HR Daily: How HR pros can build their influence - Michelle Gibbings

HR Daily released an article I wrote in which I share tips and hints on how to build a better network.

You can read the full article here.

HR professionals should take a deliberate and structured approach to network building to increase their workplace influence, an organisational change expert says.

People often think the relationships they have within the workplace should be different to those in their personal life, but Michelle Gibbings, author of Step Up: how to build your influence at work, says this is “rubbish”.

She says the frenetic pace of social media often means interactions feel shallow and impersonal, so leaders should use some simple, but effective, steps to build stronger workplace relationships.

“Be authentically interested in other people,” she says as a starting point.

Even transactional or irregular relationships can be so much more “when you take a genuine interest in the other person, smile and ask them about their day”.

“The relationship may still be temporary, but the characteristics and feeling that you have about the interaction will have changed. You’ll feel better and so will the other person.”

Networks are a long-term investment
Professionals should always take a long-term view on workplace relationships, as stakeholders in organisations can change quickly, and someone who is currently not viewed as important can quickly become a critical stakeholder, Gibbings says.

“This means that you give people the benefit of the doubt and assume good intent. You also never assume you know where a relationship may lead and so be open-minded.”

Gibbings recommends being proactive and patient with interactions and staying on the lookout for ways to strengthen relationships.

“Don’t ‘take’ before you are willing to ‘give’. Don’t always think about what people can do for you, but what you can do for them,” she says.

She notes that while it’s important to maintain connections and find ways to involve people and get their advice, it’s also advisable to “hold your ground, when necessary”, as relationships built on trust will withstand challenging conversations.

Build your network
A valuable network of workplace relationships is one that is broad and includes a range of stakeholders, both internal and external to the organisation; deep, which includes people across different hierarchies; and established – based on trust, authenticity, reciprocity and transparency, Gibbings says.

HR professionals should be deliberate and structured in building and leveraging such a network, she says.

“The first step is to make a list of all stakeholders and identify if all the necessary relationships are in place.

“Start to look at their characteristics in the context of the work you are doing. For each stakeholder, do an ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ assessment. That is, where is the relationship now, and where does it need to be.”

Gibbings says HR practitioners should then ask themselves:

  • Is the relationship healthy or unhealthy?
  • How frequent is the interaction – frequent, infrequent or sporadic?
  • What is the person’s position in the organisation – are they a peer, team leader or more senior?
  • Where are the gaps or blockages with people with whom it’s hard to get things done?
  • Are there key people missing in the network?
  • Who are the influencers and amplifiers who know how to get things done and can easily navigate hierarchical roadblocks?

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the influencers and amplifiers are always going to be in more senior positions, Gibbings says.

“Some of the most powerful people in organisations are the executive assistants. They’re the gatekeepers to the executive’s diary, and it pays dividends to have really good relationships with them.”

Nourish your network
Once a network map is established, the next step is to build a plan to address its deficiencies, Gibbings says.

She recommends “setting aside dedicated time each month or each quarter to review and discuss your stakeholders”, either individually or as a team.

At this stage, Gibbings says HR professionals should:

Drive energy into the network by striking the right balance between reaching out to people to ask for something, and reaching out to offer help and support; consistently follow through and live up to commitments, which is critical in building trusted relationships; consciously seek out people with different opinions who will add diversity and depth to the network; actively facilitate collaboration across teams, business units and geographical boundaries – “You will not only be helping to secure progress, but you’ll also be building your brand as someone who is well connected,” Gibbings says; and enjoy the process of network building and always do it from a position of integrity – “If you lose your integrity you will have little credibility or trust with your stakeholders, and therefore an ineffective network and an inability to influence.”

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