Paul W. Smith
Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt: A Review
Most of us, myself included, were raised believing that if we kept our focus and put in the hard work, we would get ahead. Tough times make us tougher, we were taught, and perseverance will prevail. Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt debunks this myth, explains why many careers become frustratingly stagnant, and offers a detailed plan for moving forward. As Winston Churchill said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.” Success comes from an honest assessment of your own capabilities combined with a clear understanding of what the organization really needs.
Meaningful job satisfaction is derived from recognition for what you do and the difference you make that others can see. Some of the things that can derail your best efforts are the company culture, problems with how the job is structured, or an unsupportive manager. Often these can be overcome, but sometimes it’s just better to move on. Authors Berman and Bradt use example stories, guest-written sections, and detailed worksheets to help the reader decide the best course of action, develop a plan, and ultimately flourish. The book is written both for the individual trying to help themselves, and for managers who want to help their people.
The first of four main sections addresses the central message of the book – the disconnect between what you may be currently doing, and what the organization really needs. Both influence (being listened to, having credibility, and being a sought-after colleague) and impact (leading without formal authority and really affecting the organization) are key parts of a satisfying job.
Author Berman illustrates the issue with a personal story from his own youth working in a downtown Washington, D.C. camera store. He became increasingly frustrated with customers who didn’t want to buy cameras but only to get help with simple features of their own. Bill’s attitude and success took a turn for the better when his boss explained that they were in a tourist market, and his real job was to sell film and processing, not cameras. Common traps like this involve doing what is the most comfortable and enjoyable, or perhaps doing the job you wish you had, regardless of what the company really needs. Your job description was most likely written by someone who never met you, so this gap shouldn’t be surprising.
In the section that follows, the focus shifts to your levers of influence, beginning with uncovering the essentials of the job. Data can come from talking with select individuals, or from observing who is successful, who is not, and what results get the best response. Your own manager should be the highest priority source, starting with how they see their own job and then defining what you should do and how you should do it. It is important to understand company culture (the shared basic assumptions that work well enough to be passed along to new team members). The competency metrics used in performance appraisals rarely reflect the actual functioning of the organization.
The role you play (manager, doer, leader, sponsor, facilitator….) may not be what the organization needs from you. Always factor in interpersonal and political recommendations picked up while gathering information. When given the opportunity in a job interview, I like to ask the interviewer to fast-forward 6 months and tell me what would convince them that hiring me was the right decision. This can be an effective way to clarify expectations.
Sometimes high performers are being held back by internal company bias, and the authors do not overlook this important topic. If you are being treated differently from others, there is useful advice on how to approach and expose the problem. Over-performing isn’t always the solution to being judged under different standards.
Section three is where you take what you’ve learned about yourself and your organization and set forth on a path to building influence and impact. Here you will almost certainly encounter organizational politics, which are not automatically bad; politics can help connect interpersonal relationships with the company’s needs to make things run smoother. The authors warn against showcasing your own intellectual aptitude at the expense of your relationship with colleagues and recommend avoiding self-promotion to the point of being annoying.
Psychologist Berman notes that the interpersonal influence you will need requires empathy – not an easy trait to develop. The Japanese concept of Nemawashi – a process for helping trees adapt to a new environment prior to transplanting them – serves as a metaphor for creating engagement and alignment to change while also respecting previous work.
The final section deals with the options available when the current job situation just can’t be repaired. Whether or not your new job is in the same organization, endings are hard – they disrupt a large part of your daily routines – and the associated emotional turmoil is difficult. Here the authors provide a little counseling on working through these emotions, including behavioral, cognitive, interpersonal, and narrative methods. All of the these can play a role in recognizing your own value and moving on. Once you’ve accepted the change, there are some pointers for the job search, some of which should better position you for success the next time.
The book wraps up with some coaching tips for improving the influence and impact of your employees. While most readers will approach this as a self-help book, your own success will depend largely on that of your team. In many ways, it’s a checklist of what you wish your own manager would do. In summary, your goal with your employees is to get them to the same place you would like for yourself – encouraged, self-aware, well-informed about the business and stakeholders, and with a clear picture of what success looks like.
This short (181 page) book can be approached as a quick read for a few useful pointers, or it can be used as a thoughtful, in-depth workbook aimed at creating a detailed plan for advancing your career. In reading through the stories, I couldn’t help seeing myself and the situations I have encountered at work from a new perspective. Honest self-appraisal is challenging, and the realization that there is a disconnect between what you have been working hard at, and what the company actually needs, can be disturbing. Author Berman’s background as a licensed, board-certified psychologist supports his insights on dealing with personal issues and yet his presentation is blessedly free of psychobabble. If you’re searching for a way to get unstuck in your career, Influence and Impact is a great place to start.
Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular contributor to NetworkDataPedia, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40 years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.