Finger Painting

Getting things done Part 1: When you don’t have authority

I’ve spent my career trying to get things done or change things with no authority, no budget and no reports. Sometimes you have to make it work when all you have is charm, determination, persuasiveness and wit.

Many mentors, managers and friends have helped me develop this framework. I’ve tried to pay that forward by teaching what I’ve learned and now I want take it further. In this post I’m introducing my framework and show how to apply it in future conversations.

Accept the weird and irrational

When people join the workforce they are often frustrated. They’ve developed an idea of the way things should work from their parents, teachers, friends and the media, what they discover is a workplace that doesn’t make sense.

We like to think that we make decisions rationally but we don’t. We have many biases. We can be tricked by behavioral scienceWe don’t use words the same way. The way we make decisions and communicate based on our experience and that is unique to us. So we understand it but no one else does. Organizations are made up of people, so no wonder they adopt our quirks and irrational behavior.

When you accept this then you can get to work learning about the people and what they care about, how they see success, how to motivate them and what will set them off. You’ll learn who you need to approach, how and in what order. Most importantly you can accept that change without power is a ground war. You win it by inches and your only weapon is influence.

Prepare yourself 

So many times my conversations have gone sideways or I ran right into a brick wall. I’ve learned to prepare myself for the worst, have a plan and be ready for anything. If you’ve taken the time to plan you’re calmer and more confident and the person you’re talking to will see that.

My friend Cip and I used to whiteboard all of our important conversations or decks. We’d think about our audience and the story they needed to hear. We would make sure we had the answers to their questions or objections at the ready.

I generally find worksheets silly but my team benefits from having templates for common hard conversations and benefit from doing some quick planning. You may think this is too much but it’s way better to be ready.

Manage the emotions

If there are seven people involved in something, you have eight sets of emotions to manage. Their 7 sets of emotions and your own.  In their terrific book Switch the Heath brothers talk about the Rider and Elephant.

“(University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt) says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.

We have to understand and manage other’s elephants and our own. Change can make an elephant antsy, you need to see that anxiety and deal with it directly. It can often take time and a lot of touch points to get the rider and the elephant where you want them.

When someone doesn’t like our brilliant idea its easy to get frustrated and defensive but that’s only going to hurt your cause. If your ego is more important than your cause, you will not be successful. In Getting Past No, William Ury aruges that when things are hard our natural reactions are to strike back, give in or break off. Instead of reacting, we should “Go to the Balcony” to step back from our emotional reaction and try to get a broader perspective as if we stepped off the stage and moved to better vantage point. Ury also recommends that we know our hot buttons, those things that will make us angry or defensive.

Beware the dark side 

You can use your powers for ill purposes. You can get so good at playing the system that you don’t stop and fix the system. That you influence when you should lead. Fixing the system is my big new challenge.

Getting Things Done Series
Part 1: When you don’t have authority
Part 2: Accept the weird and irrational
Part 3: Prepare Yourself
Part 4: Manage the emotions

Image: I was doing some finger painting with my daughter

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