How do you influence decision makers?

We all like to think that we work for smart organisations.

Companies that employ clever people.

Companies with rational decision making processes.

And that faced with the same evidence, any decision maker would logically make the same decision.

So an Insight team just has to come up with robust research and analysis and the organisation will act on its findings...

But we know that just isn’t true.

Decisions are made by people.

And when any of us are put into positions of authority within a company, how we make decisions reflects both our organisation’s formal processes and our own personal styles and preferences.

So what actually happens?

Different people absorb information in different ways. Some want all the detail, others struggle with detail and want simple messages.

Every decision maker has different experience, and their existing knowledge will vary. When evidence is presented, they will contextualise it with things they have seen before, and make deductions which may be different to yours.

An Insight professional’s credibility with stakeholders will vary, meaning some will give you time and attention that others will not.

And none of this takes place in a vacuum. The people making big decisions are often stressed.

Stressed by the effort of keeping on top of their inbox, of juggling a thousand competing demands, of balancing participation in major strategic projects with the team member stood in front of them who needs urgent support.

Stressed by the critical need to be seen by their boss to be doing a good job when they actually feel out of their comfort zone and forced into taking decisions whose implications they cannot foresee.

So how can Insight teams influence decisions?

Influence is a key territory on the IMA’s Insight Roadmap – the 7th of 8 territories which we’ve explored in our 5 Minute Insights over the last few weeks.

It is key because there is no point in producing research or analysis unless somebody is persuaded to act differently as a result of it.

But whether your insights drive change has as much to do with how good you are at Insight Influence as it does with how brilliant you are at Insight Generation.

There are 3 key steps to consider.

The first revolves around understanding your stakeholders and the big decisions which they will take.

This involves:

  • Understanding senior executives as a group and the generic pressures which they are under
  • Understanding the specific stakeholders whom you wish to influence – and their specific preferences when it comes to taking in information and making decisions

It is ironic that many Insight teams have an incredibly sophisticated knowledge of their customers and could advise their senior management on all sorts of ways to communicate to them; but they have a poor understanding of their own senior management and struggle to persuade them to accept their advice.

The second step is think about your own role in relation to the decision maker. In particular, do they see you as a trusted adviser?

Maister, Green and Galford’s book, The Trusted Advisor, suggests that Insight teams can take a scientific approach to this, examining perceptions of their own credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation.

But there are also tactics which we can all deploy to influence people. Tactics based on an understanding that stakeholders’ decisions – like consumers’ decisions – are not rational, but predictably irrational. This is the 3rd step.

The IMA believes that a good understanding of Behavioural Economics is not only key to understanding our customers, but also to identifying quick wins for nudging our stakeholders.

Further information

If you think that your Insight team could improve its ability to influence stakeholders, the IMA offers training on this and has also published a best practice report on Insight Management to Influence Decision Makers. Please contact us for more information.

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