Personal Finance

Power of positive influence

Meera Siva | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 15, 2016

Management lessons for new-age start-up founders



As a start-up go-getter, you floated the company. You hired people, rented offices and built diverse set of teams as part of your scale-up plan. Your strategic investors are happy with you now; they believe you and your gameplan. And now you just need your team to deliver.

Meet Jim Keene, the San-Francisco based founder and managing director of Atherton Consulting Group as he gives a low-down on ways to build gravitas in an organisation.

Keene is an author as well as an investment management leader and coach, who was in Chennai recently. Here are excerpts from his interview on the art of influencing customers, suppliers and investors.

Influencing is mainly a sales function. Is it really important for others?

In his book, To Sell is Human, Dan Pink states that about 9 per cent of the workforce is involved in direct sales. But research shows that the other 91 per cent spend approximately 40 per cent of their work time trying to influence decisions on how to invest capital, assign roles and utilise resources. So knowing how to influence in a positive way is essential for nearly almost everyone.

How difficult is it to influence people to get the desired outcome?

There are many simple methods that can profoundly improve outcomes. Take the case of people booking a table in sought-after restaurants and not calling to cancel if they are unable to make it. The restaurant switched from just stating “please inform if you cannot make it” to “will you please inform if you cannot make it” and got an affirmative commitment to call. The calling rates went up to 30 per cent from 10 per cent with just two extra words. Another example of three-fold improvement is when you use the principle called reciprocity. When people were asked if they would volunteer that weekend for a ‘youth-cause’, 17 per cent agreed. But when they were first asked if they would volunteer to ‘mentor’ the youth three hours per week over a long-term period, the response was a lack of commitment. Subsequently, when a bait of doing just over the week-end was thrown in, the acceptance level jumped to 50 per cent.

It is true for market behaviour too. In Australia, when potential scarcity of livestock availability was shared by a company with its buyers, their order size increased from 10 to 24 carloads. When it was further qualified that the scarcity information was shared exclusively with them, the order size jumped to 61 carloads. The combination of genuine scarcity and exclusive information can create huge changes in people’s responses.

Do these methods to influence work equally well for all people?

You have to use different methods based on factors such as situation, individual traits, team size and work culture. You can learn and practise how to evaluate which tool to use when.

For example, getting a proposal through an investment committee may require having informal one-on-one chats with members to understand their concerns and address them, while asking for small commitments and building on them. In a start-up or small organisation, decisions have to be quick and different approaches have to be used to get everyone on-board.

What should leaders know about influencing?

One, in knowledge-based organisations, special teams/experts may be better equipped to influence decisions than those in management positions. So the position of authority is not very straightforward.

Two, there is less hierarchy in companies and there is more collaborative team-based work. Getting buy-in for decisions from diverse teams is important, unlike in the past where decisions were top-down.

How can one be seen as authority as well as an influencer in this age of information explosion?

People will follow and trust someone who is credible, knowledgeable and an expert in his field. This is more so in the world of information as there are many conflicting opinions.

You must do your homework well, be transparent in your process, know whom you are addressing and have proof of your expertise to command respect.

Often, in areas such as wealth management, it takes time to build trust. As consumers of information, we should be discerning and be aware of the source of information.

We must ask ‘what is the objective of the person in giving this information or opinion?’ Not consuming knowledge just because it is free, would ensure we don’t get influenced.

Are there gender differences in influencing decisions?

In general, women work harder than men to influence people. They are not seen as authorities in organisations; they end up doing more homework than their male counterparts.

They, however, tend to have a better support network of professionals compared to men.

Typically, they are driven by genuine reasons for why they want to influence. For instance, they tend to be more focused on long-term impact of a decision rather than immediate gains such as money.

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