Political skills often key to self-promotion
Have you ever wondered why your management team always seems to listen to your colleague’s ideas rather than your own? Are you struggling to get your voice heard? Are you frustrated because other people seem to steal or borrow your idea and get credit for it, thus leaving you behind in the dust?
The problem you are experiencing may be twofold. First, you may not understand some of the key dynamics of marketing and therefore fail to plan effectively for your presentation. Secondly, you may not have developed your political skills to the extent you have the right amount of influence and credibility to sell your specific idea.
Let’s start with a few marketing strategies that you need to pay attention to. First of all, you need to be selling your idea to the right group of people. Hopefully, that’s your management team, which in reality is buying your credibility and reputation. If you don’t portray credibility at the time of your presentation, your idea will die on the vine, so to speak.
Secondly, your audience is also looking for solutions to their challenges. In other words, you need to ask yourself what the benefits of your solution are. Then, you need to clearly match each solution to the known challenges. After all, managers buy freedom from risk; they want certainty. Be confident your ideas are the right ones, and be prepared to provide a rationale.
Essentially, in order to successfully market an idea, you need to be a problem-solver who can offer a solution that will work. However, your solution must also be positioned effectively. For instance, keep this simple example in mind — people don’t just buy shampoo, they purchase whatever product will give them the cleanest hair.
Therefore, it is important to take time to find out what problems your management team is experiencing and how you can help to overcome them. At the same time, keep in mind that the more benefits your product/service has to offer, the greater your chance of success.
Part of the challenge of presenting a new idea when your credibility is still growing is that it may be difficult to prove your idea will work. However, most ideas are not rocket science and so have probably been applied in one form or another in another organization.
Do some research and find some statistics to back up your idea. Learn where your idea or some rendition of it has been applied previously. If this is not available, explore the potential of conducting a pilot project as a means to demonstrate your idea will work.
If you feel your credibility on the specific issue at hand is not strong enough, seek out someone with more credibility. Ask this person for general feedback on your overall idea as well as how to present your idea more effectively.
If the individual is willing, ask this person to present the idea on your behalf.
However, be sure to thoroughly clarify your idea with the new presenter and provide them with sufficient background so they can respond to basic questions. Ensure that you accompany the individual so you can respond to more technical queries, and of course, continue to build your credibility.
On the other hand, since credibility in the workplace is so important, this is something you should be working on every day. Take on extra assignments, volunteer for new leading-edge projects within your organization. Work toward becoming a known entity and your credibility will come along with it.
Another marketing challenge confronting the presentation of your ideas is that the idea itself might be very politically sensitive. This puts the issue into another realm of challenge. First of all, ask yourself if you are fully aware of and understand the dynamics of the power and political bases within your own organization? Who has the political power and where is it located? Who might you have to involve in your project in the earlier stages? Who do you need to keep informed, and at what stages of development? All of these questions need answers in order to help move your idea ahead.
I find that many up-and-coming leaders have not spent enough time thinking about political skills and how to develop them. Yet, as you move up the ranks, political skills are absolutely critical because moving ideas forward is all about influencing others through persuasion, organizing additional support, becoming a known entity and developing trusting relationships. So, how do you go about doing this?
One group of researchers into the topic of building credibility and political skills suggests there are four elements to political skills. These include social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity.
Social astuteness refers to the skill of being an astute and intuitive observer of social situations. This includes being able to "read" the behaviour of others, understand their intentions, and quickly identify and deal with hidden agendas. It also means having a good level of self-awareness so you understand how to communicate to influence others.
Interpersonal influence, on the other hand, refers to a graceful, easy personal style where you make people feel at ease versus being an awkward communicator. This enables you to be flexible and adapt your style, remain emotionally detached while listening to issues and being able to easily reach out to create coalitions of support. It also allows you to think about and appreciate the needs of others so that you can create a win-win situation.
A third political skill is that of developing and working with diverse networks of people and being able to easily develop friendships and relationships that can ease into an important coalition when needed. It is a network for providing personal relationship benefits where there are exchanges of information, co-operation, reciprocation and trust.
A fourth political skill, and one that I deem especially important, is developing and being recognized for having a high level of integrity and sincerity. People need to see you as genuine, honest, open, forthright and someone with good intentions. It means showing patience when someone is sharing an issue or asking questions. It means being sensitive to their issues and listening effectively.
Selling your ideas is a combination of marketing strategy and political skill.
It’s about understanding the specific product or service benefits and the extent of their application, your credibility in speaking to the benefits and your political skill in knowing the "who, what, when and how" of influencing the decision-makers.
While many leaders come by these skills naturally, any and all of these skills can be learned. Yes, some of them can be learned through coursework and study. However, a good many of the skills are learned through experience and coaching. If you are an up-and-coming leader, your time is now. Find someone to help build your skill set.
Sources: Political Skills at Work, Impact on Work Effectiveness, Gerald R. Ferris, Sherry L. Davidson, Pamela L. Perrewe, Davis Black Publishing; Market Yourself for Success, Richard A. Payne, Spectrum Books.