Circles of Control and Influence Revisited

The only knowledge we can manage is our own – Harold Jarche

If you are a middle manager in a large corporate, the concept of circles of control and circles of influence is sold as the concept that keeps you sane.  There are only some things you can change yourself.  There are some things you can play a role in shaping.  Everything else is beyond you.  

If you follow this model, you will keep calm and stay in your box.


However, even this narrowing of accountability doesn’t seem to work in practice.  

Why does this view of circles of control and influence break down? Discussion of these circles is usually framed in terms of the organisational hierarchy.  

Control is defined your role, your resources and your people.  Influence is those parts of the organisation you relate to directly up the hierarchy or as partners in the work.  Every other person or silo is a mystery and will remain so. Relationships outside the organisation are excluded.

Rethink your Circles for a Networked World

However, a networked world enables us to see control and influence differently:

  • Control: yourself and the physical resources you can allocate without the participation of others. YOU
  • Influence: everyone else with whom you are connected by some form of interaction. YOUR NETWORK


Our networked circle of control is much smaller than hierarchy suggests.

Other people are not under our control as much as we might like to pretend or the systems of our organisations might suggest. When networks enable us to listen, to engage and to learn together, this becomes very clear. Employees, suppliers and other partners don’t act the way we want from orders. They are motivated by an alignment of interests.  We need to influence their actions to get results and to win engagement.

If our resources or decisions require interactions with others then those interactions come with influence.

We control our personal states, our learning and the things we personally can move around, little else.

Our networked circle of influence is much larger than hierarchy suggests.  

This circle runs wherever our communication reaches. The more you network and the more you act the more influential you are.

In an organisation with an enterprise social network, your influence is potentially everyone. Influence doesn’t stop at the boundaries of the organisation.  There will be times to achieve a goal you might need to work outside the organisation to influence back in.  This much wider influence removes our ability to absolve ourselves from bad things in our organisations, our customers or our community.  We have the ability to influence their change.  For example:

  • if there is a bad customer experience in your organisation, find someone to help you change it. You can do it even it is outside your job, because it is an important role.
  • if your business is having an adverse or could have a more positive social impact, go find others to discuss and act on improving it.

Circles of influence are just as powerful as circles of control. They require different actions but the impacts can be as great.  

Keep Calm. Use influence to have impact. Just don’t define yourself and your circles in terms of a hierarchy

Susan Scrupski, Harold Jarche and I will be discussing the role of networks in organisations in the first Change Agents Worldwide webinar, in partnership with Socialcast VMware

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