Category Archives: Influence

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

 

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What can you learn from your local supermarket?

Supermarkets place premium goods at eye level, they put sweets and magazines near the checkout counter and use point of sale advertising throughout the store, they offer trial packs and free tastings, they attract us round corners into aisles with goods we don’t need, and they pump the smell of baking bread throughout the store and also into the street.

You know that. And you know why they do it too: to influence us to buy as much stuff as possible. But aren’t you, as a project manager, in the same business? Isn’t it your job to influence your stakeholders, to help them make the choices that will be of benefit to your project?

So when was the last time you thought about the psychology of influencing choices?

In his best-selling book, The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard wrote about how marketers and advertisers try to manipulate our hopes, needs, and fears. That was in 1957, and since then, there has been a revolution in our understanding of how human psychology works, when we make choices.

At the forefront of this research are people like Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler, Paul Slovic, and the late Amos Tversky (see this earlier post). Their research has uncovered, in a systematic way, the biases that human beings are subject to: a rich topic for risk management and the assessment of risk – but here, I am talking about stakeholder engagement. If you can understand the way we make judgement, then you can reduce inappropriate bias.

If you understand how I make choices, you can direct me towards the ‘right choice’. Richard Thaler has given a compelling name for the way that choosing the right question can give the right answer. He calls it ‘Choice Architecture’. It is not just the question that matters; it is also they way you ask it and the context in which you ask it.

Was passing through Schipol Airport recently. It has one of the most famous examples of choice architecture, and one I noticed when I was first there, in 1990. Printed under the glaze of the urinals is a life-size likeness of a fly. Given the choice, where do men tend to aim? The reward for the airport is less need to clean floors.

This is a simple and effective example, but there are many more practical ways to nudge choices in the right direction. Let me select a couple more from the thirty examples in The Influence Agenda.

Human beings feel a strong need to conform and fit in with expected norms of behavior. When the UK tax authority, HM Revenue and Customs, notified people (factually) that most people pay their tax on time, collection rates increased significantly.

People often do the easy thing and take the default option, rather than actively select the alternative. So which default do you set? In the six months after employees in large UK firms were first automatically enrolled into pension schemes, participation rates rose from 61 to 83 per cent. People did not opt out. Is it any wonder that many medical practitioners want to reverse the default on organ donation?

I am not a great believer in specializing. I have always found that project management gives us a wonderful platform to read, learn and practice widely across very many disciplines. If you are a project manager who sticks rigidly to the practice you learned many years ago, then you won’t be at the top of your game for long.

And if you are not keeping up to date with latest research into behavioural psychology, then you will be missing the chance to influence your stakeholders as effectively as you could.


This article was first published on the APM (Association for Project Management) website on 21 August, 2014.

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

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

More to Learn

Richard Thaler and Daniel Kahneman have both written best selling, highly authoritative, and easy-to-read books that should also (along with The Influence Agenda) be on the reading list of every project manager.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is one of my top 5 books for business people, managers, leaders and professionals. Read it. If the ideas are new to you, it will rock your world.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness is by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. It is the book that brought the ideas of behavioural economics and choice architecture to the public (and to our politicians).

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics is Richard Thaler’s ‘big book’ – a retrospective that emulates Kahneman’s approach in ‘Thinking’.

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

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

What is your Influence Agenda?

Some things are cliches for a very good reason: they are true, and there is no other way to say them. So, when I say that change is a constant feature of organisational life, I am not trying to be clever, just to make a commonplace observation.

Another commonplace of organisational life is that unless you can engage your stakeholders and win their support, your change is doomed to fail. So what are you doing to build and manage a credible campaign of engaging and influencing your stakeholders?

Mission and Vision

Your organisation has a purpose, or mission, and also, I expect, a vision for its future. We translate this into a strategy for change, and from that, we develop a programme of changes that are fully aligned to these.

Stakeholder Engagement Goals

From this, you also need to derive a stakeholder engagement goals that state what you need to achieve, to maximise your chances of project or programme success, in terms of your change goals. Your influence agenda is a systematic campaign for achieving your stakeholder engagement goals.

A Systematic Campaign

Your campaign must have a number of essential elements:

  1. Identify who your stakeholders (literally, anyone who has any interest in what you are doing) are
  2. Analyse them to understand, characterise, and prioritise your stakeholders
  3. Plan your campaign and the messages you need to deliver
  4. Act on your plan and engage your stakeholders to influence their attitudes and actions
  5. Maintain your campaign under constant review

How to Influence

At the core of your Influence Agenda is the process of influencing. There are four forms of influence you can adopt:

  1. Hard power
    – the influence of status – rarely effective in a sustainable way
  2. Economic power
    – the influence of exchange – most effective for short-term persuasion
  3. Soft power
    – the influence of attraction – the way to build long-term influence
  4. Hidden power
    – the influence of the unconscious – how to influence choices in the moment

Of these, soft power will be by far the most important, and I will look more at this in a later LinkedIn post.

Learn from Geopolitics

Nations use all of these forms of power. Hard power is military and diplomatic coercion; economic power is trading and sanctions; soft power is aid and cultural exchange; and hidden power is the way policy makes certain choices more desirable.

As with politics, so with organisations. You will be most successful when you get the balance right. But one thing is absolutely for sure: if you believe in the change you are seeking to implement, then deploying a structured influence agenda is not an option. All that remains then, is how you plan and manage your campaign.

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The Influence Agenda by Mike ClaytonThe Influence Agenda
is the new book by Mike Clayton

Learn more about the book, watch some videos, and download templates and other resources, at www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk

Earlier posts that you might also like:

– What is Stakeholder Engagement? 
– Fragmentation of Power and the Need to Influence

Fragmentation of Power and the Need to Influence

An important feature of power in organisations is its fragmentation across many dimensions.

