Managing your direct reports might be challenging at times, but managing people outside of your reporting lines it’s even more taxing. How can we effectively influence and manage people when we lack the authority? This skill is becoming very relevant as we have more and more matrixed organizations. Managers and leaders who are new to this venture may feel that they are doomed to fail. However, when handled properly, it could be a rewarding experience. Here are a few strategies that you can easily learn and implement to get people to work with you, even when they don’t report directly to you. These techniques apply not only to team members, but also to colleagues, superiors, clients, and vendors, as well as unionized employees.
1. Communicate Effectively
Communication is one of the most valuable skills in both work and life, and it is a key determinant of the success of your project. It may be counterintuitive, and you may not agree at first on the following statement. However, it is your responsibility to make sure that whatever you communicate is 1) received and 2) understood by each of the recipients. I repeat, it is your responsibility. If you leave all or most of this responsibility to the recipient, you will often get disappointed and frustrated with the results.
2. Keep Open Lines of Communication
Make sure the team can easily communicate with you. Therefore have your door open as much as possible. Also, provide a judgment-free environment and culture where people feel comfortable to speak up.
Seek feedback and listen attentively to peoples’ suggestions on how to improve the processes and working environment. Also, respond to questions promptly and conclusively.
3. Define Goals and Tasks
Make sure each person clearly understands the goals as well as his/her tasks, deliverables, and deadlines. Also, ensure that they see the value of each job. Ken Blanchard on “The One Minute Manager” recommends setting goals written in under 250 words with clear measurements of what winning is.
Remember to thank the person after he/she completes a deliverable.
4. Thank, Praise, and Reward People
One of the most important needs of human beings is to feel that they matter and provide value. Appreciating a good job increases the morale of the individual as well as the group. It also reinforces positive behaviors. Therefore, look around trying to find something to praise as opposed to something to criticize.
When an employee achieves the goal, Ken Blanchard on “The One Minute Manager” recommends spending 60 seconds genuinely praising the behavior that led to the achievement. If you have the budget and authority, you should also give rewards to these people. If you don’t have that ability, then a verbal “thank you,” or written note copying his/her manager and hi/her second-line manager will have a tremendous impact on that person. Also, if the individual is not shy, you should recognize their good work publicly.
5. Selectively Use Each of the Five Types of Power
Research has found that we can categorize authority into the following five sources:
- Legitimate / Formal – This is typical in a supervisor-employee relationship
- Reward – Uses incentives to motivate and reinforce desired behaviors
- The incentives don’t have to be monetary. A “Thank you,” or a “Great Job” can mean a lot to the person.
- Coercive – Eliminates privileges or applies punishment
- Expert – Based on knowledge that provides value to others
- Referent – Obtained through charisma and personal qualities
Most people feel comfortable with one or two of these forms of power and use them most of the time regardless of the circumstances. However, successful leaders learn how to assess each situation and then choose and use the most appropriate type of power for that occasion. Other things being equal, the recommended source of authority is Reward, as mentioned above in the prior section.
6. Look for Affinities
To gain support from others, it is a good idea to find something that you and the other person have in common. Perhaps both of you played basketball in high school, coach a soccer team, have children at the same school, have kids of similar ages, come from the same city or state, have visited the same country, have the same hobby, play the same sport, or speak the same foreign language.
By talking about the things that the two of you share, you gain trust and support from the other person. Many sales persons use this technique quite often.
7. Find Mutual Purpose
Another method related to affinities that deserves a separate mention is finding a mutual purpose. For instance, most people want to keep their job. Even when people are planning to leave the company, it is still important for them to leave on good terms and to maintain a good reputation. Some people want to be seen as an authority on a particular subject. Others just want to get “an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.” Find their purposes, and accentuate those that you have in common.
8. Explain the Benefits and Disadvantages
It is not suggested to impose consequences as you may not have enough authority to follow through, and because you don’t want to make people comply by intimidation. Our aim is to have people do the right thing because they understand its value and agree that it’s the right thing to do.
