Ethical Lobbying at Work: Selling Ideas to Stakeholders

Ethical Lobbying at Work: Selling Ideas to Stakeholders
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Are You Leveraging Ethical Lobbying at Work to Better Sell Ideas to Key Stakeholders?
When done ethically, lobbying key stakeholders at work raises the odds that your ideas will receive optimal consideration, especially at group decision making meetings. Ethical lobbying at work helps individuals, teams, and organizations to better sell recommendations, proposals, and initiatives to stakeholders who have influence or power over your work or at least a vested interest in the successful or unsuccessful conclusion of your work.

Political Savvy Workshop Enables Influence
Political Savvy positions politics as a necessary part of corporate influence, and invites you to view building a high-integrity power base as an important vehicle for personal and organizational impact. Entering the political arena is the price you pay for selling your ideas, getting the credit you deserve, and receiving optimal consideration for career advancement.

You will learn through the Political Styles Model that left- side Power of Ideas people need to remember that ideas themselves may not be compelling enough on their own to be implemented. They may need to be positioned with powerful people. To ignore this need leaves you with a political blind spot, vulnerable to others who may be more  expert at exercising power dynamics within your company.

Any definition of politics must include using both formal and informal avenues for getting things done in organizations, sometimes going around recognized channels to  influence key stakeholders and powerful individuals. This does not mean you will become manipulative or unethical, because it’s not necessary to hide the fact that you want to gain approval or support for yourself and your ideas. You can play above board and maintain your integrity by choosing causes that are good for the organization’s  interests, not just your own.

Since politically naïve people don’t realize that decisions are often made before the official decision-making meeting is conducted, you will be at a disadvantage unless you  embrace the practice of Ethical Lobbying. This fair, common, and effective Political Savvy strategy means not waiting for a group setting to gather support for your ideas and proposals, but instead doing what government lobbyists do: build relationships, use various channels of influence, and exercise proactive organizational savvy. What are the  ingredients of Ethical Lobbying?

Manage Your Political Bank Account
Stephen Covey, in his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, describes the importance of being aware of your Emotional Bank Account with everyone you know. Joel DeLuca, in Political Savvy, echoes this idea with the notion of the informal chit system that exists in all work relationships. We commonly hear people say, “I had to cash in a lot of favors on that one.” The obvious conclusion is that we operate in a system of gaining and lending support for one another, partially based upon our history of trust and mutual benefit. A piece of this reality is the Political Bank Account.

Still, we want to be realists by remembering there are side benefits to sharing and exchanging favors. The age-old “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” maxim doesn’t have to be done in a smoke-filled backroom, for unethical reasons. Organizational influence does involve collaboration and alliances. The act of giving is always appreciated and raises the odds that a powerful colleague or leader might become an ally. That’s just human nature! In order to reap the most benefits and return on your investment in the Political Bank Account, consider the following common sense suggestions.

  • Remember—You’re Still A Good Person!
    Don’t worry. Being aware of the favors you give and receive doesn’t mean you’re only interacting with people for some ulterior motive or hidden agenda. We all still aspire to do the right thing and help people, out of goodness, with the intent to make this little planet where we live a better place. After all, we all walk a rough road.
  • Networking Matters
    Remember to network in order to create the relationships that keep you in the loop, align you with powerful and power-oriented associates, and allow you to shape  perceptions about you and your team in the workplace. Also, strategically use your political network to open up opportunities for building up a surplus in your Political Bank Account. This will create more receptivity to your ideas when you are selling an idea.
  • Favors are Powerful
    The idea is to not equate all favors with Machiavellian opportunism, as long as your heart is also in the right place and you are trying to help the company, not merely advance yourself. Don’t be turned off to giving and receiving favors just because some people abuse the practice. Simple ways to make deposits into your Political Bank Account include:

    • Be available to people and willing to be contacted after hours. This doesn’t mean you’ll actually be called at 3 a.m., but you make a positive impression of going the extra mile.
    • Offer support to others for ideas and projects that are important to them. Even if you don’t have time to participate, you can still lend your endorsement and overt support.
    • Look for ways to help people save face and get out of jams. Pitch in at the eleventh hour if a peer is in trouble. Tactfully voice approval or express benefits of a person’s position if it is being challenged.