In a typical large corporation, Government department, public authority, or charity, power divides among many departments, and often across different geographical elements. Indeed, many corporations are now made up of individual trading businesses, each vying with one another for power: in some the competition between them is an unfortunate consequence of human nature; in others it is engineered into the situation by senior executives.

Tactical Response

This fragmentation results in a highly tactical approach to influencing stakeholders. Different parts of the organisation prioritise different stakeholders, and even send conflicting messages. Take, for example: the customers whom the sales team might prioritise, the staff, whom the personnel function will favour, the media, whom the public affairs team focus on, and the suppliers that the purchasing team work with. Whilst there is a genuine community of interest among them, tactical communications often create mixed messages. An organisation must take a strategic view to ensure that it emphasises common themes.

Unscrambling Complex Systems

Increasingly, we hear of organisations described as complex systems of interacting and interdependent agents. The role of the organisation is to find and exploit opportunities for the whole system to benefit. The system metaphor is seductive and doubtless highly valuable, but its very complexity makes it somewhat intractable to the average manager or change leader.

A profitable starting place for simplifying this complexity is to borrow from Six Sigma, a structured methodology to drive process improvement, developed in the 1980s by Motorola. An important concept in Six Sigma is that of Xs and Ys.

A Y is a measure of output performance.
It is an effect of the process. Motorola talked of Big Ys as the things that matter most to the business’s most critical customers.

An X is a cause – a factor, variable or process element which can affect the outcome.
The Big Xs are the factors that have the greatest impact on Big Ys.

The way we simplify the complexity of a highly inter-connected system of stakeholders is to look for the Big Ys and then for the Big Xs.

Applying Big Xs and Big Ys to a campaign of Influence

In our case, the Big Ys represent the important changes you want to create by exerting your influence: your outcomes.

The Big Xs are the stakeholders who can have maximum impact upon those outcomes.

Your first step in creating a successful campaign of influence is to prioritise your stakeholders. But do not be seduced into a simplistic analysis that equates position or power with impact on outcomes. The process of analysing stakeholders needs to be a lot more sophisticated, reviewing webs of influence, needs, interests and attitudes too.

Do yo know who the Big Xs are for your organisation, your project, or your change initiative? If you don’t: you should.

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The Influence Agenda by Mike ClaytonThis is the approach I take in The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change. It is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

What Machiavelli can teach us

ThePrince I was listening to Jonathan Powell on the radio recently, talking about his new book, “The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World“, about Tony Blair’s term as Prime Minister.  Powell was Blair’s Chief of Staff and uses Machiavelli’s “The Prince” as a hook for his book.

Having started drawing lessons from one mediaeval text (Hagakure – the Way of the Samurai) for earlier blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I thought I might flick through my tattered copy of The Prince and look for some gems.

Continue reading

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

True Vision or just Good Words

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the poverty of language used in corporate environments.  People seem to swing to one of two extremes:

  • Complex, jargon heavy language, wrapped in convoluted syntax
  • Simplistic statements that tend to hyperbole and cliché

L-Hand On the one hand, authors of management drivel seem to think that the more jargon they can use and the longer their sentences, then the more intelligent they will appear.  Either that, or they are afraid that they will expose their own weak understanding of a complex situation, if they tried to explain it clearly.

R-Hand On the other hand, some authors take the commendable “keep it simple, stupid” message to extremes.  They move from simple to simplistic in one smooth sashay and, in so doing, lose the meaning or distort the truth.

Whatever happened to style and structure?

Yes; I am aware that, on this topic, I am sitting in a glass house, throwing stones outwards.

It’s a Vision Thing

Many organisations have picked up on the need to create a compelling vision to drive their change programmes.  Some project managers have even embraced the value of articulating their project goal with a clear vision.

The problem is that most vision statements contain no vision.  They are often crafted by a committee, following a “visioning” workshop, or are put together in a rush, as an afterthought.

For a vision statement to have vision, it must create images in our minds.  Let’s look at two versions of a powerful vision statement and see how they compare on those stakes.

Version 1.

“I have a vision for an ethnically diverse society in which everybody has full equality of opportunity and where we can harness the synergies of a multi-ethnic workforce, collaborating to construct an enhanced society.”

Version 2.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!”

No prizes for knowing whose is the latter version.  The question is, how inspired would people have been by version 1?  It cover all the right topics, but it is devoid of the vision it claims.

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Let us Compare the Two

What is it that Dr King was able to do with his rhetoric?  I am no expert, but it is clear that the real difference is that King’s words create images in our mind and sensations in our bodies.

Phrases like “sit down together at a table of freedom” and “sweltering with the heat of injustice” and “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls” lodge in your mind and cannot be moved.

Move People

If you are trying to move people, I think your language needs an emotional charge; I think it needs to be precise; and I think it needs to engage the senses.

It seems to me that, when thinking about creating change, and the need to move people’s attitudes from one place to another, it is no coincidence that the word “move” has two meanings.

I can move you physically and I can move you emotionally.  Can you move your people from one culture to another, or from one way of doing things to another, without also moving them emotionally?

How wonderful language is.  Let’s use it to its fullest extent.

The “so what?”

Take a look at the words you use to describe your project and the vision you have created for your change programme.  Does it move you?  Do the words craft magic, conjour images, entrance and captivate?  If not, you have a job to do.

Remember, the pen is mightier than the keyboard.  Take a fine writing implement and a fresh sheet of paper.