The way to accomplish this is to use logic to explain the tangible and intangible benefits of completing the task. Then you describe the disadvantages of not taking action. Finally, appeal to the values and emotions of the team and each individual. For instance, you may point out that the project will save lives, preserve the environment, improve the lifestyle of poor people, increase productivity, reduce pollution, prevent wars, or create jobs.
9. Employ Reciprocity
Reciprocity is a well-known persuasion technique. It works well because we feel obligated to return the favor when someone does something for us. We feel in debt and in an urge to repay in kind. For instance, you might be able to perform a particular task on behalf of another person. You might provide some advice, send a link to some needed information, connect one person to another, or lend a book. Later when you need help from that person, he/she will feel obligated to recompense.
Another way to look at it is the analogy from Stephen Covey. Doing a favor to someone is similar to putting a deposit on your relationship bank account. Then when your turn comes to ask for a favor, in a sense you can withdraw it from the account. If you don’t have enough balance in your account, you might still be able to borrow a bit, but not a lot and not for long. Therefore, give before you have a need to receive.
10. Utilize Commitment and Consistency
The Commitment and Consistency principle is another remarkable persuasion craft. When people commit to something verbally or in writing, or due to our beliefs, values, and attitudes, we feel compelled to complete the action. For instance, one way of getting support during a meeting is first to meet individually with each key invitee to discuss your ideas, ask for their opinions and feedback, and create interest. If you feel comfortable, you also can be assertive and explicitly ask for their support during these private meetings. Then, when you have your meeting with the group, you will be confident that you have already gained the support and just need to formalize it. This technique alone has worked wonders for me.
11. Find the Root Cause and Remove Barriers to Action
Some employees may refuse to do activities even when they are indisputably part of their job description or tasks of a project that they had agreed to do by a certain date. Others may acquire bad habits, such as coming late to the office on a regular basis, being out of their desk too frequently with no good reason, not showing up to meetings, or not responding to emails. In these cases, it’s better to give them the benefit of the doubt and ask them why they behave is such a way. Sometimes they may have a substantial justification that they hadn’t voiced out.
Use the “Five-Whys” technique to find the root cause of the problem behavior. The idea is that by asking a series of consecutive questions you can find the fundamental reason of any matter. For example, a supervisor noticed that two employees were spending too much time out of their desk, socializing with their peers, taking a walk, or just looking at the window. The supervisor asked them in a friendly manner why they were out of their desk even though they had plenty of work to do. The employees answered with a lot of frustration and anger that their cubicles were too cold. The next obvious question was, “Why are your cubicles too cold?” It turned out that the company had installed a multi-phone charger as a perk for employees to charge their cellphones. By being too close to the thermostat, the charger forced the thermostat to command more cold airflow. After realizing the situation, the company put the charger far from the thermostat. This approach resulted in substantial savings for the company and an increase in employee satisfaction.
Jointly removing barriers demonstrates good faith, and builds credibility and common ground.
12. Effectively Address Performance Issues
One of the things that regularly come up on employee surveys is the need to promptly address performance issues and, when necessary, remove poor performers from the team. Many managers fear and avoid these confrontations. However, it is better to deal with these issues as soon as possible. When a deliverable is missed, call the person in private and precisely point out the bad behavior. Be sure never to show anger and never attack. Still, have a calm discussion and be willing to push through until you have a resolution.
You can use the following technique:
- Restate your expectations, such as “I expected this document to be completed by close of business on Tuesday.”
- Then report the observation of the results, “Today is Wednesday, and it’s still not completed.”
- Now keep silent, wait and listen.
Hold your need to fill in the silence and just wait. If you can keep silent, eventually the other person will say why the deliverable was not completed. If you listen carefully, you will identify the root cause, which could be a lack of resources (skills, tools, training, time), or they didn’t like the task or they just didn’t want to do it. Then you can make appropriate corrections.
In extreme cases, you may need to talk to the person’s HR manager, senior management, or the HR department to resolve the issue. Be very careful and only use this option as a last resort, as it could damage the long-term relationship with this person.
