Influencing Without Power: A BRM Success Story
Here’s what it takes.
When I started in my new role as a corporate IT Business Relationship Manager (BRM), I was sitting in as the lone IT person during a project strategy meeting with a dozen global engineering business leaders. When we introduced ourselves, I was instantly challenged by a strong personality: “Why is corporate IT here?”
Before I could answer with the standard BRM-trained answer on value, convergence, etc., a loud interruption reminded me that this question was aggressively rhetorical and only led to his next challenge: “I never understood what a BRM role actually does that we can’t handle ourselves, and honestly fail to see any value you bring to this team. Why are you here?”
Six Months Later
Fast forward to six months later. At an offsite global engineering strategy session, I was once again the lone corporate IT person amongst business leaders. This time, I wasn’t challenged in the same way, but I did get some passive aggressive comments and laughing about corporate IT.
Before I could banter back to maintain my own respect, the same leader that strongly challenged me in that first meeting interrupted loudly—again. This time, however, the interjection was in my defense:
“This isn’t just a corporate IT person, he is our BRM and has as much value to bring to this team as anyone here. He’s a key part of our team, understands our business, and takes part in all of our strategic meetings.” Silence. Heads nodded in respect.
So, my fellow BRMs and leaders, what magic spell was woven to get from that first meeting to this one?
Influencing Without Power Takes Trust, Not Manipulation
These meetings were a critical defining opportunity to not only brand myself and set my starting point with these new leaders, but to represent my manager, our BRM team, and the voice of the entire BRM community—not to mention that minor aspect of being personally successful and keeping my job.
My employer, Johnson Controls, has a membership with BRM Institute, which has brought practical value and growth in my and my team’s maturation as BRMs. CEO of BRM Institute Aaron Barnes reached out to me to write about how BRMs can influence without direct reporting lines or organizational structure power. My honest first thought was of an old “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry asks George—the great manipulator—to teach him how to pass a lie detector test. George says he cannot and that, “It’s like saying to Pavarotti, teach me to sing like you.”
Do others trust my ability to produce value and accomplish goals? Do they trust my motives? Do they trust that I have their best interests in mind, that I am transparent and emotionally honest?
I could write a book on the subject, and that could still fall short of the detail and experience needed to navigate the dynamic and complex nature of relationships.
That said, the key word in all of this is “relationship”—and what is the foundation of all relationships? Trust. Do others trust my ability to produce value and accomplish goals? Do they trust my motives? Do they trust that I have their best interests in mind, that I am transparent and emotionally honest?
Manipulation is not the path to take. Many leaders have trained themselves in how to influence through manipulation, but it will fail in the long term. People usually know instinctively when someone is trying to use them as a chess piece, and even when unaware, they can still feel a sense of negativity and distrust.
Manipulation is inherently self-centered. If I want to influence people and accomplish goals, I need to be sincere, honest, and focused on being of service.
Major Relationship Ingredients
When I mentioned what I was writing about to my wife, her response was that people are influenced by me because they have respect for me. I think that’s a good answer, but there are two aspects here: respect as a person and team member both personally and professionally, and leadership.
I know IT people who are honest, capable, respectable, and of service, but still struggle to influence because they lack strong leadership traits. Are you a leader? Do you get results and win? (Remember: servant leader, not ego leader).
True leaders do not need rank or power for others to follow. I once coached a plant supervisor who reported to me on leadership and questioned his style. Specifically, I asked him what percentage of his crew (of about 200) would still follow his orders and ideas if he was equal in rank to them—an important question for anyone with power to ask themselves.
Anyone in any type of relationship knows—or ought to know—that communication is critical for the relationship to work. This includes speaking and listening effectively, conflict management, awareness, working with diverse people, and so much more.
It’s Not What People Say, It’s Why They Say It
I had to use many of these skills to navigate the challenges posed during the first meeting with the business leaders. A pearl of wisdom I use is not to focus on what people are saying, but why they are saying it. What was the real message behind the interruption?
If you read this analytically, trying to figure out the formula like many of us technical people like to do, you are already running into a key problem. “Soft” skills are critical to influence: first, move people in their heart and soul, then bring out the head logic stuff. The masters in my life did not influence through great statements, but through great questions, which came from great listening and awareness.
The masters in my life did not influence through great statements, but through great questions, which came from great listening and awareness.
What It All Boils Down to: Presence
The last and perhaps most important relationship ingredient—and the answer I’d give my own children if they asked about influence—is presence.
Think of the great men and women in your life who influenced you. It wasn’t the words they used, it was the light in their eyes, the impact they had on you emotionally, and the spiritual power it brought to influence results and envision a greater future. Presence impacts others through its awareness of the moment and person at hand.
Though there are numerous resources on how to develop respect, leadership, and communication, developing presence is a more complex process—like asking Pavarotti to teach you how to sing like him. So what helped me gain this insight?
The answer is mentorship. Successful BRMs find mentors who can help them develop all of these attributes, whether these mentors exist within BRM Institute, your work, or the BRM community. Reflect, practice this, and good luck.
Jim Brusnahan is a Corporate IT BRM for Johnson Controls, Inc., a Fortune 100 company. His background focuses on strategic systems thinking, strategic initiative development and deployment, root cause analysis, and program management. Jim has a degree in Materials Engineering and was a 101st Airborne Infantryman in the U.S. Army. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, doing service work, mentoring, trail running, cooking, reading, and writing.