Naturally, be careful about whom you support and whom you cross when lending favors or supporting an ally’s ideas. Organizational savvy involves awareness of the impact of all you do. Don’t blindly grant favors without thinking about who you may be alienating. While you may be building a surplus of favors in one person’s Political Bank Account, the same actions may create a deficit in another key power-holder’s account.

  • Appreciation is Powerful
    Don’t underestimate the importance of expressing strong appreciation for people who do you favors. While you don’t want to hold grudges, you DO want to hold gratitude. If you don’t show your appreciation effusively enough, you may be committing a major faux pas. Send thank you notes and copy key people, so that the person who did you a favor knows you took extra steps to help make visible that person’s good will, team
    player status, and organizational commitment.
  • Avoid Sabotaging Others
    Be careful to avoid accidental sabotage. At times you might not mean offense, but you unwittingly harm a person important to your success. Obviously, acknowledge the mistake, or it will be seen as intentional. Apologize and assist in salvaging the situation. Don’t burn bridges when you can’t support a colleague or must turn down a request. Before you decline to help a colleague who is asking for help on a project, make sure
    you’ve genuinely considered the request. If someone brings an idea or recommendation to you, really think through the possible merits before rejecting it.A “no” for now doesn’t need to close the door for future collaboration. Also, when people turn down your requests for support, help them to save face by acknowledging that reasonable people can end up on opposite sides of the issue. Forgive them!
  • Think Like a Chess Player: Plot the Political Landscape
    The politically naïve wait until a meeting to present their case, thinking this is where decisions and influence reside. The politically adept know that influence demands more advanced thinking and individual lobbying. A critical piece of the political jigsaw puzzle is to think more strategically like a chess player does, and less like a skeet shooter reacting with a quick trigger finger.

    Ethical Lobbying means you will think ahead and develop political allies to support your ideas and projects. Political Savvy requires proactive planning, plotting the political scene, and mapping out the influence relationships that will raise the odds for a decision to go in your favor.

  • Analyze the Stakeholders and Use Ethical Lobbying Strategies
    Who are the key people involved in the decision about the idea you want to champion and get approved? For each stakeholder or decision-maker ask yourself these questions:
    1. What’s his or her level of agreement or disagreement with your idea or proposal?
      (Pro 1–10 or Con 1–10)
    2. What is the stakeholder’s level of influence, whether through position power or informal power?
      (Pro 1–10 or Con 1–10)
    3. Which Political Style does this person demonstrate?

      A.  Over-Political
      More exclusively focused upon image, power-gathering, and maneuvering; engages in lots of schmoozing, positioning of ideas, working the  system to achieve ends, building an influence base; may namedrop and think too much about gaining approval, position, or bonus.


      B.  Under-Political
      More exclusively focused upon substance and ideas, to the point of under-estimating the need to influence within the organization; focuses in a myopic or unrealistic way on the right data, results, values, or analysis; may refuse to network, promote a worthy idea, or gain adequate visibility for ideas.

      C.  Balanced
      Blends Organizational Influence with Substance.  Avoids the extremes of Over- Political and Under-Political, blending the best of both world  views; willingly jumps into the political arena to make organizational impact and create power networks to do so, but does so for company good versus solely for one’s own end gain; practices “ethical politics,” truly balancing producing results with promoting oneself and one’s ideas and functional area.

      NOTE: A balanced, savvy person can be slightly more political or less political without being Under-Political or Over- Political.

    4. How does the stakeholder view your level of power?
    5. How does the stakeholder view your Political Style (Over- Political, Under-Political, or Balanced)? 
    6. What’s the person’s degree of “changeability” on the issue for which you’re lobbying? 
    7. How is your Political Bank Account with this person?
      Do you have enough of a surplus to approach this person? If not, have you at least avoided being perceived as having sabotaged? Does the person view you as neutral or as an ally, and do you possess enough power to earn his or her attention?
    8. What are the connections and relationships between this person and others?
      You’ll want to openly discuss who is for and who is against your ideas. You may need to mention alliances and people who support your proposals, people who can help you influence another target stakeholder.
    9. What other communication style, working style, functional area biases, or cross-cultural sensitivities should you consider in your plan?

