Strategic Influencing – by Results Advocate, David Bailey
Results is primarily an advocacy organisation. We seek to influence the attitudes, behaviours and decisions of the Parliamentarians who decide Australia’s international development policy. They are our primary advocacy targets. Our secondary advocacy targets are the people who have or seek influence over them – the voting public, the media, the big corporates, and social influencers. We cannot materially reward or punish our Parliamentarians to force them to change. We can only seek to influence them.
Cialdini’s Principles of Influence
As a management consultant, I spent a lot of time researching, developing and implementing strategies to influence stakeholders without being seen as unacceptably manipulative and/or coercive. One of the strategies belonged to sociologist Robert Cialdini who proffers six principles of influence.
Reciprocation is where someone feels the need to reciprocate based on a previous unsolicited benefit or gift. Parliamentarians expect to be lobbied for something, so they can be disarmed by a simple act of kindness. A handwritten birthday card or a thank-you card when they embrace the Results view of the World is appreciated. The need to reciprocate hangs heavy on the soul. I remember the positive response former Results staffer Gina Olivieri got when she offered pieces of fruit to the Parliamentarians we visited – not only was it unsolicited, it was appreciated as they tend to eat irregularly and unhealthily, and it did keep them quiet while they happily munched away.
Consistency is where someone feels the need to stay consistent with what they have previously publicly stated or written. A Parliamentarian’s Maiden Speech is a valuable source of their core values, beliefs, attitudes, and interests. There is anecdotal evidence that new Parliamentarians, as well as those approaching elections or retirement can look for ways to revisit their core values. A gentle and encouraging reminder of why they became a Parliamentarian and what they wanted to achieve can encourage a productive reflection.
Social Proof is where someone’s attitude or behaviour changes because they observe that others in similar circumstances are changing. Parliamentarians may or may not want to lead but it is generally true that they do not want to be politically isolated. If members of their cohort – parliamentary colleagues with whom they are aligned, or counterparts in other jurisdictions with whom they have affiliation – are embracing a new position, it is helpful to gently point that out. Globally, the Australian Government has always looked to its powerful allies for leadership on particular issues. This is just as true for an individual Parliamentarian.
Liking is where someone’s attitude or behaviour is altered because the changed attitude or behaviour is proposed by someone they like and/or someone to whom they are similar. As with my friends, I like to know where Parliamentarians grew up, what their career path has been, what football team they support, what issues they are passionate about, and importantly where these may overlap with mine. This may seem trite but it is an opportunity to build rapport with someone who is often very busy and very tired. They can be more relaxed and more generous with Results advocates who share their interests. Before I joined Results, I didn’t know my Parliamentarians. Now they know me!
Authority is where someone’s position changes because the change is proposed by someone they see as a person of status, or a figure of authority (title, occupation, position, wealth, etc). In preparing for meetings with Parliamentarians, it is good to know where they stand in the party pecking order and who they are eager to please. If we are able to point out where those who influence them agree with Results, we may give them pause for thought. When I volunteered with a First Nations’ organisation in Northern Australia, I was able to counter some bureaucratic resistance by referencing the public statements of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and industry icon Twiggy Forrest.
Scarcity is where someone’s desire for “something” is increased based on the likelihood that “something” will become unavailable, less available, or available under less favourable conditions. Parliamentarians want their “something” like they want their bread – hot, fresh, and satisfying. Making sure your Parliamentarian is at the front of the queue is important. “Something” could be information, invitations, opportunities to speak, social media posts.
What all this boils down to is that we need to know our Parliamentarians well. We must build long-term transformational relationships, not short-term transactional ones. We must prepare well for meetings, be prepared to help them help us, and not be discouraged when they fail to deliver.
To paraphrase Sam Daley-Harris, the Australian Government is not in Canberra, the Lodge, or Parliament House – the Australian Government resides in us, the people of Australia. What resides in Canberra is the administration of the Australian Government just waiting for our direction. If we as individuals believe we are powerless to influence, there is no hope. But if we as individuals believe we are powerful, then anything is possible. As Margaret Mead once said “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
David Bailey is a semi-retired Canberra-based Management Consultant with an eclectic professional background in archeology, geology, workplace safety, natural resources policy, industrial relations, ICT, and community-based volunteering. He currently leads a small charity dedicated to providing tactile therapies for people in frail health, especially those with a history or a diagnosis of cancer. David has been with Results for 10 years – first as a Board Member, and increasingly as a Community Advocate.