No Authority

One of the biggest problems facing project managers and change leaders is a lack of formal authority. In this regard, operational managers have a relatively easy time of it.  If someone works for you, then if you ask them to do something, then it is their job to comply.

The Project Environment is Different

In the project environment, many of your team will not be under your direct organisational authority.  Maybe you have been brought in as an external project manager, or perhaps you have been taken out of the line to manage a project in your own organisation.  And if so, many of you will be managing your project whilst trying to balance a range of other projects and day-to-day responsibilities.

Whichever is true, some or all of our project team members will not be your own staff.  Some will work for other people, some will even be your peers.  You may even have project resources who out-rank you in the organisational hierarchy!  There are often project team members who don’t work for your organisation but who are part of partner organisations.

Ahh, “partnership working”.
I suspect I’ll be returning to
this vexed topic in future blogs!

Anyway, the point is: you can’t just ask these people to do something and expect them to do something.  If only project life were that simple!

So How can I get People to do What I Ask Them to Do?

This is the BIG question, and I’ll be writing a lot about it over the coming months.  In this blog we’ll take a look at the much neglected ideas of Amitai Etzioni, who considered how organisations get their people to do what they want.

How is this relevant to project and change managers?  Because your project or change initiative creates a temporary organisation.

The Two Year-old Problem

One of my oft quoted maxims is that, if you want to understand the dynamics of an organisation, compare it to a school yard.  In this case, I want to go back to nursery.

Expecting people to comply just because you are the boss is a pretty feeble type of authority, which justifies your requests with the organisational equivalent of “because I tell you to.” Sadly, this fails with two year-olds and unsurprisingly, it never reasserts itself.

Solving the Two Year-old Problem

Etzioni recognised three ways that organisations respond to this problem.  The first mirrors the unfortunate response of too many parents: coercion.  Let’s leave this one on the bench, shall we.  It hardly fosters the kind of project environment I would ever want to work in and is best suited to the roughest of custodial institutions.

So we have to turn to the other two types of custodial power Etzioni identified.

Utilitarian Power

. . .  or, to put it in pretty blunt terms, “what’s in it for me?” Some organisations secure compliance by offering (or withholding) rewards.  It is clearly the favoured mode of most businesses and, indeed, the way many in public service see their jobs.  Within a project environment, or where you are creating organisational change, offering rewards to team members can be very effective.

From contributor of the month awards to completion bonuses to overtime payments, projects all over the world use this approach.

But here’s the problem: what if you don’t have access to any form of reward?

The first answer is easy:  you do.  You simply need to think more widely about the term “reward”.  For many people, the biggest rewards in the workplace cost neither your organisation nor you a single Pound, Dollar, Euro or Yen.

What Really gets People Happy at Work

A while ago, I recall reading an article that reported a survey of UK workplaces across the private, public and voluntary sectors.  In all three, and at all levels, the three things that people got most from being at work were:

  • their relationships with colleagues
  • the respect of their peers
  • recognition for their efforts

That’s Not Enough Reward: What else?

Etzioni’s third form of organisational power is the big one for change initiatives and project work.  He called it “Normative Power”.  In simple terms, people will willingly do what they believe in.  If you can show people the purpose, value or meaning in what you are trying to achieve, then they will do it not for you; not for your organisation; not even for themselves.  They will do it for its own sake.

The “so what?”

Mike’s first rule of project influence: “Show me the purpose”

More rules to come …


3 thoughts on “No Authority

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