In, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey discusses the circle of control, circle of influence and circle of concern. This provides a good framework from which to view issues as you look for improvement strategies.
Within your circle of control you have much more autonomy and have less need to win others over to your plan. However, in practice, even here, you benefit from winning over those who are involved (for example you are their boss).
Our circle of concern covers those things we worry about. Often, we believe because we worry we should find solutions. Problems that fall into this category (but outside our circle of influence) however often prove difficult to tackle. And often people don’t understand why they get frustrated in this case. You can save your energy for more productive activities by seeing some things are outside your influence and avoid wasting your energy on them.
A problem with this, I see in practice however, is that if you are creative many things that people think are beyond their influence are not. With some imagination you can find ways to have influence. Good ideas are powerful. And often that is all that is needed for influence is offering a good idea.
Understanding to what extent an issue is within your control or influence can help a great deal in determining good strategies. Where you have a good chance to influence the process you can focus on strategies that may require much more of your participation to be successfully adopted. As you have less influence such a strategy is likely a poor one.
You should remember, that there is a temporal component to your circle of influence. On some current issue, I may have a very low chance of success for getting the organization to adopt an improvement I think is best. But certain actions can build the understanding that will allow me later to have more influence. This can even be completely separate from how people normally think of circle of influence. By building an organization that moves toward data based decision making and therefore reduces HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) decision making I increase my ability to influence decision making in the future.
Long term thinking is a very powerful, and much under-practiced, strategy. Your influence within an organization is limited today but has great potential to expand, if you act wisely.
Thinking about the extent a current issue falls within your sphere of influence is important it determining the best strategies. But the most valuable insight is to understand how import your sphere of influence is. It determines what strategies you can pursue. And building your sphere of influence should be part of your decision making process.
By taking the long view you can put yourself in good positions to have influence on decisions. There are many ways to do this. My preferred method is fairly boring. Prove yourself to be valuable and you will gain influence. Help people solve their problems. They will be inclined to listen to your ideas. Provide people useful management tools and help them apply them successfully. Help get people, that you know are good, opportunities to succeed. Often this gains you two allies (the person you helped gain the opportunity for and the person that was looking for someone to step in). Work hard and deliver what is important. It isn’t some secret sauce for quick success but if you make those around you successful you grow your circle of influence.
Related: How to Improve – Helping Employees Improve – Operational Excellence – Management Advice Failures – Management Improvement