      Based upon your analysis decide whom to approach and what strategy might be effective without sacrificing your own ethics or becoming two-faced. Use the guidelines below to assist you in your Ethical Lobbying.

  • Study the Agenda
    Spend time figuring out powerful people’s priorities, listening and learning. Sit and ask them their focus and strategies. Also, discover their agenda less directly by noticing what they say in meetings and by asking others. Salespeople are naturally good at this, but anyone can develop this capability.
  • Blend the Agenda
    Here, you become a spin doctor, in the positive “reframing” sense, which is another skill salespeople and professional lobbyists often use. You’ll know people’s hot buttons because you’ve studied their needs, goals, and causes. Now, tie your ideas to their agenda so that you can influence them. This type of linking lead-in sentence needs to become part of your normal lobbying language: “An idea that fits well with your  ____________ agenda/goal is my idea for ___________ , which addresses your needs by____________.”

    People do things for their reasons, not yours. The word “benefit” means “good fit,” so you want to package your ideas in a way that fits well with stakeholders’ business needs and appeals to their values, strategies, and objectives.  For instance, a Quality Training director in a major  corporation repackaged major components of his/her quality training curriculum under the umbrella of “business effectiveness” when he/she determined that the quality program and people associated with this organizational change initiative had fallen out of favor within the enterprise.

    That showed organizational savvy and the willingness to reframe his/her agenda to blend better with the agenda of the new leadership.

    The comedian George Carlin highlighted the importance of using the right words, and of framing events and situations in new ways. He once quipped, “The environmentalists finally got it right. They figured out that no one wanted to give any money to swamps and jungles… So now they call it ‘wetlands’ and ‘rain forests,’ and the money comes rolling in!”

  • Compromise Your Agenda
    You won’t always have the power to implement your ideas totally, but you might be able to compromise and get some of what you want. Once an idea is in motion, it’s often possible to build and shape it to more fully match your original vision. Taming a wild stallion demands patience,  gradually blending your energy with the horse’s, and riding with the beast before you can guide it to where you want to go. Patience is also  important in Ethical Lobbying. Political Savvy is partly about not “pushing the river.” Naïve political players let their passion for their ideas run
    away from them, often slipping into taking brash, provocative stances.

    This “loose cannon” is reminiscent of youthful, immature exuberance. Organizational change takes time. Influencing others to adopt your ideas is less like a speed boat cutting a sharp turn, and more like a cruise ship whose turn is a wider arc. Remember the Serenity Prayer: “ Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    This sage advice also applies to practicing organizational savvy when proposing company changes and selling ideas and recommendations.  Politically adept leaders practice flexibility and do not paint themselves into a corner with nonnegotiable, rigid stances. If you’re astute, you’ll recognize the difference between your true underlying needs and any initial win-lose position you might unwisely push. Just because you adapt and give a little in order to gain a lot doesn’t mean you’re selling out. Sometimes you have to give a really big fish plenty of line in order to reel it in.

  • Share Credit
    If you need a right-side Power of Person individual to implement your idea, claiming 25 percent of the credit and giving away 75 percent as if the decision-maker thought of it may be better than keeping 100 percent credit for an idea that goes nowhere! Give up credit to gain support. Some writers even suggest letting powerful people believe they came up with the idea, not you. You still gain some visibility, and you can always strategize ways to make sure you don’t lose all the credit if you plan ahead and make yourself indispensable to the power-oriented colleague.

A Disclaimer
Remember that Ethical Lobbying doesn’t mean crossing the integrity line or saying things you don’t believe, in order to get things done. The principles taught in this course are simply tools. Like a carpenter, you will take responsibility, deciding when and how to use the tools.

To learn more about ethical lobbying at work, download Organizational Savvy – How to Understand Workplace Politics Strategies to Influence Others


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