Category Archives: communication

Influence and Persuasion for Project Managers

Influence Without Authority

Unlike day-to-day managers, most project managers have little or no formal authority over our team-members. This means that anything you want me to do, you have to persuade me. For project managers, the arts of influence and persuasion are a core skill set.

Most of us have developed a facility with structured, logical thinking that allows us to easily create a credible and coherent argument for what we plan to do. But have you noticed that being right is rarely enough to persuade someone? Analytical reasoning is merely a starting point for influencing team-members, stakeholders and project sponsors.

How to be influential

A large part of influence lies in your day-to-day actions, your attitudes, and your approach. If people are to follow your lead, they will need to like and respect you, which means you actions must carry your convictions and integrity with them all of the time.

Influential Actions

Start with the absolute basics: courtesy and respectfulness. It costs nothing to be polite, but you will be surprised how much difference it makes in a world where many stressed out PMs have short tempers and feign entitlement to the loyalty of their teams and support of their stakeholders. A generous attitude is also a valuable asset. People remember favours and simple concessions and you may be surprised how powerful the “I’ve scratched your back…” principle can be in building loyalty. But above all, our sense of fairness means that you absolutely must ensure that you follow through on any promises or commitments you make. To not do so would invite a reciprocal approach from others and your influence will drop to zero as people will no longer trust you to keep your word.

Influential Attitudes

Your attitude to your project and your people will be under test throughout. Primarily you should be cultivating the kind of attitudes that people find attractive and lead them to want to follow you. Whilst people respect calm detachment and a realistic assessment of the situation, they are drawn to optimism. So if you can find your own way to balance these two attitudes, you can win both respect and liking. Tenacity is another character trait that we both like and respect, but again, a dogmatic attitude to constant repetition will undermine your reputation, but a robust adaptability will leave stakeholders and team members willing to follow your lead.

A Choice of Approaches

Ultimately the question of what sort of Project Manager you are will come down to the approach you take to influencing people. The three approaches we commonly see can be characterized as “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, and I am sure you have met them all in the course of your career.

“The Bad” is that style of influence that depends solely of assertion. Some projects managers seem as though they cannot help themselves but coerce and compel actions with either the promise of great rewards or the threat of some kind of sanctions. Clearly celebrating success and small appropriate team incentives are a vital part of good project management. But when the promises are hollow and the threats get personal, there is only one name for this behavior: bullying.

Some PMs are far more subtle. They make you feel as though you want to do something for them but, at the same time, you don’t feel good about it. Often, you cannot put your finger on what feels wrong and this is a sure sign that you have been the victim of manipulation. This is “The Ugly”.

“The Good” influence has total integrity. You offer genuine choice, and people accept your ideas and act as you ask, because they want to. You have made your case and they feel good about supporting you. Often, when people feel tis kind of loyalty to a positively influential colleague, they will more for you than you ask. Investing over the long-term in your reputation as a generous, respectful, and optimistic leader, who perseveres sensibly and addresses their own commitments consistently is perhaps the best professional investment you can make.

Ten Persuasion Tactics

No matter how positively influential you are, it always helps to have a few handy persuasion tips up your sleeve, so here are ten of my personal favourites, from my book, ‘How to Influence in Any Situation (Brilliant Influence)’.

The “Your Doctor would Tell you to…” Principle

Why do we trust doctors and follow their advice? We trust them because we know that they have had years’ of relevant training and experience. Well so have you. As a project manager you have gained the scars and war stories, and will also have access to the experience and knowledge of your senior team members and experts. When you deploy these together, you have a massive level of credibility. Wear it lightly, but do ensure the people you need to persuade are aware of it.

The “Jiminy Cricket” Effect

Do you recall that, in the movie, Jiminy Cricket was appointed to be Pinocchio’s conscience? You, me, and everyone* has a Jiminy Cricket organ – a part of our brains that makes us feel bad if we are about to break or promise or renege on a commitment. The most important part of triggering the Jiminy Cricket effect is to secure a clear commitment, and the more prominent it is, then the stronger the effect will be. Look them in the eye and ask for their commitment. Step up the effect by doing it in a formal setting and, better still, in front of other colleagues. Amplify it to the max by ding it in writing. Then, courteously remind them of their commitment two or three times in the run-up to your deadline.


 

* Actually, not quite everyone. Some personalities lack the feelings of guilt that most of us have, when we let other people down. Sadly, these people are not susceptible to most forms of influence and subtle persuasion and are most easily influenced by compulsion or self-interest.


The “Eight out of Ten Cat Owners” Principle

In my childhood, a UK TV advert asserted that “eight out of ten cat owners, who expressed a preference, said their cat prefers…” Why did this advert work? Well, because despite loving their pets, few cat or dog owners taste their pet’s food. So how do they know what to buy? But, if other loving pet owners have made their choice, then perhaps the safest option is to go with their judgement. This is known as ‘social proof’ and, where the stakes are low and we think we are like the crowd, then we feel good doing what they do. It saves making a decision for ourselves.

