In my last post I talked about change. Today I want to talk to you about the importance of building your influence within your company.

Why is influence important?

Unless you’re the boss, you can’t dictate the direction of your company. So finding your constraint is useless unless you can can get someone in power to listen to your ideas and act on them.  The way to get people to listen to you is by building your influence.

Building your influence in six steps

You can build your influence in your company by following these six steps:

  1. know your stuff
  2. know your business
  3. be professional
  4. build a record of success
  5. seek to serve
  6. be likable

Let’s look at each step in detail.

Know your stuff

No one will listen to you if you don’t know your stuff. It’s best if you dominate your current job but at the very least you have to be seen as someone who knows what they’re doing and gets stuff done.

The flip side is just as important, which is that you need to avoid making unsound suggestions. I’ve seen people slowly chip away at their credibility by making unsound suggestion after unsound suggestion. And after a while people just stop listening to what they are saying.

What do I mean by unsound suggestions? Unsound suggestions include:

  • projects that aren’t remotely possible with the resources available (we should rewrite our giant legacy application from scratch!)
  • low priority projects (these often start with “it be cool if we…”)
  • projects that are in direct conflict with the primary goals of your company (proposing new expenditures when the whole company is trying to control costs)
  • projects with dubious benefits (let’s switch ecommerce payment providers to save 0.1% on our transaction fees)
  • really vague ideas (increase sales, make the website better, increase quality)

Know your business

I’ve got a whole discussion on this topic in my post: Where to look for the constraint in your company.

Be professional

We teach people how to treat us. So if your behavior tells people to treat you like a child, that’s what will happen. But if your behavior tells people that you are a thoughtful, mature, and skilled professional acting in the best interest of the company,  then you’ll be treated as such. You should always aim to be professional.

Software engineering is a young profession so we don’t have a tradition of supervising our members like doctors, lawyers and engineers do. However, I find it’s best if I imagine that’s true as I go about my day. Imagine your ability to work as a software developer is contingent on being a member in good standing of the College of Software Engineers. This imaginary college has the power to punish you or prevent you from working as a software developer if you really screw up.

You might want to review the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice,  which I consider my minimum bar for professional behavior.

Another part of being a professional is knowing when to refuse to do something that’s ethically or legally questionable. There must be lines you will not cross. I could write a whole post about this topic but let me just sum it up by saying that no job is worth risking jail, being sued, or getting blackballed from your profession.

Build a record of success

It’s hard for your boss to ignore a long record of sustained successes. If pretty much everything you do and recommend works out favorably for the company, I guarantee your influence will grow. How do you do that? Keep reading this blog and following my advice.

Seek to serve

Different people have different approaches to getting ahead. I believe the best way to be successful is to help your coworkers and company be successful. You should be looking for opportunities to improve the company and make things better. And you should be looking to help people succeed.

Just to be clear, you shouldn’t be out to make other people look bad or cram your ideas down their throats. We all know someone who is always giving people unsolicited advice. Does anyone listen to them? Do people appreciate unsolicited advice? Of course not. Don’t fall into this trap.

Be likable

I know that good ideas should rise to the top no matter what. But, the truth is that we are all just children in the bodies of adults and if you hurt someone’s feelings or make them feel dumb, they’re going to hold it against you and your ideas.

So try to be likable. This is a skill you can learn. But if you think you might need a little help in this area I recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie). This is a classic book that teaches you how to build successful relationships with people (with 4.5 stars on nearly 6,000 reviews on amazon.com you can’t go wrong).

Wrapping up

Your goal is to become a trusted source of ideas and information for the decision makers in your company. You want them to seek your opinions and ask for your help on their important decisions because you have a reputation for having great ideas. It is only from this position that you’ll have the influence to work on your company’s constraint.

In my next post, I’m going to show you how to evaluate your options for overcoming your constraint.