An important feature of power in organisations is its fragmentation across many dimensions.
In a typical large corporation, Government department, public authority, or charity, power divides among many departments, and often across different geographical elements. Indeed, many corporations are now made up of individual trading businesses, each vying with one another for power: in some the competition between them is an unfortunate consequence of human nature; in others it is engineered into the situation by senior executives.
This fragmentation results in a highly tactical approach to influencing stakeholders. Different parts of the organisation prioritise different stakeholders, and even send conflicting messages. Take, for example: the customers whom the sales team might prioritise, the staff, whom the personnel function will favour, the media, whom the public affairs team focus on, and the suppliers that the purchasing team work with. Whilst there is a genuine community of interest among them, tactical communications often create mixed messages. An organisation must take a strategic view to ensure that it emphasises common themes.
Unscrambling Complex Systems
Increasingly, we hear of organisations described as complex systems of interacting and interdependent agents. The role of the organisation is to find and exploit opportunities for the whole system to benefit. The system metaphor is seductive and doubtless highly valuable, but its very complexity makes it somewhat intractable to the average manager or change leader.
A profitable starting place for simplifying this complexity is to borrow from Six Sigma, a structured methodology to drive process improvement, developed in the 1980s by Motorola. An important concept in Six Sigma is that of Xs and Ys.
A Y is a measure of output performance.
It is an effect of the process. Motorola talked of Big Ys as the things that matter most to the business’s most critical customers.
An X is a cause – a factor, variable or process element which can affect the outcome.
The Big Xs are the factors that have the greatest impact on Big Ys.
The way we simplify the complexity of a highly inter-connected system of stakeholders is to look for the Big Ys and then for the Big Xs.
Applying Big Xs and Big Ys to a campaign of Influence
In our case, the Big Ys represent the important changes you want to create by exerting your influence: your outcomes.
The Big Xs are the stakeholders who can have maximum impact upon those outcomes.
Your first step in creating a successful campaign of influence is to prioritise your stakeholders. But do not be seduced into a simplistic analysis that equates position or power with impact on outcomes. The process of analysing stakeholders needs to be a lot more sophisticated, reviewing webs of influence, needs, interests and attitudes too.
Do yo know who the Big Xs are for your organisation, your project, or your change initiative? If you don’t: you should.
This is the approach I take in The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change. It is published by Palgrave Macmillan.