The “Follow Me” Effect

People like to follow crowds, and leaders too. So, if you show enough confidence in yourself, and confidently expect people to follow, they often will. Leading from the front or “role model leadership” is a powerful persuader. Often, the most powerful way to deploy this is to not even ask: just do.

The “WAM” Principle

WAM stands for “what about me?” This is the most basic persuader of all: self-interest. Where you can properly align your request with my self-interest, I will comply readily. So put yourself in other people’s shoes and ask “what’s in it for you?” When you understand the answer, you will have the basis for easy motivation and persuasion. This is the fundamental approach to the influence aspect of stakeholder engagement [link back to my previous blog].

The “Who are You to Tell Me?” Principle

Without the WAM factor, there is almost always one thing you need to establish before you try to persuade anyone of anything: “who are you to tell me?” We want to know the credentials of anyone who is trying to persuade us. Can we trust them? Do they understand our position? Do they know what they are talking about? Are they one of us? Watch any half-way competent professional politician and you will see that they spend more of their time on these aspects of persuasion than they do on mounting their argument for any particular policy or position. And the reason is simple: if they fail to establish their character and credibility, we won’t listen to anything else.

The “Structured Response” Effect

When you make your argument, you must make it in as clear and concise a way as possible. The more confusing you are, the less I’ll be persuaded. The more you repeat yourself, the lower your influence will be. So take care to structure your advocacy or responses with a clear context, point of view, and reason.

The “Why Should I Care?” Principle

People rarely make their choices based on the facts and the logic. What we do is decide based on our emotional response to the situation, and then use the analysis and evidence that you give us, to justify our choice – both to others and to ourselves. As an influencer and persuader, you neglect the emotional dimension at your peril. It is simply not true that emotions have no place in project management.

The “Welcome the Ah but…” Principle

Project managers fear resistance from the team members and our stakeholders. But in truth, it’s a good thing. It means you are getting genuine engagement with your ideas. Listen to it, because you may just learn something. But if you believe you are right, the simple strategy is always to keep inviting every last objection. When you’ve dealt with them all; when you’ve ‘emptied the hopper’, then there will be no resistance left.

The “Make ‘em Feel Smart” Principle

Most project managers and all of the experts and specialists on your projects are smart, very smart. And you all have a tendency to show this off and use long words, jargon and even formulae to prove it. Wrong! People won’t trust you if they don’t fully understand you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t do or think as you ask. You will fail to persuade them. On the other hand, if the think they understand deeply, because you have explained clearly, in simple terms, with analogies, pictures and simple lists, then they will feel smart, they will trust you, and they will say to themselves “yes, that’s right; I get it.”


This article was first published on the ProjectManager.com website on 26 August, 2015, as 10 Ways to Influence Without Authority.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’, and ‘How to Influence in Any Situation’.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

Plan your Stakeholder Engagement Campaign

You are a project manager. You care about getting things right. So you plan meticulously, identify threats and take steps to mitigate them. The only thing that can get in your way now is one thing: people.

What all experienced project managers know is that it is your stakeholders who will ultimately determine whether your project is deemed a success… or not. So you need to be equally rigorous in planning your campaign for engaging with your stakeholders, to learn from them, build their trust, and ultimately influence their attitudes.

So what are the components of a stakeholder engagement plan, and how can you determine the best strategy for each?

Identify the and Understand the stakeholders with whom you need to engage

In my previous blog, I discussed techniques that will help you to identify and analyse your stakeholders. For major stakeholders whom you choose to prioritise, you will probably want to create a detailed engagement plan for each of them. For others, you will want a plan that has several strands, clustering approaches and messages around groups of stakeholders with similar needs, perspectives or other characteristics.

Determine the message you need to communicate, and the right tone to adopt

For each stakeholder, the next step is to consider the message or messages that you need to convey. Over the course of a long project, you may need to build up a narrative that evolves as more information becomes available, or as the stakeholder’s attitudes shift. One tip project managers can usefully take from the political campaigning process is to devise a ‘message calendar’ – a week-by-week (possibly even day-by-day) schedule of the messages that you want to put out or the engagement process you want to pursue.

As important as the message itself is the tone of voice you adopt. Do you wish to be consulting or commanding, informing or instructing, requesting or requiring? With each stakeholder and at each stage in your engagement plan, the tone may be different. But it is vital that you determine the right tone before creating your message. This way, you can test out how it comes across before publishing. Let’s face it: how many of us have sent an email and not thought about tone, and then discovered the receiver reacted in a way we had not expected nor wanted?

Decide what medium will get your message across most effectively

One of the joys of project work is the vast array of options you have for how to communicate a message. Aside from the world’s best medium (face-to-face, communicating in a shared first language) and its worst (email) media, there are many to choose from. And your job is to select those that best meet the needs of your audience; your stakeholders. Don’t simply pick the most convenient to your team.

An early consideration in choosing media is the extent to which you want many stakeholders to get the same message at the same time (broadcast media) or for each stakeholder to get a highly differentiated message (narrowcast media). Some media, of course, can offer both options (for example, many web technologies).

You will also want to note that some media are better at informing and explaining, while others lend themselves better to consultation and involvement. Still others are well-suited to genuine collaboration and partnering.

