How to build influence and be more visible as a Finance professional

By Andy Burrows

Influence is something that Finance people in business really want, it seems to me.

I hear it a lot:

“How can I get more influence in the business?”

“How can I increase my visibility in the business?”

“How can I get included in strategic discussions, instead of being kept out?”

And that’s thinking in the right kind of way, fundamentally. We don’t want to just provide information, or even merely insight based on information. We don’t want to turn our work over to the non-Finance areas of the business in a “take-it-or-leave-it” kind of way.

We want our work to make a difference. And it can only make a difference if people listen to us, understand us, take note and act on what we tell them.

Our information should deliver insight. But for our insight to have impact we need to have influence!

So, this article gives you five ways to do that. It’s not the whole story, but it will give you a lot to think about.

Improve your credibility

The first thing is to improve your credibility.

If you think about the people you listen to for guidance, you tune in to them because of their credibility, at least in your estimation. Two people can say exactly the same thing, but you would listen to one and ignore the other, purely because of their credibility.

So, if you want non-Finance people in the business to listen to you and take note of what you say as a Finance person, then you must have credibility in their eyes.

And that’s a function of four things, according to Stephen M.R. Covey in his book, The Speed of Trust:

  • Integrity – Are you going to tell the truth? Are you reliable? Are you going to choose words carefully to make people do what you want? Someone once said that honesty is telling the truth, integrity is being true. Do you act according to your values and beliefs? Do you “walk the talk”?
  • Intent – What’s your agenda? Is it clearly and straightforwardly to help your non-Finance colleagues? Or is it to push the Finance agenda and make people adhere to your rules and restrictions? Do you portray a desire for mutual benefit? Or do you just want to get what you want to make your life easier? What shows through in the way you talk and act?
  • Capabilities – People might know you’re trained as an accountant. But do they know that you can generalise some of those skills into numerical analysis and critical thinking? You’re only really credible in doing things you are clearly skilled in or trained in. And sometimes that needs to be proved. Which is where the next thing comes in:
  • Results – Have you got a track record for great performance, keeping promises, delivering benefits, passing on good advice and insight? Are you reliable?

If you think about the way you see others, all those four points make sense. You’re less likely to listen to someone if you doubt their character (their integrity or intent) or their competence (capabilities and results).

So, if you want influence, work on your credibility.

(And if you want to assess where you have work to do in this area, I’ve got a worksheet you can download. Just click the link and give us your email address, and we’ll send you the Credibility Self-Assessment Worksheet.)

Focus on others

One piece of advice I find myself giving a lot is to listen, really listen.

And listening does at least two things:

Firstly, listening demonstrates your intent (see above). If your intent is to help the business, to collaborate in helping the business to perform better, then a good way to show that is to listen to other people.

By listening you show that you want to know what people think. By listening respectfully, without interrupting or contradicting, you show that you value what people think.

That earns you respect and boosts your credibility.

Secondly, listening actually makes you more interesting. Strange isn’t it? But think about it. If you’re at a networking event, who do you most enjoy talking to? It’s the people who show the most interest in you! The ones who ask questions and are really interested in what you have to say.

That’s the irony. You don’t have to say a lot to be visible and influential. You can actually be influential by spending most of your time listening!

Dale Carnegie said that, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you." (How to Win Friends and Influence People)

Be intentional about trust-building behaviour

Building trust flows out of those “four cores” of credibility.

You don’t let people influence you if you don’t trust them. But what can you do to increase trust?

Well, here are a few ideas, again based on Stephen M.R. Covey’s book:

  • Talk straight
  • Show respect
  • Value transparency
  • Put things right if you mess up
  • Show loyalty
  • Deliver consistent results
  • Strive for improvement
  • Don’t run from reality
  • Clarify expectations
  • Take responsibility
  • Listen first, to understand, not just to respond
  • Keep promises
  • Be trusting
  • Be fair

Much more could be said, but we haven’t got space here.

But, one quick tip before I leave this point. And that is that different people are impacted in different ways by different things.

So, one person may be blown away by simply being listened to. Another may place more emphasis on support, or politeness, or being shown respect. Someone else may respond to empathy more.

What I’m saying is that it’s worth being aware of who you’re dealing with, and of what actually qualifies as trust-building behaviour to them, rather than working from a generic list.

And that involves more listening and focusing on others.

Reverse engineer their priorities

Another thing you can do is to reverse engineer the priorities of the non-Finance people you work with. This is an idea that one of our My Finance Coach members inspired in a coaching call discussion.

She was having difficulty with the managers in an operations department. She would talk to them about things that needed to be done, and they agreed that they needed to be done. But they never seemed to do their bit.

Then she had a sudden flash of inspiration. We’d been talking about the time management analysis we often refer to – importance versus urgency. And then she realised. The other managers weren’t getting round to these activities because they had other things to do that they believed were more important.

And you can effectively find out what your colleagues think is more important by observing what they’re spending their time on. Then show an interest in those things. Ask about them. If you can think of anything you know that might help with it, let them know.

The corollary of this is that if there is a disconnect between their view of what’s important and your understanding of what’s important, you have a starting point to talk about it. Start by showing you understand what’s important to them and why it’s important. It’s a much better starting point for explaining that you’re asking them to fit in something else important, because you’re acknowledging their work as important to them.

Be patient

Finally, be patient.

Think about the way you see other people, and realise it’s approximately the same with their view of you. In other words, if it takes you a while to fully trust people and to let them influence you, realise that’s the same way people probably see you. If you find that you’re more willing to put yourself out for people you trust and who you get on well with, then realise that it’s probably going to need sustained effort to be seen as trustworthy and credible.

It takes time. But it is worth it. Over time you will find yourself invited into discussions, asked for your advice or opinion. And word will get back to your managers too. Trustworthiness, credibility and influence in the business builds a reputation. And that reputation (for keeping promises, having integrity, being helpful and delivering results for the business) is what will move you onwards towards leadership.

Free downloads available

Credibility Self-Assessment Worksheet

An Introduction to Personal Effectiveness for CFOs and Finance Professionals

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