How to Influence People

Purdue University CIO Gerry McCartney approaches executive collaboration and influence by building alliances with the people behind the decision makers

By Gerry McCartney
Wed, August 08, 2007

CIO — Big universities are like holding companies: We have several different businesses (in our case, colleges and administrative departments) that provide their own services and products under a single brand. Obviously there are inefficiencies in this environment, and my job as Purdue University's CIO is to reduce resource duplication and provide centralized services. But I have limited control. Half of Purdue's 1,000 IT staff are located in the colleges and departments, and I have little authority in those areas. For example, if I decline a purchase request, our colleges and departments can make the purchase with their own budgets. Therefore, my primary course of action to accomplish my objectives is through collaboration and influence.

The raw ingredients of influence are straightforward: You have a story about a problem or an opportunity you want to address, a logical argument for your position and the supporting evidence for it. You mix those ingredients in proportions that seem right for the decision makers you are targeting. But it's the approach that you choose to follow that can make or break your success. There are very few people anywhere with the reputation or personal magnetism to make things happen purely on their own. The way people like me get things done is to get others to help us. To do this, I first concentrate on a small number of opinion makers who aren't necessarily in charge, but who are close to the top and help form others' opinions. Being able to identify those opinion leaders and make them your allies is the secret sauce of influence.

Identify Your Allies
At Purdue's Krannert School of Management, where I was the assistant dean before taking the university CIO job earlier this year, I knew who the opinion leaders were and knew them well. I also knew which people thought they were opinion leaders but really weren't. Now at the university level, there are a lot of people I don't know, and I'm trying to discern who the players are. Being sophisticated professionals, even if they are not relevant opinion leaders, they know how to create the impression that they are. To help me see past that, I have a trusted business-side ambassador in each area who can tell me whom the players are.

Then it's up to me to verify that I know the right people to influence. To do this, I arrange to be part of a collaborative situation with them—such as a project or committee—and I start to build a relationship. I'll observe whether the people follow up, keep their word and have a good sense of the pulse of their group.

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