Posts Tagged ‘influencing skills’

My Part One covers two most popular scenarios in office politics, and they are generally centered around individuals who are plain lazy and who just want to get by every single day waiting for the pay cheque to come.  Who doesn’t want that really?  Yet we should have the decency not to cause harm and inconvenience to others in the process, and that is just plain and simple professional courtesy.

Though the other biggest war field of all times is:

  • Power and control

Maybe you are a star employee and you are a high performer at work.  Instead of focusing on your own business you can’t help but notice whispers and gossips from people around you.  No, you seldom hear it directly from the originators.  These rumors have been circling around the office floor for weeks or even months before you get to hear them, perhaps from a trusted colleague.  And you can be sure these whispers are everything but complimentary.  Some include contents that you are the boss’s boy (or girl), that you are just lucky to land the biggest client, that you are playing favorites, or even contains rumors that your team is going to be taken over by them altogether, only as a way for them to eliminate competition altogether. 

Remember what your parents as well as teachers used to tell you when you ran into bullies in primary school?  Don’t take the bait.  It’s tougher when you were young since it’s pretty hard to detach yourself from a physical fight, if that’s the case.  However no matter how tempting it could be, fist fights at the workplace are still frowned upon, so we are mostly restricted to verbal and written fights which are actually nothing less hurtful.  I take my childhood learning seriously.  Don’t take the bait.  Don’t stoop to their level.  Remember what they said, and try to find out more facts and background why they said it and what their grand plans are.  Don’t confront them without gathering all the facts.  Keep your ear to the ground.  Analyze what you have heard, and synergize with your allies if available.  Is there any truth to the rumors?  Personal defamation is utterly wrong, but rumors about your team being absorbed, outsourced or even eliminated may not be a vindictive rumor but truly a managerial decision.  What do they gain from all this?  What will you lose if at all?  Contemplate all the possibilities and be prepared.  It’s no time to be hazy and reckless especially when you are at the receiving end of hateful office politics.  Keep yourself poised and confident.  Losing your ground is the number one cause of future politics.

Evaluate your options.  If you believe you have nothing to fear considering the fire power of both sides, you can take the high road and ignore these rumors, but be on the lookout for the best timing to let people around know that you are well aware of the whispers around town.  Projecting the image that you are well-informed warns others not to underestimate you, and also a subtle way to let people know you are well-connected with people you can trust.  If the rumors turn out to be less than flattering, the number one rule is still to hold yourself together, and then consult with your trusted mentors, colleagues or superiors.  Be humble and discuss what options you can take.  Can you volunteer for some meetings or tasks to showcase what you are good at?  Can you initiate a brown bag lunch session to talk about your line of work so as to invite more open dialogues that are honest and professional?  Can you have your internal and external customers provide recommendations or testimonial for you in times of need?  Remember, what you are proposing does not only apply to yourself, but to your colleagues and most likely to those who fire the bullets in the first place.  They will need to be measured accordingly and they need to be put under the same test as well. 

I am fully aware that the above is not universal to all workplaces based upon variations in cultures, seniority, level of autonomy and experience.  But you get the drift.  Today’s workplace is way more complicated than worrying about cliques, sides, fights and insults.  Much more is at stake now including our own jobs and even the livelihood of people working under us.  Don’t underestimate office politics.  It’s actually part of the work itself, and it will get worse and even more sophisticated.  If the job is so straightforward that we just need to mind our own business from start to finish, chances are we won’t even have that job to begin with.  It can well be outsourced to others half our pay.  Our job is also about getting through hurdles, aligning people, managing friction, influencing tough minds, and coming up with innovative programs to reward everyone better according to individualized motivators. 

“It’s not my job,” many would say.  But honey, that’s why you are hired in the first place.

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The term “office politics” sure has a negative tone.  Most people use sentences like “I hate that workplace because there is just too much office politics.”, or “I like working for myself so I don’t need to get involved with all that meaningless office politics.”  Yes we all have a million stories about how we end up being victims of cunning office preys and jealous co-workers.  It is certainly no fun to be involved in unproductive games and exchanges with people we don’t like, especially when we believe that is all they do at work. 

Yet when you think again, there really is no way to escape such dealings no matter where you work.  Even if you have your own business, your relationship with your employees as well as clients and partners constitute much of the same thing. 

