In looking to create great results, we have to balance getting results in the near-term with building our organization’s capability to maximize results in the long-term.

But what are the methods and ways in which we can help encourage this kind of continual improvement within our organization? And how can anyone, no matter their role or authority level, create value and shape their influence so that the company can amplify positive results?

To answer these questions, we asked John Hunter, a Senior Facilitator for the W. Edwards Deming Institute. John has also written a book called Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, a book that provides an overview for using a systems view of management.

The Art of Influence in an Organization

John says that in Steven Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, there are three concepts brought up: the circle of control, the circle of influence, and the circle of concern. When it comes to leading and influencing other people in an organization, these concepts provide an effective framework to look at how you can influence decisions over time.

The circle of concern is what we are concerned with at work. “Our circle of concern covers those things we worry about. Often, we believe because we worry, that we should find solutions,” explains John. For example, an employee who regularly has face-to-face interaction with customers might have a sphere of concern that is centered on pleasing customers.

In your circle of control, you have much more autonomy—and much more perceived control. “The idea is that this domain is totally within your control, you don’t have to worry about convincing other people,” he says.

“This is a useful construct, but it is often much more complex than it sounds. What it really comes down to is almost everything is in your sphere of influence. When you’re talking about organizations—which are made up of people—nearly everything is about sphere of influence. Even the stuff that’s called circle of control is largely influence,” says John.

Recognize that you can change (and grow) your sphere of influence over time.

Second, if you know more about how much an issue is within your control (or not in your control), then you can come up with a plan of how to best respond. “You should be focusing not so much on what your sphere of influence is right now, but on how you build that sphere of influence over time,” says John.

If what you want to do is add meaningful input and create change in the organization, or create better management practices, for the most part, you can do very little today.

“An organization can only change so much, or so fast, usually. It’s really going to be a long-term process. What you want to do is be focusing on how you build your influence over time. Long term thinking is a very powerful, and much under-practiced, strategy,” says John.

Although there are other methods and tools, here are 4 ways how this can be done.

 1. Show how your influence is good for your colleagues.

By successfully helping other people get better results, whether it is your manager, peers, or subordinates, you will grow trust and influence with those around you. “You grow your influence with them by showing them that allowing you to have influence is good for them.” The more you show positive outcomes from your input, the more influence you will have over time.

If a person has proven that they get positive results for the team, they will have a different degree and kind of influence with others compared with the person who has not. 

“People that have demonstrated ability to help others grow and, if applicable, get their staff promotions and build the staff’s ability to grow their careers, those employees will allow that person to have more influence over them than another person—one who has just as much authority,” explains John.

2. Help people solve their problems.

Similar to helping other people grow their careers is the idea of helping other people to solve their problems. Again, this starts with a clear understanding of your sphere of influence. “It determines what strategies you can pursue, and building your sphere of influence should be part of your decision making process.”

What it comes down to is proving yourself in this way—and doing so consistently. “It isn’t some secret sauce. Prove yourself to be valuable and you will gain influence. Help people solve their problems. They will be inclined to listen to your ideas.” And helping people to solve their problems doesn’t mean you are giving them the answer. It may mean you asking empowering questions.

3. Simplify the story.

When explaining the story or history behind an idea or proposed solution, make sure that the solution (or process) is simple and easy to understand. Help others to clearly and easily see the process that led to your solution, and if you do, they can be more excited about implementation.

While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s simple and easier to understand a solution when you focus on how the system improvements will address a wider range of symptoms. People are most valuable when they help the organization understand the systemic issues that need to be addressed. “This takes time and it takes care to explain the relationships in a way that people will begin to appreciate with a bit of time and reinforcement.”

4. Focus on activities that build organizational capacity.

In order to support systemic adoption of the most effective solutions, put your time and energy towards efforts that will build organizational capacity, says John. And, ideally that’s also in an area that you also want to contribute in and add value to. “This is also about building your circle of influence and growing your ability to influence how the organization grows. This will help you encourage the improvement you believe in.”

A place to start is to ask: how do I make the system that I’m responsible for, most effective?

If people do not understand there is always variation, they may leap to the wrong solution(s). “People are very good at finding patterns, and then associating causes for the patterns that they see in data, but data has way more variation than people understand. Without an understanding of how variation works and how to use data, people will reach the wrong conclusions because they don’t have the knowledge to reach the right ones.”

But John says if you focus on building the capability in the organization to understand variation and to appreciate how to use data—then you are on the right path, and can increase your influence in addition.

“You need to build into the organization things like a focus on pleasing the customer instead of pleasing your boss.” When combining all of these methods, that is when your leadership is going to be most effective.

Gain Visibility Into Where You and Your Team Can Improve

If you and your team are dealing with the same obstacles over and over again, it may be time to examine the cause. Join us to learn how to view your organization as a system, map your processes, understand variation, expand your circle of influence, and measure the results. When you know what you can produce, you can intentionally experiment to create more of the results you desire.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity for you and your team to gain experience in creating low-cost, rapid-return experiments (Plan, Do Study, Act), improve the effectiveness of your leadership, and empower your employees in the process.