Tag 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

 

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.

_______________________

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.

Three Factors Common to All Projects

I’ve worked on projects for a diverse range of industries – including government, third sector, and global businesses, and in a recent interview, I was asked if there are any commonalities I came up against.

I think there are more things in common than not; after all, projects are a human enterprise and people are pretty much the same anywhere.  I would highlight three main themes.

The Need for Control

Wherever there are projects and project managers, the central concern is always to bring control to a complex and uncertain environment.  Project managers have found numerous ways but increasingly, I am seeing a strong desire for the organisation to improve its governance procedures to seize control at a strategic level.  This can only be right, ensuring precious and limited resources are properly deployed to build valuable assets for the future.

One of my signature phrases in keynotes, seminars and training is that what project managers crave, above all else, is control. I see the discipline of project management as being about imposing control on a large, unfamiliar, complex and novel environment. This is why all of my training and writing emphasises the need to create control – including my latest book: How to Manage a Great Project, in which I the eight simple steps to do just that.

Risks and Mistakes

I also see similar risks and the same mistakes being made across all sectors. The biggest difference here is the lesser ability of the statutory and regulated sectors to hide their mistakes under the carpet.   Good example is the sunk cost trap – the implicit political (with a small p) decision to keep going with projects that are no longer viable or just no longer valuable.  The fear of losing face dominates the waste of future resources.  The private sector can more effectively hide the unwanted assets in the back of a cupboard, and lose the wasted expenditure in large, amorphous budget headings.  For all the right reasons, the public sector’s mistakes are subject to greater scrutiny.

Blogger and project manager, Glen Alleman, describes risk management as the way grown-ups manage projects and I agree. Risk management needs to be far more clearly recognised in the project management community as a sophisticated and valuable discipline. This is why I wrote Risk Happens!– to provide a resource for everyday project managers (not just those managing the mega projects that can afford a risk specialist) to learn more about practical day-to-day project risk management tools and techniques.

The Importance of Stakeholders

In all sectors it is stakeholders and stakeholder engagement that need to take centre stage, along with risk management, in a mature project management culture. Too often, project managers are still over-immersed in the technical and programmatic details of their project and then wonder why users, bystanders and even customers don’t like the outcomes.

I am committed to seeing this change, which is why my next book, The Influence Agenda (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2014, will be about project stakeholder engagement. In this, I include sections on creating a stakeholder engagement culture and on ethical stakeholder engagement.   At its heart, however, just like in Risk Happens!, I have tried to create a core of practical day-to-day tools and techniques to act as a resource for project managers and project team members who do not have a communications background.

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton.Risk Happens! by Mike Clayton.The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

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

Instant Change

The military has some of the very best management ideas.  I wrote about how to apply the principles of the OODA Loop to management in my first book, the Management Models Pocketbook.  I will also be writing about BLUF in my new book, Brilliant Influence.

The military has also got the answer to creating near instant changes in mind-set.  Most of my readers have probably seen one or two of the many war films that start with new recruits arriving at boot camp.  Memorable films for me include: Full Metal Jacket, An Officer and a Gentleman and Platoon.  Some of my readers may be in or retired from the forces and know the truth of it.

One thing is for sure: new recruits are all treated the same and all are subjected to a regime that marks a clear distinction from their former civilian life.  Institutional food and clothing; rigidly enforced rules, some of which seem arbitrary (and some may be); and a focus on the group over the individual are all designed to do three things:

  1. Create a tangible break from what came before
  2. Establish authority and compliance
  3. Strip away some of the norms of previous behaviour, to make way for new norms

How does this apply to organisational change?

Kurt Lewin anyone?  This sounds to me very much like “unfreezing” – the first phase of Lewin’s “Freeze Phases” model for creating change.  More a “flash thaw” I suppose.

I learn one powerful thing from this.  In this environment, nobody lays out the changes to the new recruits and asks them to embrace the change.  There’s no attempt to win over minds and hearts.

We often think “change attitudes and behaviours will follow”.  I think this example serves to illustrate that the opposite can work too.  After thousands of years of organised military forces, we know that ”change behaviours and attitudes will follow” can also work.

Still Curious

A while back, I wrote the post “Diving into Change where I suggested that we can all do with diving in feet first sometimes.  I wonder if the same is true organisationally.  I wonder when ”change behaviours and attitudes will follow” is right in organisations.  I wonder how many broken organisations might benefit from some courage in this direction.

The “so what?”

Is this an option for you?  Should it be?  At least consider it.
If you do, however, be sure you put as much planning into it as you can – it could be a one-shot process.

McClelland and Me

Authority without Power

I spent many happy years as a project manager.  And like most project managers, I could often be heard complaining about the whole “authority without power” thing.

My friend and colleague, Ron Rosenhead, and I spoke this morning – we’d both heard it very recently from audiences and trainees.  In fact, I heard it yesterday, and Ron was discussing it with a client just last week.  It set me thinking …

Why do we do it?

Why do project managers thrive, when we often do not have the organisational horsepower to command, despite our love of control?

I don’t mean “How do we thrive?” which was a large part of yesterday’s course.  That’s about the techniques we use and I’ll be writing more about that in the future, I am sure.  In the meantime, check out this earlier blog if you’ve not seen it: “No Authority.”

I mean “Why do we thrive?”

McClelland2 I think the answer lies in the work of David McClelland.

McClelland suggested we all have three needs, and their relative strengths determines a large element of our motivation.  Consequently, they help to explain why some of us are successful in our work roles and others are not.

We need to look, briefly, at these three needs:

The Need for Power
Our drive to take charge, be in command and acquire prestige.

The Need for Affiliation
Our deep desire to live sociable, friendly and harmonious lives.

The Need for Achievement
Our drive to succeed, excel and overcome problems

For more detail, check out The Management Models Pocketbook.

Spotted it?

My theory is that, for most project managers, our need for achievement outweighs our need for power.  We are motivated by challenges and problems so, whilst we may complain about authority without power – or even no authority at all, really and truly, we see it as a challenge.

Is my theory correct?  You’ll tell me if it chimes with you (I hope – contribute below, please).  All I can say is: “ask my wife.”


The “so what?”

Read more about McClelland – and any theories about motivation; one of your jobs as a change manager, project manager, leader, whatever, is to motivate; answer my poll; learn more about influence.

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 …