My advice to almost every pet peeve is to embrace it with an open heart.  As long as you understand why people do what they do and what their intentions are, you will be able to rise above it and learn to tackle it with the right spirit.   Let me take a few common scenarios as examples.

  • Colleagues taking credit for your work

This is probably by far the biggest complaint anyone could have made, and sometimes it is your boss instead of a colleague who is in the wrong.  Instead of merely bitching about the nerves they have, put a mark on your work by making yourself more prominent but not in a cocky way.  If you still don’t know how to articulate that, you may deserve to be taken advantaged of.  No I’m not trying to be mean, but come on, bragging about something not yours is wrong, but letting people know of what you have come up with is your eternal right.  No one can take that away from you, so fight for your own recognition.  For bosses however, I learn to take a step back most of the time.  If my boss looks good, I look good too.  That’s why I get paid and I don’t mind contributing to the common good.  However, you better make sure you will be rewarded at the end of the day.  Knowing how to “tango” with your boss is an art that needs years of trust and mastering.  For that to happen, you have to be honest with each other.

  • Colleagues are lazy and they keep shredding their responsibilities

Yes most people don’t want to move their butts until they absolutely have to.  “It’s better be someone else’s problem than mine,” most would think.  I don’t care if they want to shred their responsibilities, because more often than not they would be caught sooner than you think.   I am eager to cross my arms and witness how it plays out.  However, why would I become the victim?  If you find yourself being blamed or positioned for something that you are indecently accused of, stand up for yourself.  No, not to your boss since it will look whiny and childish like getting abused in a school fight.  Stand up by following paper traits.  Put exchanges on paper.  Don’t resort to verbal fights as you will end of looking as bad as the other party.  Take a deep breath, write a calm and logical e-mail stating why it is in their own turf rather than yours, and state how sympathetic you are.  “Oh I just want to focus on the issue and have this resolved for the good of the department or the company, but would it work out even better if that comes from my dear colleagues instead?”  If you make it sound like you have risen well above the silly issue and manage to focus on the overall good, you can toast your victory.  Remember, let your boss know that you are a problem solver instead of whiner, even if it’s your arch-rival who has stirred all this up in the first place.  Being silent and passive is not likely to do yourself justice.

Chances are, someone is always going to review the facts if the issue turns bigger and uglier.  There is no way to ignore black and white texts on e-mails, so use that to your advantage, wisely.   Better yet, those who review it (including your boss) will realize that you are not to be underestimated.  Bravo.


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In every job search opportunity the topic of remuneration and package always comes out one point or another.  Regardless whether you think you have any negotiation power on what’s on offer or not, you should know what you are worth.  If I were the employer, even if I don’t agree with the number you are proposing, you would still have gained my respect if you present a relevant logic of how you tabulate the number.

Salary surveys, benchmark reports, and insider information are all undoubtedly helpful in assessing how much your fair pay is going to be, but don’t apply yourself in everything you are hearing.  Each person has distinct characteristics and experience to offer and the higher the career ladder you are at, the bigger the variability.  So next time when the so-called headhunters coerce you in accepting an “unbeatable” offer, do your own research and make your own assessment.

What makes you stand out from the other candidates being considered for the same position?  Do you know who are out there and what level of experience they have?  The number one step is to know your competition.  Once you have been in a profession for some years, that should not be as hard to do as it seems.  You should have compared yourself with your colleagues in your own company, those in competitors’ organizations, at business seminars, trainings and cocktail parties.  In my line of work, I particularly pay attention to the personalities of my industry peers other than just their professional qualifications, because sometimes that is what it takes to tell a couple of similarly qualified candidates apart.

The hard qualifiers are easy.  Years of experience, number of subordinates, revenue numbers, savings figures etc. are all quantifiable.  Compare your accomplishments with the market to assess your net worth.  Why is your employer going to be “profitable” to bring you on board?  To drive revenue up?  To land more savings?  To re-energize the team?  Always make sure you will be delivering a much bigger number than what you want on your paycheck.  It’s simple math, and both sides have to win.

