’t know what he or she was doing and still they were the boss and had influence?

Probably everyone who is reading this blog has had someone like that they’ve known at some time. So that means that exceptional work is not what is necessary for influence. I know, sooner or later it catches up with them, but the point is that the statement equating exceptional work and influence just isn’t correct. Influence is not dependent only on “exceptional work”.

Influence is dependent on content, the exceptional work, and on context, the way in which the content and influence are structured. I am regularly called upon to coach really, really good engineers, scientists, and technical professionals who not only don’t have any influence, but they are slowly being moved out of the organization because they don’t know how to use their knowledge to influence the success of the organization. My job as their coach is to show them how to structure a context in which they can effectively deliver their content, their “exceptional work”, so they can influence and contribute to their organization.

In January of 2009, I’m going to present a workshop titled “Influencing Without Authority”. This will be a two-day workshop and it will answer the question, “How do you structure the context and the content so that you can influence others when you have no authority over them?” Stay tuned!

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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