Managing By Influence: How To Lead In The New Workforce

Influence is everywhere: we’re in the midst of an election displaying the best and worst. Have at it, talented people, enjoy the show. Meanwhile, from where I’m sitting, it’s a game-changing year in talent management, too. What we’ve been speculating about isn’t in future tense anymore. It’s now. So let’s talk about telling people what to do.

If you winced at that phrase, I agree with you. Effective management, particularly in the realm of talent, is no longer about the ability to directly convey an order and have it spread and waterfall from Point A to Departments B through Z. And there are four key reasons why you can’t expect to wear a crown and be taken seriously in 2016:

  • The workscape is flat.
  • The work culture wants to be real.
  • Globalism isn’t just global, it’s intrinsic.
  • Big Data is much bigger than we are.

Flat As A Universe

Look at the workscape: We’re in the era of flat. Our preference for a work culture that values transparency, authenticity, and emotional leadership refutes our faith in top-down parroting — whether it’s directives or party line. It’s not enough to tell the VPs and let them quarterback down through the ranks. For one thing, there aren’t the same kind of ranks (refer to point #1).

Further, intrinsic to the nature of a flatter organization is not only its own need for transparency (need-to-know is the enemy of creative collaboration), but something else: sovereignty. As teams consolidate towards the pursuit of their own goals, they realize that to function successfully as a micro-organization, they best act independently, supporting their own priorities.

So how do we know it’s working? With analytics that can measure globally and flexibly, you don’t want a central motor that only wants to gauge itself. Moreover, the flatter the field, the harder it is to see it all. So analytics are best aimed circumferentially. And given the 24/7, we need a 360º view in real time, and there’s simply too much available data to ignore.

The Paradox

Decentralized, separately matrixed, each team setting its own functionality and priorities, the flatter structure creates a new paradox. It requires more communication, and more clarity, not less — just of a far more persuasive ilk. So how do you convince everyone to share the mission, and work in support of each other as well as the whole? How do you better align separate teams and their priorities with organizational mission?

You can’t do it by selling — which, as was recently and very aptly pointed out, negates authenticity. While it was discussed in terms of sales, the field of talent involves similar marketing strategies, from employer brand to social. So stats like “98 percent of sales reps with more than five thousand LinkedIn contacts will achieve quota” (Sales Benchmark Index) are more than telling.

What the new and most vital skill every manager in this environment needs is influence. It’s not about persuading, it’s about engaging. It’s not about isolated efforts, it’s about more collaboration than ever before. It’s closely tied to the rise of social, and given that social is the new normal, it’s also the new normal. Present-casting: check. It matters more than ever before, and it’s going to keep mattering.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 2/1/2016