The Power of Thinking about Influence as Selling to Colleagues

A large software company’s training and development department was meeting to discuss ways of getting more influence with their line management colleagues. They were frustrated at their ineffectiveness and low status.

“We develop programs and offer consultation, but it is like searching for hens’ teeth to get people to come. Line managers give us very little support, and when budgets get tight, ours seems to be the first one cut.”

After considerable thrashing around, the head of the department said, “Let’s assume that the company had outsourced our function and we were an independent training and development company where each of us was selling on commission. Would we act any differently?”

The others were initially a bit taken aback and then started to comment: First of all, I would know their business better than I do now. I don’t really understand what all the functions do. And I certainly don’t know exactly what their key concerns are.

Yes, and I would put effort into finding who the rainmakers were. Who are the key line managers, so that if I got them committed, they would really champion my product?

That’s key—that we think of what we do as products, not as programs. How can we convince them that our product is superior to anybody else’s and would really speak to their needs?

But to do that, we need to speak their language. Now we use training language about how this helps develop their people, but we don’t speak in financial, performance terms. When we use our language, it makes training and development seem like a nice thing to do, not as something necessary.

And we need to feel comfortable with selling. Presently, we act as if that is beneath us, and as professionals, we should just turn out the best educational program. Selling would feel like hustling, so we are not very good promoters of our products.

This way of thinking led to a new approach to training and development and gained new respect from line managers.