Selecting a Communication Medium according to your Strategic Posture

Selecting a Communication Medium according to your Strategic Posture

A final consideration will be the nature of the message itself: what is the degree of emotional content (which suggests a personal versus impersonal medium) and what is the level of complexity and sophistication of your message, which will determine whether long-form or short-form approaches will work better.

Find an approach that will motivate the change you want to encourage

A lot of your stakeholder communication will be targeted towards encouraging a change. We shan’t consider the skills of influence and persuasion in this blog. But what I do want to suggest is that, in motivating a change, you do need, as a project manager, to properly understand the range of different motivators that you can deploy.

The range starts at the bottom, with the most fundamental motivators, the needs for safety and security. However, these motivators have something of the ‘if you don’t do this, something bad will happen’ flavor. Whilst aversive motivation is powerful, it is largely a bullying tactic and therefore one to avoid if you possibly can. I would say that this is even the case where something bad really can happen, as in the case of health and safety, or compliance, projects.

Of course, people like rewards and motivating with the promise of a personal gain or benefit of some sort will appeal to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor. However, a lot of recent research shows that this is a poor motivator and fairly ineffectual, unless the person you seek to motivate is either craving the reward on offer in advance, or they feel no other reward is on offer.

Social motivation factors, like enhanced status, strengthened relationships, recognition by peers, and respect, are powerful and have integrity. And feeling of being part of a social group also creates other powerful motivators like preservation of reputation, loyalty, and duty. These motivators are powerful assets in a project manager’s toolkit – not just for stakeholder engagement, but team leadership as well.

Finally, intrinsic motivators are the most profound of all. This is where you lead others to doing something for their own reasons, pride, achievement, or a sense of contribution, maybe. The three most widely used in project environments are giving stakeholders a sense of control, making clear the underlying purpose and value of the project, and creating opportunities for stakeholders to learn, develop and become more capable. Once again, these motivators are also valuable to project managers in the team leadership role.

Set up your engagement schedule

What would a plan be without timescales? Schedule your engagement activities into your wider project plan. It is best if you treat this as a work-stream within a master plan, rather than a wholly separate activity. It is also wise to avoid integrating engagement activities with other activity works-streams, because in that way you risk mixed messages and mis-timings occurring between communications with different stakeholder groups who may, nonetheless, be in contact with one-another.

Allocate responsibilities for components of your plan

A dedicated work-stream needs a work-stream leader. If you are to take stakeholder engagement management seriously on your larger projects, then you will need a Stakeholder Engagement Manager. Whether you have one or not, like any other project activities, each engagement activity needs to be clearly allocated to a named individual. As project manager, you will inevitably be drawn into a lot of stakeholder engagement activities (this is not strictly true – see the box) so take care to ensure that you only allocate to yourself those stakeholder activities that only you can really add value to. In addition, stakeholder engagement is a great opportunity to fully engage your project sponsor in contributing to your project in high-value ways that less senior and well-connected people cannot.


Front-of-house and Back-of-house Project Managers

One nice model of project management job-sharing is not used as much as it could be. It clearly requires a great relationship, high levels of trust and immaculate co-ordination between the role-holders, but it can work magnificently.

 

This is the idea of two project managers who face in two different directions: one inward, to the team, and one outward, to the client and external stakeholders. The former, back-of-house PM may be a logical, detail focused, task-oriented and technical expert with a bent for administration. As long as their team respects them, they do not need to be a gregarious, confident communicator, if that role is filled by the front-of-house PM.

 

‘Who is the project manager?’ you ask. If you ask the team members, you will get a different answer to that you will get from the stakeholders. But working together can free each up to excel in one arena.


 

Create a mechanism to receive, evaluate, and act on feedback from your stakeholders

Have you ever sent a message and wondered if it had arrived? Or, if you know that it did, did it get opened? Or read? Or understood? Or acted upon? There are so many ways for our communication to go wrong that it is vital that you set up a way of gauging the results of your engagement process continually. You need to find ways to listen to your stakeholders, and hear their feedback. You will want to take that and consider carefully what it is telling you and, crucially, if you do this, you need a way to channel what you are learning from your stakeholders into your wider project decision process.

This is why we engage with stakeholders, rather than simply trying to ‘manage’ them. These are the people who will determine the success, or not, of your project. Their perceptions, insights, and ideas are the raw material from which you can turn a good idea into a successful outcome.


This article was first published on the ProjectManager.com website on 24 June, 2015.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

Speak Truth to Power

Honesty is simple, but it is not always easy.  Among the hardest things a change leader or project manager has to do, are those conversations that relay uncomfortable truths.

It is not just because we don’t like the discomfort of it all, or because we cherish our popularity; there is a real risk that, if it goes badly, the conversation can derail the whole project or initiative.

Hijacked Agenda

Giving people bad or uncomfortable or unwanted news can flip their focus from the rational to the irrational, and their response can become unpredictable.  The one message can become the whole deal for them.  And if they have sufficient power, they can hijack a whole agenda.

Continue reading