Saturday, October 10, 2009

Who's in Charge?

Thursday morning, Iris and I walked into the coffee shop at a bit past 7:00 to be greeted by the rousing sound of a lively debate regarding the alignment of specific tasks and services with public sector versus the private sector. Our town's lone republican seemed to be holding his own, but looked like he could use some assistance. Since I have no alignment with any particular political perspective and since, in this case, it sounded to me like I would be more likely to agree with his perspective than the other one being offered, I jumped right into the debate.

Ahhh... it felt wonderful. Over the past couple of months, we've had lots of house guests who were either not particularly interested in intense and lively debate or who weren't very good at it. To me, walking into the coffee shop felt like the pool had finally opened on a hot summer's day and the water was wonderful.

I seem to remember Iris passing me on her way out saying something like, "Breathe". I was totally enthralled.

As debate wound down, I concluded that the whole public versus private thing was a bit of a red herring and that the real challenge was ensuring that people did their jobs effectively and efficiently regardless of where they worked. As we talked about this, the question arose as to how you can get people to actually do their jobs effectively and efficiently. One member of our little debating group voiced his frustration at trying to get anything done when working with public employees.

I then recalled a lesson I'd learned early in my career regarding using authority to manage people versus using influence to manage people.

Who's In Charge Here?
Most of us grew up with hierarchical organizational models. We see it in businesses, we see it in government, we see it in educational organizations, we see it in non-profit groups. Hierarchical organizations tend to operate using an authoritative management model. The person above me in the hierarchy, the boss, has the authority to tell me what to do. Although the boss may be polite and considerate when telling us what to do, even phrasing assignments as requests, at the end of the day, the boss is in charge.

Because we are so familiar with this model of management, we often treat it as the model of management. If we run into a situation where we can't get someone at work to do what we want, we go to their boss. If we're on the phone with someone at the phone company and can't get what we want, we ask to speak with their supervisor. If we can't find anyone in charge who will do what we want, we get frustrated and give up.

Bureaucrats and Entrepreneurs
Both the person starting his own company and the one who's the low man on the totem pole in a large bureaucracy have something in common; they have almost no management authority. They're the boss of no one. They don't have teams of people ready to get things done for them. They have no one to whom they can delegate

So, then, how does either one of them ever get anything done that requires more than they can personally accomplish? How do they make things happen when dealing with unresponsive peers or suppliers or people who are higher up in the food chain than they are?

The answer is management through influence.

How's It Work
The basic idea behind management through influence is to get people to do what you want because they want to. The key to doing this is to understand what motivates the person with whom you're trying to work.

Let's say that you've got a great idea that's going to improve your company's efficiency and save the company a lot of money. Let's say that you've been selling your idea to anyone who will listen and they seem somewhat resistant to it. You've worked through all your numbers and you know the idea is sound, yet no one is picking up on it.

The problem could be that many people immediately translate cost saving into job cutting. Further, although many people would agree that saving the company money is a good idea, not many people are strongly motivated by it. So, the key is to find out how your plan benefits the people you're trying to sell it to in a manner that motivate them.

This requires a little happy detective work. Ask questions about what people like about their work and what they don't like. Find out what really excites them and gets their juices going. Then, look at your proposal and translate it into terms that align with those motivations.

As you get to the core of what motivates people and then translate what you want into those terms (or modify what you want to gain alignment), you'll be amazed at how many impossible situations become possible!

Remember, It's What Motivates Them
This may seem obvious, but it's not what motivates you, it's what motivates them. I can't recall all the times someone has come into my office with a proposal for a new project or a request for a raise or the desire to see some changes and then launched into why they want it.

After I hear them out, I'll often say, "Wow, I can see that you really want what you're asking for, but you never gave me a reason why I should want it!"

Remember, influence involve understanding the other person's motivations.

More than Just Business
Since there will always be more people over whom you don't have authority than people over whom you do have authority, learning influence as a management technique can be quite useful. It comes in handy everywhere from being served a late night dinner after the restaurant's kitchen has closed to garnering the support of your local government case worker when looking for assistance with your special child.

The beauty of the influence model is that you not only get what you want, but you also create win-win situations and develop great relationships.

Happy Saturday (Evening)!

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