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I was presenting at the Municipal Administration Training Institute (MATI), in British Columbia recently, discussing how important influence, respect, and trust are to build a high performing team. I like to use the acronym RESPECT to outline 7 specific areas to improve your influence internally in local government. These are applicable to elected officials exploring how they interact with management, as well as managers working with their team.

In Skills to Influence Others in Local Government, we considered the individual attributes that contribute to influencing others, and many in our community completed the online influencing assessment. Here, we will discuss how to structure your interactions, creating a unique opportunity to leverage influence for a cumulative increase in the effectiveness of your entire team.

Influence is the key to effective leadership. The boundaries of your influence are the limits of your success. Widen your sphere of influence and you’ll find opportunities opening for you and for those you manage. The purpose of exerting a positive influence on the people you manage comes down to helping them understand the importance of their role in your organization’s success and motivating them to optimize their contribution. 

7 Steps to Improve Your Influence Internally in Local Government

Here are 7 steps to improve your influence internally in local government workplaces that can be easily remembered by a simple acronym – RESPECT.

Recognize

The first step to improve your influence internally in local government is to recognize that anything worth doing is worth planning to do. Keep a simple log noting when, where, and how you recognize staff members. Many managers in local government don’t make a point of recognizing staff for doing a good job or going above and beyond. A little recognition can go a long way to support positive behaviour.

Encourage

With each of your staff members, determine what the employee knows how to do well and what they should know. Identify their gaps and then arrange for training to narrow those gaps. An open, honest, and supportive dialogue to encourage your staff to move forward with skills development will be more effective in influencing change than harsh criticism and feedback.

Stretch

Involve your staff in brainstorming ways to make improvements in your department. Local governments, understandably, have a tendency to resist change. But like Jack Welch of General Electric said, “If the rate of change outside the organization is greater than the rate of change inside the organization, then we are looking at the beginning of the end.”

There is magic in thinking big. Ideally, you’ve experienced it by this stage in your career and can help your staff do the same. Acknowledge that the impossible is often the untried and then begin working with your staff to stretch their thinking creatively.

Please

What are you doing to make your working environment a pleasant one? What steps can you take to please your staff and reduce some of the stress they are experiencing?

It can take some serious introspection to determine what you can do to make the local government workplace a more pleasing place. But the payoff will come in the form of a more functional and effective department. 

Exact

We’ve all heard the phrase “what gets measured gets managed” and this is critical in local government. We first need to be exact and measure what we’re already doing, then look outside the organization to identify targets that elected officials can buy into.

Inspire your team to work together to develop an action plan that will improve this data over a specified period. Continuing to measure provides data for both the elected officials and the community and is critical not just in budgeting but also in minimizing the gap between expectations and reality. The absence of measures is not freedom, it means we leave success to be defined in hundreds (if not thousands) of ways, greatly increasing the possibility of frustration. 

Cohere

Cohere is defined as “to be united, to form a whole”. Influencing your staff to bond is one way to improve team morale, encourage working together to solve problems, and increase department effectiveness.

One way to do this is to engage in occasional and random “positively outrageous service,” a term coined by author T. Scott Gross. You might, for example, arrange a department outing or working breakfast. Find occasions to celebrate victories and successes, big and small.

Another way to cohere is to involve the staff in a project that goes beyond them to reach out to the less fortunate. Author Joyce Lain Kennedy maintains that motivating people to contribute their time or expertise is what leadership is all about. Millions of volunteers will tell you that one of the very best ways to feel good is to do good. 

Teach

Finally, to improve your influence internally in local government, you need to teach as well as encourage your staff members to find new and effective ways to acquire and develop the qualities of successful individuals: optimism, opportunity, network, and open-mindedness. An assessment of your department members’ natural strengths and abilities is one way to easily start teaching your team to embrace their positive qualities. Another key way is by exposing front line staff to training on “soft skills” at the earliest stages of their careers.

Remember these 7 Steps to improve your influence internally in local government staff by remembering RESPECT: Recognize, Encourage, Stretch, Please, Exact, Cohere, and Teach.

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