The previous three columns have laid the groundwork for establishing yourself as an effective influencer. In this month’s column, we will explore gaining the unique insights necessary to establish a program that will truly provide value to the enterprise. It will also begin the process of establishing you as a trusted and valued partner.

Now that you have a solid understanding of the enterprise and having identified the individuals that are strategic to the enterprise, it is now time to get to the heart of the issues. As you formulate your questions, we cannot over-emphasize that, in doing so, you have to ask intelligent and leading questions which do not leave an impression that you are clueless about the enterprise’s goals and objectives, the environment in which it operates, or the role of the specific function the individual leads. You also have to be extremely careful to not come across as if you are conducting an interrogation… keep it friendly, but professional.

Develop a standard set of questions that focus on understanding how the individual views the enterprise; how they view their role in the hierarchy ofthe enterprise; and, what impact their function has on the overall enterprise. In addition, have a series of hypothetical “what if” risk-based questions prepared which provide scenarios that could enhance or disrupt either the individual’s organization or the enterprise as a whole. It is also important to find out what they would like to know about... things into which they currently do not have insights. Don’t forget to ask questions about how they view your function as well. Query them on what they think your priorities should be. You ultimately may or may not like to hear what they have to say, but it is a vital element in establishing yourself as an influencer. Most important of all… take extensive notes on the answers to all of your questions! Make sure that you take time at the end of the meeting to recap what you have heard so that both of you are in agreement with the outcome of
the meeting.

After every interview, it is critical that you memorialize the results to a matrix format that you can refer to at a later time. An Excel spreadsheet works extremely well for this type of effort. The spreadsheet allows you to quickly scan the results of your interviews across the enterprise. It also allows you to quickly compare answers and identify trends, which will be a vital element in determining how you ultimately prioritize the issues and opportunities you have cataloged. This dataset will be a treasure trove of information that likely no one else in the enterprise has ever amassed.

In next month’s column, we will address what to do with the data you have collected along with how to structure follow-up meetings.