Data Governance Influencing Skills

Season 3 Episode 4

Welcome to Season 3 of the Law Firm Data Governance podcast. I’m CJ Anderson, founder of Iron Carrot and I’m excited to share more of what I’ve learned in my 20-plus years of working with information and data in law firms.

In this third season: “be the best data governance lead you can be”, I move beyond the ‘what’ of season one and the ‘why’ of season two by introducing some of the ‘how’ and the ‘who’.

Over the 10 episodes in this season, I’ll share what I’ve learned about using a bottom-up approach to achieve your data governance deliverables. I will be talking you through the specific skills and knowledge that can help you be a successful law firm data governance lead.

In this episode, I explore questions like ‘What is influence?’ and ‘The 2 types of influence and how you do them’, plus some common pitfalls and some advice about what influence should sound like.


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Episode Transcript

The quality of being trusted and believed in is perhaps the most important characteristic of a data governance lead. They need to be in a position to influence and persuade people of all levels across the firm, and doing this from a platform of credibility will make them that much more successful.

In this episode, I’m going to explore questions like “what is influence?”, “The two types of influence and how you do them”, some common pitfalls and some advice about what influence should sound like.

So let’s start with the definition. What is influence? The dictionary says that influence is a change in attitude, belief or behaviour of a person, the target of the influence resulting from the action of another person, the influencer. It is an active process whereby one person seeks to modify an individual’s opinions, attitudes or behaviours by consciously adapting their communication style or behaviour to secure commitment to ideas or plans.

There is a lot of behavioural science and research which can help us understand the question of what influences others, but there are five core concepts to explain how and why we react the way we do when someone is trying to influence us.

We are strongly influenced by what others do. We tend to do what those around us are doing. We follow the lead of others. If it’s not clear what our own opinion is, we tend to look to our closest peers to see what they are doing and copy it. We often just go with the flow of preset options, meal deal, for example, we might not have originally wanted it, but it’s the easiest option.

We copy the behaviour of those we respect, our role models. Social media influencers fall into this category. We rely on strong personal relationships to shortcut decisions: “My best friend trusts this person, so I will trust this person too.”

There are two types of influencing and both can be effective. Push and pull. Push uses credibility, expertise and information power. It backs this up with evidence. The use of benchmarks for relativity and is externally referenced. In this style, less is more. Too many facts will dilute your message, so you need to focus on what will stand out to the audience. Blanket emails aren’t going to work. It’s personal, so you need to speak in the other person’s voice.

So if you’re going to do push, you need to think about rational persuasion; propose, give ideas, make suggestions, present your position. Give facts and reasons for your own position. Counter arguments against the other’s position. Be direct and concise. Eliminate qualifiers from your language. Avoid rambling and beware of stating too many reasons. You have to balance your proposals and the reasons and encourage rational rebuttal and the airing of issues. Defend your position vigorously. The person is expecting to challenge you and for you to be able to counter every challenge. And summarise present conclusions based on the conversation that’s in hand.

This does require a level of assertiveness. You need to explain the situation and firmly state what it is you want. Acknowledge your feelings. Outline your needs. Outline the consequences. Good, bad, explicit. Implicit of not getting what you want. Use the word ‘I’, not ‘we’ or ‘the team’ or ‘we should’.

Clearly state what you want your influence target to do or to give you. Avoid giving reasons and arguments. Clearly state what you are prepared to trade in exchange.

Pull on the other hand is about recognition and praise. It leans on inspirational language and the use of emotion a lot of time is spent painting a picture for the listener and the use of emotion to do that.

You will be asking them for help showing vulnerability and trying to create a connection, spark their curiosity and reach common ground. You do need to be careful that you’re not going to engage in full consulting here. Input that the person gives you has to follow through into outcomes. And deciding who to involve is key to this success.

Collaboration takes time and the process is important. Consult the naysayers since all perspectives matter and involve people early in your thinking, not when everything is perfectly formed.

So how do you do Pull? Well, it’s it’s consulting, but not full consulting, and bridging. Ask great questions. Encourage the other person to talk. Listen really well. Recap what they’re saying to you. Ask them to say more and summarise what you’re hearing. Use ‘you’, not ‘I’ or ‘we’. Show that you value their input, the input of others.

You need to be inspiring, so use praise and positive feedback. Empathise. Show that you appreciate them. Personal disclosure and storytelling helps. Admit mistakes, show regret for inconvenience, apologise for hassle. Appreciate the relationship that you already have. You can express common ground or common interests. You can describe the ideal outcome for you. You can share your picture of a shared future which builds on that common ground and the ideas of the person you’re talking to. Using analogies, metaphors, pictures, visualisation, we, tell that story and paint the picture.

But however you have to be aware of some common pitfalls. Don’t use inappropriate language by being over familiar. Don’t overstress qualifications or bluff. Don’t guess what they need. Don’t talk down to them and don’t appear cagey. Discuss the pros and cons of your proposal quite openly.

A data governance lead has to credibly and consistently use both push and pull techniques of influence to help different people embrace the organisational changes required. A data governance lead needs to be able to guide people around to ‘their’ way of thinking about a specific topic without force or coercion, while also acknowledging and valuing their opinions.

It’s helpful to understand what influence sounds like. So here’s what it is: It’s about the stories that you tell and the norms that you tap into what you’re able to demonstrate and how you leverage your social networks and peer groups to get your message across to get the buy in or the decision you need.

Remember that influence is best exercised horizontally. It’s hard, but not impossible, to influence-up. You don’t need everyone, but just enough to engage the groundswell. Think about how to navigate the leadership constellation and beware the emerging consensus. Once that’s been formed, it’s difficult to change. Persuasion is most effective if it comes from peers.

Consider your social networks and how to use them in your influencing attempts, and when crafting your messages and stories, think about testimonials as part of your evidence of data. Use relevant benchmarks; for people that like data benchmarks are important.

And if the norm is desirable, tell people what it is and remember that that norm, that new way of working, the new behaviour needs to be reinforced. One of the best ways to do this is to always demonstrate the behaviour that you desire or expect from others.

There is so much that I could say about influencing skills and I hope you find this overview helpful. I talked about influence being the act of changing another person’s attitude or behaviour. I explained the difference between push influencing which relies on the power of credibility, expertise and information, and pool influencing, which relies on recognition and praise. I then shared some ideas about what influence sounds like.

I hope that you’re able to use your influencing skills to get your data governance framework where you need it to be.

Thank you for joining me for this law firm Data Governance Podcast episode. I hope you enjoyed it.

Please share like and review this episode so that more law firm leaders can learn about data governance.

Join me next time for season 3, Episode 5 “training and support for data governance roles”. Make sure you never miss an episode by following me on LinkedIn if you’ve not already done so, and please get in touch. If you’ve got questions or topic ideas for future episodes.