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.

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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

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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

Middle Managers need to use their Networks and Authority

Middle managers like to complain about being squeezed by pressures from above and below. Their organisations love to blame them for all the ills in the place.

Middle managers have two great advantages that they can use to drive change:

  • They can place themselves in the heart of the network of their organisations.
  • They have authority to make things happen.

Without use, these opportunities whither. Middle managers need to take advantage of them when they can.

Networking in the middle

Frontline employees have very full lives juggling customer expectations. In my experience, they have limited opportunities to engage in networking across the organisation. Enterprise social networks do assist to connect frontline people with the rest of the organisation but the pressures of direct customer engagement often means time is limited and is often focused on better meeting customer needs.

Senior management are often removed from the day-to-day interactions in the organisation because of the scale of their jobs and the greater exposure to external stakeholders. Nobody wants a hierarchy where messages need to go to the top to spread because it is a terribly inefficient way to share information.

If middle management is to have any meaningful role, middle managers needs to play a role networking the organisation across the middle.  Middle manager jobs should give them enough perspective and exposure to their peers to seek and share information widely across the silos and beyond. As nodes in the network of the organisation, managers can dramatically increase their influence sharing information, connecting people, reducing duplication and guiding action. Build a reputation as a generous middle manager who is happy to collaborate, share information and advise and you will find people beating a path to your door.  Your authority increases when you want to act.

Authority to act

When everyone around you assumes authority depends on hierarchical position, having any hierarchical power is an advantage to action. You don’t need to be at the top, you just need the respect of others. Yet many middle managers wait assuming further endorsement is required.

What middle managemers needs to do is leverage their network position and their hierarchical opportunity. Organisations often give way to people who have hierarchical power who are prepared to act, especially where the activity is beneficial and well aligned to strategy and purpose.

When I was a mid-level manager in NAB, a group of graduates came to me wanting to know whose authority they needed to set up a TEDX style speaking program in NAB.  I told them they needed no authority.  It was a great idea, there was a demand and there was no obvious sponsor in the organisational hierarchy.  Finding one would be more work than organising the first event.

I suggested that they could do it themselves and start straight away.  For safety’s sake, I told them that if they were challenged on their authority they should say I approved it.  When they did get a challenge, that answer was more than enough because the people who worry about permission rarely have the courage to check its source. A TEDX style event sat well with the culture that NAB was building and the strategy of being more open and aligned to customers and the community. The first TEDX event had over 200 internal attendees and the events which were run by volunteer graduates for 2 more years were huge successes.

Network and Use Authority

If you are a middle manager and want that role to continue in your organisation, don’t fall for the blame game.  Network yourself to increase your authority and use whatever authority you have to add value in line with the organisation’s purpose and strategy.

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

Assigned. Chosen. Earned. Part 2 – 2 Stories and a Challenge

We shape our impact with our choices of how we respond to our circumstances and the influence we earn in our networks.  Our jobs and the hierarchy do not determine our ability to influence.

That concise message was prompted by The Australian Leadership Paradox, a book on improving leadership in Australia by tackling issues like roles and authority. Geoff Aigner, one of the co-authors, asked me for stories that brought a richer context to my last post. Here are two examples:

A Job. Limited Power.

At the launch of the Academy in NAB, I was asked to become the inaugural Dean of Customer Experience.  The job was tasked with building customer experience capability enterprise wide across a large financial services group.  As a direct report of the Australian CEO, the job was a high profile one in an important initiative.  

However, that description was where the hierarchical power stopped.  The role had no direct reports.  Everyone in learning reported to other leaders in a central learning function or across the many businesses.  There was no reporting on how much learning work was actually going on. The activity and budgets sat in these widely distributed teams. Everyone already had too much work. The Academy was being created because there was a need for better collaboration across businesses on learning. Nobody had seen a Dean before and there was no idea yet what they did.

I had to choose the role that I would play. I could have seen the situation as impossible and quickly failed. I could have chosen to influence the CEO and leverage his power to direct action. However, the giddy sensation of power would be temporary and the businesses would have quickly locked me out. The CEO would have rightly questioned the value I added. My authority would erode if it did not come from my relationships.

I chose instead to share my passion for learning, to advocate for the Academy and to help facilitate a community of the learning professionals across the organisation.  I chose to engage the business by demonstrating new ways for learning to lead change, to solve problems and to demonstrate the value of collaboration. Over time, my authority and my influence increased because of the impact the Academy team delivered.  People began to ask the Deans and the Academy to help solve tricky issues well beyond learning. That influence continued when I left the job.  After all, nobody had told me what role to play, so nobody could tell me to stop just because a job went away.

Why Are You Doing This Again?

The experience of being Dean led to my role in helping sponsor and grow NAB’s Yammer community.  When Yammer began at NAB, it was unofficial with no budget or sponsorship.  There was no place for it in the hierarchy. For the Yammer community to grow, it needed many leaders to choose play the roles of sponsors, advocates and community leaders, because these roles were not in anyone’s job description.  

Over and over again, as we did this, we were each asked a variant of the question:

Why are you doing this again?

Our answer was simple.  The roles were needed and the community added great value to NAB.  It was not our job but somebody had to do it.  We could play the roles and so we chose to do so.

For five years, I worked with other leaders in that Yammer community.  Everyone’s time was volunteered above delivery of the expectations their day jobs which ranged from Graduate to Executive General Manager. We did what was required to build a successful and vibrant community. The roles we played grew the benefits for NAB and the engagement of the community until we ultimately prepared a business case for sponsorship and formal adoption by the company.  

In this process, each of those leaders built their unique position of authority in the community. Many of the leaders got new roles as a result of demonstrating their ability to play different roles and their growing authority. In addition, the community was stronger because its leadership came from within.

Over to you: A challenge – your new role

  1. What problem or opportunity can you see that doesn’t fit in somebody’s job?
  2. What role could you play to draw attention to or solve for that problem or opportunity?
  3. Whose authority & support do you need to make the change happen?