Many project professionals find themselves in a position where they need to influence the decisions or actions of others, but lack the authority to impose an outcome. The ability to influence others is particularly important when managing teams in a matrix organization or when working as a consultant or expert advising line management or project management.
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Editionincludes influencing in its list of key interpersonal skills and provides a brief outline in Appendix X3.5. Here are some practical options for building and using influence to benefit a project.
One of the standard references defining the problem and offering practical solutions is Influence Without Authorityby U.S. professors Dr. Allan Cohen and Dr. David Bradford. This book introduces the Cohen-Bradford Influence Without Authority (IWA) model that describes how to influence others through a give-and-take exchange. The model consists of six steps, starting with “Assume all are potential allies.” Then it moves with:
· “Clarify your goals and priorities”
· “Diagnose the world of the other person”
· “Identify relevant currencies, theirs and yours”
· “Dealing with relationships”, and
· Finally at the top, “Influence through give-and-take”
The IWA model is based on creating something of value to “trade” and then obtaining the best return from your investment. It is subtly different to the transactional approach of What’s in it for Me (WIFM).
WIFM focuses on finding a value proposition that provides a direct benefit to the stakeholders you want help from. It is a simple “trade” — if they help you achieve your project outcomes, they benefit from the success. WIFM is effective in situations where a senior stakeholder (e.g., the sponsor) can directly benefit from helping you succeed.
IWA is more effective when there is no direct benefit for the stakeholder you need help from and is based on “trading favors” or, more simply, the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” approach. We can and often do intuitively understand the give-and-take in a transaction for small things, such as sharing the effort to pick up the morning coffee. However, for large complex transactions, we need to be more methodical and think through our processes, goals and interests, those of our allies and those of the stakeholders we need to influence.
For starters, project managers who use IWA effectively know they get work done by working well within their peer network. If someone does something for the project manager, there’s a good chance the project manager will do something for him or her in return. It’s a two-way trade that benefits everyone. But even so, influencing without authority isn’t an easy task. The key to IWA is creating and banking “organizational currency” in advance of the time you need to use it.
Organizational currency comes in many formats:
· The ability to highlight and publicize good performance
· The ability to make useful connections for the person
· Useful or valuable information (for the stakeholder)
· Developing a good relationship that both people value
· Providing help or assistance needed by the other person
· Personal support, coaching or mentoring
Keep in mind you need to invest your time and effort to earn organizational currency with your stakeholders before you can “spend” it. Time isn’t a luxury many project managers can afford, but investing in relationship-building will ultimately help you to be more productive and generate quicker consensus with project team members, peers in the organization and senior managers.
The two key takeways for successful IWA? First, recognize that “give” comes before “take” in “give-and-take,” and second, make sure what you give is of value to the people you are engaging within their world. You need to understand what is important or useful to them.
What’s your number-one tip for influencing without authority?
By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
A portfolio manager’s key responsibility is to sell your idea — whether it’s to incorporate innovations into the portfolio, to advocate for portfolio management processes or to champion the establishment of a portfolio. And one of the most powerful ways to sell is to have great presentation skills. The next time you have to present your portfolio strategy to executives or conduct a meeting, think about the simple acronym that can ensure SUCCESS:
I always think in terms of the outcome of my presentation or meeting first: what is the one thing you want to people to remember, do, think or feel differently as a result of your presentation.
· Now, work this core message until it’s clear and concise. As portfolio managers, we need to be experts at distilling a tremendous amount of information into the “critical few” points — think bullet points rather than paragraphs.
· Be aware that too much detail will cloud the message, cause confusion, and delay buy-in. Strip away the unnecessary elements and leave your audience with the essence.
· Don’t add jargon, industry-specific terms (i.e., technology or project management), or try to be too trendy. Spell out acronyms, and try to stay away from anything that requires a dictionary to interpret. I once had a project manager refer to a “wheelhouse,” and I had to look it up to see what it meant. For the record, it refers to “an area of expertise.” But ultimately, ask yourself: Do you want people to wonder what your message is? Or do you want them to quickly grasp it?
· Instead of just jumping into facts, keep the audience’s attention by opening and closing gaps in their knowledge. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself, “What do they know, and what don’t they know?” Open with something they don’t know to grab their attention.
· Then, try to highlight a few ‘a-ha’s” and lead them to the desired outcome. Is your audience interested in the process, or just your portfolio inventory of the programs and projects? Highlight a few programs and projects with interesting facts rather than reviewing the entire list of programs and projects.