Yet it’s the soft qualities that few manage to notice.  Soft qualities like personalities, influencing skills, communication skills, staying power and leadership skills all have unlimited potential that no past accomplishments can truly showcase.  We have seen countless cases where a very competent high performer fails miserably in his new role because he does not have the leadership skills at the next level.  I wrote about that in my earlier post recommending Marshall Goldsmith’s book.   On the other hand, if you are confident that your soft skills are going to add great value to the post at hand, make sure you let your employers and headhunters know about it with examples, and then attach a dollar figure to it.  Yes how one sees this figure as relevant is a subjective issue, but as long as you can put together your logic behind it, there isn’t much to lose.

When negotiation is at stake particularly for a fairly big portion of your career life,  don’t be shy about it.   The key is to be as fact-based as possible, build a convincing proposition and articulate it skillfully.  If you are a good salesman at your job, why wouldn’t you do it for yourself?


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Tweeting is hugely popular in the States and somehow the version here in Hong Kong is named “Weibo” (literally translated as microblog) which gains its popularity through Chinese “tweets” by celebrities in the region (for those  who are interested in the difference between Sina Weibo and Twitter, read this).   Whether it is in the form of tweets or Facebook updates, there is no turning back once an update is posted.  Never underestimate the effect of a post especially if you are one of the opinion shakers in the community. 

So when I see the following slideshow on the top 10 Twitter firings and fallouts, I cannot believe how the movers and shakers could have been so careless.  If they have listened to US President Obama’s advice that “…whatever you do [when posting on Facebook] , it will be pulled up later in your life…“, they wouldn’t be at where they are today.

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One of the keys to surviving before excelling in the corporate world is knowing how to read hidden agendas.  As an agent of change, I need to interact with a large number of internal colleagues before I can go about exercising what my clients want with the outside partners and suppliers.  What we call stakeholder management skills need to come into play.  However, never, ever assume people’s intentions with only the titles on their name cards.

Do you want to be judged by the book cover?  Of course not.  Do you like to be stereotyped by the function or line of work you take part in?  In order to ensure that one genuinely adds value to a decision, he or she has been prepared to announce something new, something bold, or something clever.  Whether you agree with that or not never is the issue.  It is the individual’s hidden agenda that you want to uncover through the conversations you carry out with each and every one of them.  Listening, and reading minds, therefore, is the real key to success.

A newly on-board executive who is badly in need to prove himself.  A neighboring department head who is plotting to eat up your team or even the department.  An overworked manager who cannot be bothered by another new initiative.  A VP who tries to make influencing decisions in using a partnering firm that he has close ties with. 

It doesn’t take a genius to come up with tons of examples like the above, but it does take one to identify and draw such agendas out of everyone before designing tactics accordingly.  It is not easy to be seen, since most of your colleagues have been in the corporate workplace for years.  They are masters of sugar-coating intentions.

So whenever we go about talking with business partners, always consider these questions:

  • Why is this happening?
  • Who are the players?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the players each benefiting from, and how?
  • What can I get out of it?
  • How do I go about getting what I want?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are my benefits worth the risks?
  • Is this really what it appears to be?

In my experience it is always this last question that is most valuable, and it isn’t too hard to figure out once you conduct your share of due diligence. 

Last word of advice:  If you want to stay in one piece, you better keep these hidden agendas in the wraps, as long as they are legal!

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I came across an excellent article on CPO Agenda written by Tom Lawrence, strategy director at European procurement specialist buying team.  Those of you who have read my earliest posts on procurement branding will understand my frustrations and aspirations of my profession.  If you are keen in hearing another person’s views, I have taken the liberty to honor Mr. Lawrence’s work by copying his article here.  I will read it again and again as it echoes my views and vision exactly.  For those of you in my profession who would like to get in touch with Mr. Lawrence and his consultancy, please feel free to visit his company’s website.  The bold formatting is done by myself in highlighting the parts that resonate with me most.


What’s In A Name?    By Tom Lawrence
“The profile of indirect spend has grown considerably in recent years, but it is currently receiving more attention than ever before. There are two principal factors behind this rise.

Businesses are struggling to grow their top-line revenues. While forecasts do predict growth, this is weighted heavily towards 2013 and beyond. The outlook for the next two years is very sluggish. Therefore, to increase shareholder value, organisations are focusing on the bottom line, and on cost management.

