Friday, August 29, 2014

Advocacy, Influencing and Directing (AID): A Leadership Aid to Aligned Progress

The human race, by and large, is genetically programmed to keep the interests of self ahead of satisfying the interests of the society. Fortunately, civilization has devised, over the centuries, a number of structures and processes to achieve alignment between social and individual interests. Organization is one of the most important structures that are designed to achieve alignment. Goal setting and goal realization is one of the most important processes that are designed to achieve progress. Progress would be optimal when it is achieved by organizations with alignment of all the members of the organization. Several leadership and managerial processes have been designed and practiced to achieve aligned progress. Yet, a successful model to achieve aligned progress could be surprisingly simple in its components though complex in practice.

Advocacy, influencing and directing are proposed in this blog post as the three core components of the aligned progress model. Interestingly, all the three are facets and forms of communication, each of which requires not only a different skill but even more importantly results from a personality type. The Advocacy-Influencing-Directing (AID) leadership communication model is a three step sequential yet iterative process that enables leaders to accomplish aligned progress of their organizations. Advocacy is the ability to argue a public cause or an individual view that could qualify as a public cause. Influencing is the ability to steer a person or group of persons to a particular view.  Directing is the ability to make people execute as per the agreed thought. Clearly, advocacy is a prerequisite for influencing which is, in turn, a prerequisite for directing. When all the three take effect in a seamless manner, aligned progress tends to be an automatic result. Interestingly, each of the three components has different shades.
Advocacy is the espousal of a public cause for a definitive positive judgment. The courts of law and the judicial system are the primary areas of advocacy. In the context of social or business organizations, however, advocacy works two ways. It requires private acceptance of public causes as well as public acceptance of private causes. A couple of examples illustrate. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as mandated by the new Companies Act 2013 in India, or CSR even otherwise commonly understood, is a positive public cause. However, how the agencies of government interpret CSR and how the business organizations perceive their own responsibility towards CSR require advocacy. This is a classic case of a well accepted public cause requiring private or individual advocacy to gain traction. The ongoing advocacy efforts on establishing the new capital for Andhra Pradesh is another example of advocacy of a public cause from multiple angles. The takeaway is that however well conceived or well merited a public cause is, it triggers and requires advocacy with multiple stakeholders in relevant forms.
The example of a private or individual viewpoint gaining a more public or total public advocacy can be had from business. An entrepreneur who has an innovative technical idea or a viable business idea needs to mount an advocacy campaign at multiple levels; with professionals to build his or her management team, with investors and lenders to attract the resources, with governments to secure the necessary approvals, with vendors and channel partners to become a part of value chain, with customers to establish a value proposition, and even more fundamentally with his or her own family members to become an entrepreneur. The strength of advocacy of an individual viewpoint into wider public consensus is the core of entrepreneurship. Even in established organizations, the ‘command and control’ approach has to be replaced by an ‘advocate and influence’ approach if the plural intellectual views have to be harnessed for the best possible outcomes. With advocacy comes the next step of influencing.  

