Last orders

The regimented corporation is dead. Control now means influence, and new skills are needed, says Mary Bragg

How do you cope when subordinates are unwilling to accept military- style orders? Or when you suddenly find yourself managing an international team of experts over whom you have no direct authority? Or when you must sell a proposal which can only be justified by numbers to a boss who hates numbers?

In the modern world of work, none of those circumstances is unusual. As a result, influence skills - the ability to get things done by persuasion rather than force - have become central to the repertoire of techniques and strategies needed by managers to achieve their objectives.

Managers in every field, whether in the private or public sector, whether in services or manufacturing, are being forced to rethink the principles which have guided their institutions for so long.

The previous hierarchical structures, with their antiquated command and control systems - all heavily promoted in the past quarter of a century - are now on the scrap-heap of corporate history.

It is not that such structures and systems did not make sense in their day. Rather, today's business world has lost its orderly and predictable stability; employees now have a different attitude towards authoritarian structures and life has lost its security. Increasing global competition, the constant need for innovation, together with rapid and unpredictable changes in business methods have all seen to that. The new order drives us away from an over-concern with data and balance sheets towards the softer skills of vision, values, networks, negotiation, self-presentation and culture.

Ironically, our technology-driven age puts a premium on the basic, centuries- old common sense skills which guided the founding fathers of business. They had an intuitive feel for how to work with and through people. They knew how to build networks, exchange favours, talk to their customers, negotiate finance in the coffee-houses of London and make upward appeals to those in higher authority.

What differentiates today's situation is the sheer extent to which we need to be able to exercise influence, in other words, the scale of today's interdependence. This means that you as a manager may be interdependent with literally hundreds, possibly even thousands, of people to get things done. And you will probably exercise no direct authority or power over them whatsoever.

All of this places a premium on the ability to build effective and influential relationships, and to leave behind the world of the organisational hermit, driven by rationality but ultimately impotent.

Consider the larger-than-life example of Tony O'Reilly, who excelled at Rugby Union football for not only Ireland, but also the rampaging British Lions, before developing a business career which has taken him to the top of the Heinz Corporation in the United States. O'Reilly, who through his Ireland-based Independent Newspapers has a large holding in The Independent, has long been noted for hisability to build immediate relationships: from the humblest Irish farmer or South African rugby veteran through to world presidents and statesmen, all of whom he can work through and influence. Henry Kissinger dubbed O'Reilly a "Renaissance Man", an apt description of an individual who has truly reinvented influence.

There are many other modern masters of influence from whom to draw inspiration: Jack Welch, transforming the "whips and chains" management role model that was General Electric by replacing the boss element with the softer skills of influence; Nelson Mandela, uniting a nation by the simple act of appearing at the final of the 1995 Rugby Union World Cup wearing the South African team shirt bearing the number of the revered white captain.

In my book on reinventing influence I try to offer insight into the strategy and tactics of influence - for example, how to choose between soft and strong strategic approaches; how to identify the tactical weapons of influence and decide how they might be best applied; or how to evaluate the effectiveness of different tactics, matching specific tactics to specific objectives and targets, such as the boss, peer group and subordinates.

The modern business world is a challenging and often frightening place, answers to the successful management of which no longer reside in the sure-fire textbooks dedicated to analytical business rationality. Authority is out, and influence is inn

Mary Bragg is a principal lecturer in the Faculty of Business at London Guildhall University. With her London management consultancy, Mary Bragg Associates, she runs external and in-company courses on reinventing influence. Winner of the 1996 Management Consultancies Book Prize, 'Reinventing influence - how to get things done in a world without authority', is published by Pitman Publishing at pounds 16.99

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