· Create curiosity, interest or concern in what you are going to tell them before you tell them. For example, you might say that it’s commonly thought that there are 100 critical projects within the portfolio, but your analysis show that it’s actually 10 critical projects. This way, you are also selling your value as a portfolio manager — anyone can come up with a list of projects, but only you can analyze and bring recommendations.
· Remove abstract language or ideas from your message, and replace them with concrete language or ideas (tied to a tangible/physical item that people can relate to).
· Use sensory language to paint a mental picture. Give an example.
· When selling a new portfolio management process, say “good portfolio management is like having a well-balanced 401k.”
Use “good statistics” — ones that aid a decision or shape an opinion and humanize your statistics by bringing them closer to people’s day-to-day experience.
Make the statistics or examples relevant by placing them into the frame of everyday life. For example: “I compare the portfolio roadmap to having a detailed guide for a trip from NY to LA so that every major stop can be accounted for.”
· Don’t rely solely on logic to sell your presentation.
· Create empathy for specific individuals affected by what you are trying to sell. Say things such as: “Given that it currently takes five people two weeks to manually put together the reports needed, my new portfolio management process will now free up three people and reduce the time to five days.”
· Show that your ideas are associated with things people already care about. Within a large company, that may be increasing efficiency, increasing shareholder value, meeting compliance and regulatory demands and increasing employee satisfaction.
· Use stories so your message relates to the audience and reflects your core message. Use specific examples, preferably yours, of why it’s worked (i.e., “When I worked at our competitor’s and implemented this portfolio management process, it resulted in an increased ROI from 50 percent to 85 percent within six months.”). Another thing that works well: A brief acknowledgement that your method is a best practice within the industry, based on your extensive research.
· Finally, don’t forget that the story should have emotional elements and draw from the other SUCCESS principles.
What are your tips for successfully presenting portfolio management to stakeholders?
As much as we wish these things didn’t occur, we sometimes find ourselves having to leave a project early or terminate a business engagement. This is always difficult to do, and how you do it can help you maintain your integrity and credibility throughout the transition.
Recently, I had to terminate a business relationship myself. Here are a few lessons that I learned that you can apply the next time you are in a similar situation.
1. Place the blame on yourself. I know you wouldn’t be leaving a project or quitting a business relationship if it were all your fault, but the key thing here is that you need to buck up and take responsibility for the business arrangement ending. There are several ways you can frame it to take the emphasis for the decision away from the other party. For example: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the ability to deliver the work to you in a manner that you have grown accustomed to” or “I find myself at a point where I don’t feel my presence best serves the project, and I think a new set of eyes is going to be helpful to getting things back on track.” Or, you can come up with your own. The point is that you take a little of the emphasis off the party that you are ending the relationship with and place it on yourself. This will lessen any bad blood or negativity from the decision. It is important to note that you must cast the decision in terms of your inability to continue to serve the client in a manner that he or she deserves.
2. If possible, present options for replacements.If you find yourself at a point of no return and need out of a business relationship, you can soften the blow even more if you provide alternatives. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “If I can’t work with this person or on this project, why would I refer them to someone else?” But the truth is, we are all in different businesses and at different stages of our career — and while your threshold for some clients may be zero, someone just starting out or looking to find a different focus may be more than willing to accept a challenge that you consider unnecessary. This goes back to the first point: If you can’t serve the client in the way that he or she deserves, you are doing the client a favor by removing yourself from the project and helping him or her find someone who can do better.
3. Be prepared for blowback.Even when these things go great, there will be some sort of blowback or negative impact. You might have spelled everything out with as much tact as a veteran diplomat, but you are still leaving the business relationship with a jilted partner who may lash out to other members of your organization or other potential business partners. In this instance, you can try to contain any negative feedback or impact on you and your career by preparing a standard statement that you give to everyone that explains your role in the dissolution of the relationship. It should cast a bad situation in the most favorable light for you. One I have used is: “I am sorry the project didn’t work out, but I made a series of unwise choices that made my effectiveness impossible, and to best serve the project, I felt it was best for me to step away.” That’s it — it isn’t perfect, but neither is the situation you find yourself in.
How have you found success in ending business relationships?
Join meon December 4, 2014, in my upcoming seminar on leadership in project management.
Leading With Integrity
A few months ago, I wrote about the essential principles of leadership, and one seemed to have really struck a chord with readers. That principle is integrity. And, as I prepared to write some thoughts on the role of integrity in leadership, several examples of why integrity is so important jumped to mind.
Take the case of the United States senator accused of plagiarizing his college thesis paper, or the seemingly lenient penalty that the National Football League commissioner laid down on one of the league's stars over a domestic violence incident, when other comparable infractions have drawn much stronger responses.