Language being what it is, the word ‘influencing’ evokes both positive and negative connotations, often caused by the interpretative mindsets of the viewer or bystander, and not necessarily of the participants. For the purpose of the AID model, we may assume all influencing to be positive only. Influencing is the way of getting an important constituent to accept the proposed viewpoint. Influencing cannot occur without advocacy. Powerful and cogent adequacy makes the job of influencing easy but not necessarily automatic. To return to our examples, a public cause such as CSR becomes an individual leadership or business cause when the outcomes impact the individual leader or the business in some manner; like, CSR in community education improving the quality of people a firm can hire from the local community. The committee constituted to recommend options on AP capital, Sivaramakrishnan Committee, may advocate decentralized capital(s) model but the AP Government itself may not be influenced by the recommendation. If the Committee also had the powers to allocate financial support to different capital models possibly such advocacy would have led to influence.  
In organizations and businesses too, influence has a capping up role to advocacy. Advocacy, especially for a cause or a change, often challenges established mores and positions. The entrepreneur who advocates his technology solution or business model challenges the status quo and is typically met with skeptical response initially (“if you are novel, what is the guarantee of success”, and “if you are a follower, what is the guarantee of superiority”, for example). When the entrepreneur offers stock options to his or her startup team members sharing his wealth, he or she would be following up the advocacy with positive influencing. In the case of established organizations, the stakes of individuals in established structures and processes tend to be so enormous that they tend to be resistant, if not impervious, to change. A logical extension of ‘advocate and influence’ approach, for example, would be to create organizational or business think-tanks which can serve as forums to pool in diverse thought processes and develop advocacy and influencing choices. These channel the intellectual power of large organizations towards convergence.
At the end of advocacy and influencing processes, the need for directing inevitably comes. Directing, as a process, involves establishing goals and moving the organization towards accomplishment of the goals. In the standard managerial template, the leader is expected to direct. However, that is not the only option in the emerging managerial context. Self-directed management of organizations is entirely possible, especially if the processes of advocacy and influencing have been gone through. In fact, these processes bring in ownership and accountability that makes self-directed management at least as successful as leader-directed management. Organizations can excel in CSR activities through such self-direction. As we may note, self-help groups have been an important success component of the microfinance movement in India. Building of a new capital could be a self-directed effort if the interests of land owners and the capital builders are aligned through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for ownership.
In organized businesses, managements and leaderships find it difficult to strike the right balance between decentralization and centralization (self-direction and command-direction, correspondingly). Skeptics may wonder the need for advocacy and influencing (or such other participative concepts) if the final need is to direct. This skepticism arises from the inability to appreciate the power of an aligned individual. Truly entrepreneurial organizations are self-directed organizations that clock rapid growth on a number of fronts. Large organizations and businesses should establish several incubators for business ideas and technology solutions, and follow through the successful ones with business units. Yet, many firms would be reluctant to adopt a diversified federal structure until the whole monolith becomes completely unwieldy and unviable. The AID model of leadership communication would result in aligned progress of societies, organizations and businesses.
Aligned progress
Certain minimal factors support progress of organizations and businesses as well as of societies and economies. The issue is whether the full potential of an organization or a business is reached in such routine ‘lowest common multiple’ manners. Despite the anecdotal evidence of weak strands of thread when intertwined forming a strong rope, the powerful impact aligned progress can have on enterprise activity and outcomes is not fully appreciated. Aligned progress typically gets viewed in a gross manner than in a subtle way; for example, a common slogan that is accepted by all or a common brand that is related to by all is considered good enough reflection of alignment. In a conglomerate setting all constituent companies buying each other’s products may also seem to be aligned development. True aligned progress, however, gets accomplished based on advocacy of the best causes or ideas, influential stakeholder participation and self-directed management of affairs.
The concept is not necessarily an inversion of the classic pyramid of power; nor is it an abandonment of the concept of organizational pyramid either. On the other hand, it is a unique pyramid which has three sides of advocacy, influence and direction converging into pivotal power. Just as there can be no pyramid without three sides aligned progress cannot come about without these three planks. It is a sequential and iterative interaction between the three aspects; the leader at the helm needs to be an advocate, influencer and director – all rolled into one. The issues to advocate, the outcomes to influence and the efforts to direct would constitute a holistic communication competence for the AID leadership communication model. In their heydays several topnotch business leaders of India could achieve unique combinations of advocacy, influence and direction for their enterprises with aligned progress for them. Dr Homi Bhabha for BARC, Dr Abdul Kalam for DRDO, V Krishnamurthy for Maruti Suzuki, N R Narayana Murthy for Infosys, Azim Premji for Wipro, A M Naik for L&T, Dhirubhai Ambani for Reliance and Ratan Tata for Tata Group are just a few examples.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on August 29, 2014



No comments: