Influence fatigue.

That’s got to be what you call it when people are starting to get sick of the subject of influence. To say that the topic of influence has been flogged within an inch of its death is to deeply understate the volumes of smoke that have billowed out of the conversation. Rich intensity and strong opinion are the characteristics of a debate which featured magnificent posturing and little insight.

The critical question is, ‘why should you care about influence’?

As a staff function, HR has little in the way of organizational power. Any significant organizational change driven by the HR operation will rely, almost exclusively, on influence for its success. If you are unwilling to devote real time and attention to the study of influence, its acquisition and you probably aren’t going far in the profession. Influence is a fundamental skill.

Where the manager of a line function can cause real things to happen through the deployment of resources and budget, the manager of any staff function (including HR) relies on persuasion and subtle leverage to accomplish organizational ends. Wielding power is what line managers do. Influencing is what staff people do.

Any great career as a staff member involves the acquisition, development and utilization of influence as a prime strategy.

Today, organizational forms and communications media are evolving at unprecedented rates. The tools available for the professional influencer are evolving rapidly, too.. These days, careers are made and broken by tactics and techniques that didn’t exist five years ago. While it isn’t possible to measure influence perfectly, you can be certain that its measurement will play a part in the evolution of HR.

One really interesting way to think about the role of HR is that it should be responsible for the optimal arrangement of the network that is the organization. This task, which is the logical consequence of talent management, involves clearly understanding how the members of the internal network interact with the outside universe. It requires a clear understanding of the consequence of rearranging parts of the network.

Influence is what you use when you don’t have direct control over the outcome.

Influence impacts the organization on a variety of fronts. Here are some of the places where HR needs to understand and exercise influence. Each of the categories can be explored deeply.

  • External Influences
    • External stakeholders (investors, community, government) are both influencers of and influenced by the organization.
    • The community of talent that supplies the organization’s Human Capital is yet another externality that can only be managed by influence. Employment Branding is a grand exercise in the use of influence to affect opinion and sentiment.
    • Customers are simultaneously influenced by a direct experience of the organization and by the brand (influence).
    • HR has a meaningful role in the ‘ecosystem’ (partners, suppliers, distribution channels). These are talent supply sources. They are also the heart and soul of the organization as enterprise.
    • A new element of influence involves the way that the HR industry is changing. Active participation in emerging groups (like HREvolution and the TRU Unconferences) creates a back channel for best practices and new ideas.
  • Internal Influences
    • HR functions deliver both direct and direct influence on organizational functions. Execution of policies, compensation philosophy and the seamless delivery of benefits and payroll under gird the organization’s image as stable, generous and involved.
    • Talent Acquisition, development and management strategies are the beginnings of HR’s real deliverables. The function, whether intentional or not, aligns the networks the make the organization thrive and prosper. HR policies determine, to a large extent, how flexible the structure is.
  • Your Influence
    • As an HR worker, one is often faced with problems for which one is not provided adequate authority. This is the essence of staff work. The first order of business for most HR pros is to acquire some sort of credential. In the latest HRxAnalysts Psychographics study, over 90% of the workers in HR have either an advanced degree or a certificate of some sort.
    • While credibility is one underpinning of influence, credentials only get you so far. Successful HR careerists develop reputations of discretion, integrity, follow through, creativity and self-responsibility. Influence starts with credibility and ends with reputation.
    • Along the way, sponsorship and backing are the middle ground of day to day influence. Being able to say that your executive sponsor is backing an initiative goes a long way towards getting people to move in the direction you desire
    • Work on external projects, including social media, serves to reinforce both credibility and reputation.

The subject of influence is vast. Almost anything in HR that doesn’t involve the creation of content involves the use of influence. Any successful player in the profession is a student of the subject.

That said, the measurement of influence is in its infancy. Influence is not a clout score or membership on one of our lists of influencers. But those things are telling us something.

If you take a look at the top 25 Influencer lists over the last couple of years, they have been solid indicators of a broadening level of industry influence for the people on the list. That’s not the only part of influence that matters, but it is a very interesting one.

We think that by studying the way that influence can be measured online, we’re learning more about how to use influence in our lives and organizations.

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