Procurement is making headlines. Three recent government reports – Sir Philip Green’s efficiency review, the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the Comprehensive Spending Review – have turned the spotlight firmly on procurement and the consequences of not managing it effectively.

Procurement has come a long way in the past 20 years. However, the journey is far from complete. The renewed focus presents us with an opportunity to redefine procurement as a key strategic support function at the very heart of business. Yet indirect procurement’s value is frequently misunderstood, and this ambiguity leads to business leaders undervaluing it.

There are several fundamental questions which, as a profession, procurement simply does not provide consistent answers to. If we are unable to clarify these issues ourselves, it’s no wonder ambiguity occurs elsewhere.

It’s all in the name. First, perhaps surprisingly, is the terminology that we use – indirects, overheads, goods not for resale (GNFR), and non-core. All these words are both negative and imprecise. Indirects are simply the opposite of directs. The same goes for non-core and core, GNFR and GFR. Using only negative terms immediately relegates them to the second division, where they are perceived as secondary and unimportant, if not irrelevant, when in fact the complete opposite is true. Procurement is crucial. Without it, an organisation simply cannot function.

We need to shift fundamental perceptions, replacing the perception of procurement as a cost to one where it is valued as a business-essential activity. And it might be time to adopt a new name for this activity – one that reflects its importance and which will help to change mindsets. At buyingTeam, we have been using the term ‘Enabling Spend’ for several months.

If you look at text books or read market research to answer the question ‘what is procurement?’, you will find much around the source-to-pay process (eg, supplier relationship management, contract management, strategic and tactical sourcing, spend analysis, etc.). All of which is true and accurate. But business engagement – a key ingredient for successful procurement and an essential catalyst, in fact – is almost completely ignored. Procurement’s potential is released when it looks not only outwards to the supplier community, but at its own organisation, acting as an internal consultant or analyst, challenging and influencing behaviours, business rules and ways of working.

Beyond an almost cursory acknowledgement of the need for change management, business engagement is ignored by most textbooks and research and, to be quite frank, by many procurement functions. Procurement will only ever be viewed as a function to secure the best deal if that is all it focuses on, or all that it is tasked to achieve.

There is no common or industry-wide understanding of the areas that make up Enabling Spend. In some organisations, professional services such as audit fees or bank charges, for example, fall outside the remit of procurement. In almost all of the organisations we work with, there are areas of spend over which procurement has little influence, and these can include large spend marketing and IT.

The function may be engaged by the business to negotiate a deal, but all too frequently buyers are not trusted with any further involvement. The root cause of this attitude is the ongoing lack of understanding, even among the CFO community, of how procurement’s principles should be applied to all areas of spend. This is a missed opportunity.

What works for direct procurement doesn’t necessarily work for Enabling Spend. Enabling Spend contains hundreds of diverse categories, with thousands of suppliers serving a very wide range of stakeholders, all of whom have different needs. In comparison, directs has far fewer areas of expertise, suppliers and stakeholders. So a totally different approach is needed – yet many organisations apply their directs approach to Enabling Spend.

The range and depth of skill sets that Enabling Spend requires, – such as commerciality, change management, communication, procurement and deep category knowledge – are vast. ‘Best in class’ is a misleading concept. What is right for one organisation is not necessarily right for another. Procurement must be tailored according to an individual organisation’s culture, structure, profile and strategic aims to deliver the best results. Rather than ‘best in class’, a more useful question to ask is: “What do I need?”

Which brings us to procurement outsourcing. Even here there is confusion. Procurement outsourcing has come to mean different things. To many people, it involves shifting work wholesale to low-cost countries using technology and streamlining processes, running the same processes for less money. It’s all about efficiency. Yet true procurement outsourcing – and where multiples of the value achievable through efficiency are possible – is about how to do procurement better. The benefits are all about effectiveness.

Given all the above, it should come as no surprise that business leaders remain unaware of what is achievable by getting this right, and are therefore failing to prioritise it above other initiatives.

Finally, organisations are simply not investing enough in the management of their Enabling Spend. This is certainly preventing large elements of the above from improving, and is possibly the root cause of much of it. In our experience, procurement can and should be generating a return on investment of between 8 and 15 times. This is a huge benefit and one that substantially outperforms the ROI generated by most other investment decisions. Moreover, it goes straight to the bottom line. We see time and time again that the opportunities to improve shareholder value and operational performance are great – and way beyond the expectations of the senior executives.

