Strategies to Enhance Influence and Persuasion Skills

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Women Executive Supply Management Summit (WESMS)

San Antonio, TX
February 2009


Carrie Ericson, Vice President, A.T. Kearney Procurement & Analytic Solutions

"Supply management has been a great career for me so far, but it's been male-dominated."

The above statement was a fitting preface for Carrie Ericson's presentation on enhancing influence and persuasion skills. "These skills are vital for strategizing your next role within the organization, negotiating new agreements with strategic suppliers, and persuading colleagues and leaders to get on board with transformation," Ericson admitted. "Therefore, for aspiring and current female executives, it becomes imperative that we hone in on these skills. They can easily become the differentiating factor in our career advancement if not properly mastered."

By her own admission, Ericson has seen more women emerge into leadership roles in the last five years. Armed with the proper training, Ericson added, "Imagine what we could do in the next five!" The development of one's influence and persuasion skills is one of the key steps to assuring professional success, as well as positively influencing the gender ratio within the supply management leadership landscape, she continued.

Do Women Have Inherent Advantages?

To illustrate the correlations between a woman's upbringing and her persuasion and influence skills, Ericson quoted 19th-century brigadier general Albert Lee: "People see the world not as it is, but as they are."

To this end, Ericson asserted that "being able to check your ego at the door" — a trait inherent to many women — has a liberating effect. "It lets you do your homework because, when you ask, people really want to help you understand things," she explained. "Men often have a hard time asking."

This predilection can be traced back to how boys and girls are raised, Ericson said. Girls are taught to play quietly with other girls. "After all, you can't play school by yourself," she laughed. Meanwhile, young boys are encouraged to play team sports and compete. As such, a woman's upbringing affects the choices she makes in the workplace. Typically, this means women are generally happier working with those who share their values, and most will not willingly follow someone who holds a different set of values. To combat this reluctance requires determining what motivates people.

At A.T. Kearney, for example, Ericson and her colleagues took the Hogan Assessment to help the supply management team understand their individual core values, motivations and goals, as well as each other's, in an effort to optimize collaboration and drive corporate success. The outcome was a set of individual MVP (motives, values and preferences) inventories that painted a complete picture of each member's culture preferences.

"It boiled down to 10 key metrics: recognition, power, hedonism, altruism, affiliation, tradition, security, commerce, aesthetics and science," Ericson recalled. "After seeing all our results, it's truly amazing we get anything done," she laughed.

When formal assessments are not an option, Ericson recommended using grassroots methods — asking other people, conducting Web searches and simply listening.

"We need to ask people, including suppliers outside our firewall, what they like in terms of communication," Ericson explained. Likewise, Google, LinkedIn and Facebook can provide valuable insight into people's preferences with very little effort. "And, active listening has deeply transformative power," she added.

Above all, however, the best way to influence and persuade others is to gain their trust, Ericson said. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama's autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, helped him gain the nation's trust. "If we don't take time to share ourselves and build trust with others, they'll form their own conclusions," she warned. "And more often than not, they will be suspect."

What Supply Management Can Learn From Sales

Although the ability to sell our ideas is vital to influence and persuasion, Ericson acknowledged the sales/supply management relationship is often strained. Even so, she insisted salespeople have a lot of wisdom to impart.

"I'm not talking about the cookie-cutter salespeople," she qualified. "I'm talking about the ones who really research us and take the time to understand our unique business challenges."

As she pointed out, sales superstars understand that mutual benefit is the foundation of long-term relationships. This loyalty is evident when salespeople switch jobs and bring their clients with them.

Will the Current Skill Set Work With the Millennials?

Ericson asserted that influence and persuasion approaches will need to be retooled. "This generation grew up immersed in sophisticated technology," she said. "They do everything on the Internet."

Knowing this necessitates employing Web 2.0 technology tools, such as blogs, wikis and various social networking sites to relate to them. "If we want to influence these workers, we need to speak to their social need to enact change," Ericson advised. "They're influence-peddlers in their own right, which can be really great or really bad for you."

Questions and Answers

A brief, but enlightening, question-and-answer session followed Ericson's presentation, beginning with one attendee's Second Life success story. A recent graduate herself, she was able to convince her entire team — including the CPO — to attend meetings virtually in Second Life, a free online virtual world imagined and created by its inhabitants.

"The avatars provided a degree of anonymity that teleconferencing doesn't," she explained. "People asked questions using voice-over IP or typed them. It was something new, and it was very successful."

Another attendee asked for advice regarding selling the concept of women mentoring programs at her organization. Ericson told her to begin by asking high-level supply management professionals to take on mentoring roles, and asking up-and-comers to identify mentors in their organizations who can truly help them "make the move from doers to leaders."

"The people with the most influence are not always the ones who raise their hands and volunteer to do things," she added. "The key is to find those informal influencers, the ones who serve as the ‘hub' of the network. There are tools available today that allow you to map e-mail trails to find out who the real communication ‘hubs' are, regardless of whether or not they have titles to match."

Ericson also suggested that interviewees in the room assist the effort on a larger scale by asking potential employers, "Who will be my mentor?"

Wrapping up, a recent graduate inquired if, by asking questions of mentors and others in her organization, she risked losing the precious credibility she had built up.

"It's a fine line, but I'd err on the side of asking versus not asking," Ericson replied. "But, do your homework! Have data under your belt if you can. Do the pre-work, and then ask for help. That's the golden mixture."

To summarize Ericson's message: Improving one's influence and persuasion requires an accurate understanding of colleagues' and associates' needs, personality traits, behavior motivators and communication requirements. With this information, women can tailor their communication so that it is well received by all parties involved — making them more amenable to suggestions. As Ericson pointed out, real influence is not about getting individuals to follow orders — "it's about inciting them to carry the ball forward for you."

Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

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