13. Obtain Buy-in
Invest time explaining the importance of the project and its tangible and intangible benefits. Also, explain what each team member will be gaining on the project, such as learning experience and valuable contribution to the company. For certain individuals, you might be able to offer a bonus or promotion.
Clarify any concerns and provide all the tools and resources they would need to be successful in their jobs.
Instead of imposing tasks, look for creative ways to have them come up with the list of tasks and effort estimates. With practice, you can give them hints to come up with the tasks that you have in mind while giving the perception that they created the list by themselves. This technique will ensure their commitment, ownership and accountability of those tasks.
14. Motivate the Team
Do as much as you can to motivate the team. Provide the tools and resources necessary to do a great job. If they believe they lack these things, they may feel helpless and hopeless, to the point of not even trying. Also, make sure each person has the skills necessary to do their job and make any necessary reassignments. They should also clearly understand what needs to be done for each task.
Find out which aspects of the job or project thrill and energize you the most, and show your genuine enthusiasm to the team. For instance, if a person is just creating bolts, you may emphasize the fact that he/she is contributing to the creation of planes. In other cases, you may point out that the project will save lives, preserve the environment, improve the lifestyle of poor people, increase productivity, reduce pollution, prevent wars, or create jobs.
15. Secure a Daily Status
On a daily basis have a brief status meeting, where everyone stands, and no one sits down. The status should be quick and to the point. Each team member should take about 30 seconds to answer the following three questions, as recommended by the Scrum Alliance.
- What did you do and accomplish since the prior status meeting?
- What obstacles/impediments do you have, and what help do you need?
- What will you do and accomplish between now and before the next meeting?
This status meeting will ensure progress every single day and will bring any problems and risks to the surface very quickly.
16. Maintain a Positive Attitude
It is important that the team has a positive attitude, and you as the leader have to foster this positive environment. You need to provide hope and be the team cheerleader. Have faith that if you analyze the situation patiently, you will find a solution to encourage people effectively to put their best efforts.
17. Foster the Golden Rule
When you treat people with respect, they will treat you in the same way. Hold people accountable while treating them with professionalism and respect. Be aware of and accept their individual learning and working styles. Foster an environment where relationships are built on kindness, courtesy, professionalism and mutual respect. This approach will ensure a happy environment where the team can function effectively and efficiently without coercion, fear, and intimidation.
18. Give Credit to the Team
We can learn from charismatic leaders. You will find that they publicly state that their success is due to their team. They take every opportunity to explain how their team achieved a particular goal. Follow the example of these leaders to gain support from the team and encourage them to continue to perform well.
19. Demonstrate Confidence and Competence
Each of the team members must be competent in their respective roles. You as the leader may or may not be proficient in some of those roles, and you are not required to be. However, you must establish credibility by exhibiting confidence and a good level of knowledge of the subject.
20. Ask for Help
Managing people without authority could be one of the most challenging endeavors for a manager or a leader. However, it could also be incredibly rewarding and can give you the opportunity to enhance your leadership and managerial skills. My recommendation is to try a few techniques as stated in the preceding paragraphs, but seek help as soon as you begin to feel overwhelmed. Often, just talking to a peer, a friend, your boss, or the HR department will help you see things more clearly and from a different perspective. Also, they might be able to offer several potential solutions to your challenges.
21. Use the Last Resort
As mentioned earlier, in extreme cases you may need to talk to the person’s HR manager or senior management to resolve the issue. Be very careful and only use this option as a last resort, as it could damage the long-term relationship with this person.
The above strategies work for most situations. However, if your situation is unique and doesn’t improve sufficiently after applying the above techniques, then you should consider terminating one or more of the major offenders. Alternatively, you may want to look for a different role or organization that has realistic expectations and provides all the necessary support.
I am confident that these strategies will help you improve the performance of the people that you manage even when you don’t have formal authority over them. It would be advisable also to utilize some of these approaches with the people that you formally manage. In the long run, you will find this experience especially memorable and productive. Lastly, remember that these techniques apply not only to team members, but also to colleagues, superiors, clients, and vendors, as well as unionized employees.
Which techniques do like the most? I’d love to hear your suggestions for managing without authority. Please share your ideas below.