Mapping the power in your organization

Image from
Oct 21 2019 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

When trying to manage projects and teams, one of the hardest things for any leader is to understand how to get things done, approved, funded and supported. Your people often have at least one boss they report to other than yourself, projects are often started in one department but have stakeholders in the other, and the one thing you can be sure of is that true power lies somewhere, and it sure ain't with you.

My buddy Pam Fox Rollin is the president of IdeaShape and the author of 42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role, which is designed for readers at all levels look sharp, get results, and sleep well at night while still getting the work done. In the book, she talks about going beyond traditional "stakeholder analysis" and mapping who has the real power in your organization, not just the job titles.

Here's a brief interview we did on the topic:

One of the big challenges for remote teams and their managers is understanding the bigger picture of the company they work for. You suggest "mapping what matters". What do you mean by that?

I mean figuring out what factors drive the decisions of people powerful to your team. You want to form an accurate picture of their world as they see it:

Formal rewards: On what bases are they rewarded: Sales? Variance from budget? Share price?

How often: Quarterly? Annually? On what sets of data: Accounting data? CRM monthly reports? An industry report?

Informal rewards: What goodies and outcomes are important to each person: Industry visibility? Support for their "brand", running a tight ship, being a great mentor, pulling off the impossible? Go interview a couple people who've worked for them to discover what those leaders habitually ask about and what will get them to change their minds.

Scope of authority: What decisions can they make on their own? What decisions can they strongly influence? Who do they need to rope in to make decisions beyond their scope?

What they want from your team: Keeping costs under budget to make up for overspending elsewhere? No-surprises deliver? New products to market faster than their peers' divisions? Trainees they can move to emerging projects?

That sounds wise but time-consuming. Where should you focus your energy?

Start by figuring this out for your boss and your boss's boss. Trans-regional teams often answer to multiple masters in the matrix: geographic, business line, and functional leadership. You want to understand what matters to each set of leaders, because their incentives typically differ.

Then determine who else is crucial to map:

  • Who above you in the organization will freak if you fail to deliver on commitments? This probably includes some of your boss' peers.
  • Who, if they slacked off for a month, could destroy your ability to deliver? Consider your directs and downstream teams.
  • Who else must cooperate for you to meet your significant commitments? Consider key customers, firms running important and hard-to-replace outsourced operations, and suppliers of critical components.

I call these people "powerholders". They're the subset of your stakeholders who can make a real difference in your ability to deliver and reap rewards.

Now consider the relationships between your powerholders and others. Who do your powerholders consult on specific issues? For example, if your project is likely to be externally visible, you want to know who your boss's boss would consult regarding PR and investor relations. You want to find out, before the news hits Business Insider, what that go-to person cares about so you can incorporate those concerns into your communications.

What are some of the things teams can learn by doing this?

For many geographically-scattered teams, just combining your knowledge on who has power across what parts of the organization represents a big leap forward in understanding your organization. Your team now knows who has power over what, what incentives and goals they respond to, which internal systems supply the data that matters to them, and who they listen to. Military units wouldn't want to go battle in tribal regions without recon; your team shouldn't pitch an initiative without recon either.

Once you know who these people are and what matters to them, catalog what you can do for (and to) each other: How could they help you get what you want? How could you help them get what they want?

Often, talking through the info you gathered will yield useful insights.

For example, your boss's peer may want more headcount; your team may know of a good potential aqui-hire company with skills useful to your work. You may be able to get this done by suggesting the people be housed out of that guy's group instead of yours.

What can a team do with that information?

Your team can now make decisions that are likely to be supported by the right people across the organization. You can pitch those solutions efficiently by hitting the points people care about. You can anticipate and pre-empt resistance. And, you can build truly effective relationships with people who care about the same issues you do.

more articles

About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.