What these two situations have in common is a lack of integrity that, on the surface, seems to be driven by taking the easy way out. Integrity is often defined as "doing the right thing when no one is watching." I don't think that is an appropriate enough definition, though. Integrity is the act of doing the right thing, even if it is extremely difficult.
That being said, here are a few tips on how you can lead your project teams with integrity:
1. Lead honestly. The foundation of leadership and integrity is leading with honesty. You can't tell everyone everything they want to hear all the time and still get things done. Business doesn't work like that and life doesn't work like that. So to be a high-integrity leader, you need to be honest in all cases. As Erika Flora, PMP, PgMP, told me recently, being a leader requires you to "be brutally honest and provide feedback that sometimes people just don't want to hear." You can put this to work by setting clear and realistic expectations of your team, sponsors and stakeholders at the beginning, and not allowing yourself to be tied down to unrealistic expectations just to make everyone happy.
2. Take ownership. I've been in a number of organizations that faced a challenge of ownership in their projects. What that means is people are running around with big titles and the expectation is that those who report to them will jump at their slightest utterance. And as long as everything is moving along according to plan, everything is great. But as soon as the project goes off track, the "leader" is looking to point fingers and place blame to help relieve his or her responsibility. Don't do that. Being a leader and having integrity means you have to take responsibility for your performance and your team's, good or bad. As a leader, you should always start the project by telling your team something along the lines of, "Ultimately, I am responsible for the success or failure of this project, but I can't do it without you."
3. Share the spotlight. To be a strong leader of high integrity, you need to allow your team members to receive some of the glow and adulation that comes with goals achieved, projects delivered that exceed expectations and overall high performance. Allowing your team members to receive this share of the attention will make it much easier for you to get buy-in on tough issues or tricky situations in the future because they'll see you as the kind of manager who allows them to receive recognition. By the same token, when it comes to delivering bad news and accepting criticism, allowing yourself to receive the blame and not looking to share that blame with your team will engender a great deal of goodwill. And never, ever look to use one of your team members as a scapegoat for something that is ultimately your responsibility.
How do you see integrity playing out in your current team?
World-Class Lessons from World Cup Coaches
Photo: AC Moraes
People around the globe are tuning in to the FIFA World Cup. Even overloaded project managers will manage to find time to watch some of the global football championship coverage and root for their team.
I can't help but find parallels between what happens on the pitch and some of the challenges we face as project managers. Both successful World Cup coaches and project managers spend a lot of time giving direction to a team to mitigate unexpected events. Here are four lessons to take away from these coaches that could help ensure your project produces winning results in the face of the unforeseen:
1. Set starters and specialists. World Cup coaches know what skills key team members must have to win games. They also have intimate knowledge of their players' skills, capacities, endurance and adaptability to changing conditions. That knowledge allows coaches to pick the players they want to start the game as well as those specialists to enter the field when the key players need support.
Project managers should also know who the key team members are to have at the start of a project and the specialized resources -- such as subject matter experts on the business or work planners -- needed toward project completion to ensure success.
2. Be a coach, not a player. One of the more risky tendencies for a coach is to try to teach his own playing expertise to the team members. Yet the best World Cup coaches focus on making the team perform well as a whole, not on providing detailed instruction on ball technique. Specialized coaches (for physical training or goaltending, for example) and fellow team members should provide this detailed level of instruction, leaving the World Cup coach free to direct the overall flow of the game.
Project managers can do the same by identifying and employing specialized resources that can assist team members with fundamentals, such as writing good requirements and creating work plans. This frees up the project manager to focus on solving risks and issues across the project.
3. Make sure everyone knows the plays. World Cup coaches go to great lengths to employ existing plays that are a good match for their players. In addition, they spend time creating new plays that can be used in unexpected conditions that can come up during a game. The World Cup coach spends a lot of preparation and practice time with the team making sure the plays are executed in a smooth and efficient manner.
Project managers can do the same by identifying the right approaches -- that is, methods, processes and tools -- and spending time with the team to practice the execution of these approaches.
4. Provide feedback on results. At the end of every game, World Cup coaches spend time with the team as well as the media, sharing their thoughts on the outcome of the game. In addition, they will frequently share key decisions and outcomes that resulted in a win or loss for the team. World Cup coaches do this in a manner that reflects the overall effort of the team as opposed to the efforts of a few key players.
Project managers should provide this type of feedback at regular intervals throughout the project, especially during project status meetings. Projects also have the equivalent of media attention in the form of sponsors, so project managers should openly provide the same type of feedback on a regular basis.
What behaviors and practices have you seen that might help project managers create winning projects?