The value that most procurement functions deliver is simply not good enough. Yes, much of this is due to the lack of investment in procurement. Yet we, as a community, must shoulder our fair share of the blame.

If procurement is to take its rightful place as a key strategic support function and be recognised as one, it’s time for us to address some of these fundamental issues. In doing so, we can continue to push procurement to front-of-business leaders’ minds as a powerful strategic asset that can deliver real business improvements.

The time has come for us to raise our game and, in doing so, release procurement’s true potential.”

If you have read my earlier posts, you will remember that I have written about delivering solid ROIs to my employers (my commitment is 7 times and up, comparing to Mr. Lawrence’s 8 to 15 times), as well as constantly expanding our span of involvement to areas of above-the-line marketing, consulting, sponsorship and professional services so as to further maximize the author’s definition of “Enabling Spend”.  If you are interested in joining my (and Tom’s) vision of “raising our game”, I am more than happy to hear from you!

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“You don’t look like a procurement person!” is what I hear time and time again from my clients and end users.  Since I am shameless I usually take it as a compliment.  Tell me the truth, if you are one of the rare few who actually know what procurement is, ninety percent of the time you would be expecting to run into a dull, stone-faced, old-fashioned man or woman in his/her 40s or 50s.  Quite honestly, this fits most of the physical characteristics of professionals I have seen in this circle across the globe, except perhaps in Mainland China.  In China, the average age is a lot younger since the number of low-cost sourcing positions is the fastest growing in the world.

Don’t tell me dressing the part makes no difference.  Don’t tell me you never judge the book by its covers, or publishers won’t spend millions of dollars researching for the right design, illustrations, fonts, colors and catchy titles for their books.  Don’t tell me you give people more than 5 minutes to make a first impression. 

The same goes for my profession. 

Just because we work behind the scenes with spreadsheets and calculators and putting our noses to the 68-page contract and request for proposal drafts 13 hours a day, there should never be an excuse dressing like a 60 year-old history professor.  If you are indeed a strategic procurement professional, you are likely to spend plenty of time in front of suppliers, departmental users, CFOs, CIOs, lawyers, auditors and regulatory officials.   You need to represent, negotiate, convince and argue all at the same time.  We need to armor up with facts, strategies, baits and bullets.  Dressing the part is increasingly a make-or-break situation.

 I dress to meet with the savvy senior business development teams from IBM, Accenture and WPP.  I dress for site inspection trips to China Mobile and China Netcom in Beijing meeting state officials.  I dress to go over the new year’s budget plans with the SVP of marketing operations.  I dress when I meet the lawyers.  I dress when I conduct trainings.  Hey, do I need any reasons not to dress for the part?

It’s not only the dress as well.  I also care about posture.  I know, this is no America’s Next Top Model contest, but we need to project professionalism and confidence – all the time.  Otherwise, no one is going to entrust you with the millions of dollars worth buying decisions.  No one is going to take you seriously at the negotiation table.  No one is going to give you a raise (though we all sadly know this is out of our hands most of the time).   No one is going to believe that you take the laws and regulations seriously.  Have eye contact at all time.  Speak clearly and decisively.  Use the right gestures to project approval or doubtfulness.  Head up, shoulders back and walk straight ahead.  Be fierce and let people know you mean business.  Gosh, this does sound like something Tara Banks would say.

Dressing well and projecting confidence sends a clear silent signal before I even start to speak up:  I respect what I do.  I respect you and your time.  I am above the topic at hand and I focus on the long-term objective.  I don’t have time to waste.  I am not the type that would take bribes.  I am not going to take no as an answer.  I am not to be fooled.  I am secure enough to say what’s right without worrying over repercussions from my boss, colleagues or people with devious motives.  Most of all, I am a brand of my ownand I will bring credibility and efficiency to the company.  So, listen up!

Sounds narcissistic?   No, if you want to send at least one of the above signals across.

Time to start thinking about what your personal brand is, stand up, refine your speaking techniques, check your posture and switch on Tara!

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