Originally published by Shelley Row, P.E., CSP on 5 November
We’re learning about the ten skills that technical professionals need when they become a manager. Today we’ll talk about the importance of knowing the influences outside your organization that can shift its direction and how you can stay on top of them.
Look Up and Out to See the External Factors Influencing Your Organization
Be super-duper cautious. Don’t rock the boat. Keep it under the radar. Send up no red flags. Milk toast all the way. That’s the environment my boss wanted and needed. It was, you see, an election year. His strategy: No news about his department was good news. Those factors impacted the projects selected, the reports released, events attended and briefing points (which was the art of saying something without saying anything).
The political environment is only one outside influence beyond the data that impacts your organization’s trajectory. While these influences may seem tangential, they are serious business to others and impact your organization in a very real way. What are they for your organization? And how are you tracking them?
In order for your organization to stay relevant, here are five factors to consider, along with methods to keep you on top of the game.
Political factors. If you work in a public agency, you already know that your world shifts during an election year. Even so, I saw staff taken by surprise when their project was swept up or swept out during the election season. There’s no reason to be surprised if you’re paying attention. Those outside of the public sector aren’t immune. Is your company affiliated with a headline-grabbing project or policy? Does that visibility work to your benefit or do you need damage control? Do you need to shout your involvement from the mountaintop or hide under a bushel? You can only answer those questions astutely if you’re paying attention, looking up and out and adapting accordingly.
Questions to ask yourself about political factors include:
- What are the local hot topics?
- Is there a high-visibility project that’s been in the news?
- Is a large-scale development pushing through the process?
- Is there a controversial policy up for a vote?
- How do you need to position your organization to account for these issues?
Methods to track political factors include:
- Read the newspaper (for local and national news)
- Listen to a variety of news sources with different perspectives
- Subscribe to trade-specific newsletters (Politico e-newsletters are one example)
- Read trade magazines
- Participate in local clubs (such as Rotary)
- Be part of the local Chamber of Commerce
Outside relationships. What outside relationships is your organization courting? Maybe your organization has a strategic partner or a key client. If so, that relationship likely influences decisions, projects, and resource allocation. It may require extra effort to make them feel special. That relationship may move them to the head of the line for product delivery or service needs. Your responsiveness and tone may need to be extra accommodating when working with them. Or perhaps your industry is going through consolidation so that mergers and acquisitions are common. In my exposure to this type of external influence, the organization may choose to closely manage cash flow that could impact funds flowing to travel, training and other supportive features. How might this external influence impact you? You may want to keep your ear to the ground so that you can adapt your approach to external relationships.
Check out this article from The Globe and Mail about making the most of organizational politics.
Ways to stay informed on your organization’s relationships.
- Read the company newsletter (if there is one)
- Talk to people throughout the organization
- Notice where your organization spends its resources
- Create and use an internal network
- Attend trade association meetings and talk with other organizations you work closely with
Societal trends. If your organization is composed of people and serves people, then you are impacted by societal trends. Take a step back and consider the trends you observe. What has shifted? How has the way you live your life changed? What do these changes mean to your organization, the people in it, the people it serves? Will the societal shifts impact hiring practices, will your marketing messages change or the services you offer to staff transform? Societal trends may be anything from shortening attention spans, the rise of visual communication, shared-ride services or even the shift in legality of cannabis. All of this and more have potential implications for your organization. What are they? And, are you anticipating the implications?
Review this Forbes article for a shortlist of societal trends.
You can stay on top of societal trends by:
- Paying attention in general
- Noticing trending topics
- Reading/watching/listening to articles on current trends
Technology trends. There is no doubt that in today’s world, technology impacts every aspect of life and business. What technology trends will influence your organization? In my world, connected and autonomous vehicles are changing everything. What’s the equivalent for your industry? Consider the impact of voice control like Alexa and Siri. How are you staying on top of these new technologies and their implication? I confess, I’m not an “early adopter.” Now, however, I’m intentionally investing in new technology to force myself to stay reasonably up to date. Without it, I will lose relevance. How are you staying relevant? How are you adapting your organization for these and other coming trends? You can’t afford to be lax where technology is concerned.
This article from SimpliLearn has a summary of some of the most relevant technology trends.
Here’s a short list of technology innovations to watch:
- Artificial intelligence
- Cyber Security
- Internet of things
- Connected and automated vehicles
- Robotic process automation
Stay up on technology trends by:
- Reading/watching/listening to popular press
- Read about the latest technology at the Consumer Electronics Show
- What technology is new on the market?
- Buy new technology when you can to gain personal experience.
World trends. Now take a step way back. As you scan the horizon what global trends will influence the trajectory of your organization and how? Admittedly, these may be high-level trends, but they arise from the consolidation of local trends. These may be long-horizon issues that require consideration of long-term positioning for your organization and industry. You don’t want to be last but you will be if you’re not paying attention.
Here’s an excellent McKinsey article on world disruptive trends.
World trends are easy for some, less so for others as it requires an ability to assimilate information from more sources. If this is not your skill set, identify and follow people who do this well. Consider:
- Futurists (like Jude Foulston)
- Columnists or authors (such as Thomas Freidman) who are particularly skilled in assimilating trends.
All of these factors influence your organization now and into the future. The question for you is: Are you paying attention? Are you making time to stay in-the-know? If not, you may need to adjust your information sources.
An executive once told me to see through a microscope and through a telescope. Are you doing both?
Share your stories about external influences and how you’re preparing with Shelley here.
Shelley Row, P.E., ACC works with executives, managers and organizations to develop insightful leaders who must see beyond the data. Shelley helps you grow the bottom line and reduce workplace drama by bringing you practical techniques in decision-making, motivation and teamwork that are grounded in neuroscience and her executive and engineering experience. Named by Inc. as a top 100 leadership speaker, she is also a consultant and author. Learn more at www.shelleyrow.com.