Analytical 39: Influence

1 April, 2019


When you’re asked to direct a group of people sometimes you aren’t their direct manager. In those cases you’re expected to influence without authority. We look at how it’s different, why it’s hard and how you can go about it.

Transcript available
[Music] Everything can be improved, iterated and refined. And if you don't think that's true, well, maybe you haven't analysed it enough. Calculated choices carefully considered. Absolutely analytical. This episode is brought to you by Clubhouse, the first project management platform for software development that brings everyone and every team together to build better products. Visit this URL, clubhouse, or one word dot io slash 10 the word for more information. We'll be talking about them more during the show. Analytical's part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page and for other great shows, visit today. Influence. And no, I'm not talking about social media influence. No, no, no, no, no, no. With reference to a normal job, there's this idea of influencing without authority. Now, I spoke about authority in terms of management in Episode 8 and inspiration in Episode 11. Me personally, well, I've been on a roller coaster of positions in my organizations in my career, working at most levels of an organization, so fluctuating between team lead roles and management roles in recent years. And having sat in both areas, It's made me question the nature of influence. Are you really a leader or are your team just following you because you're their boss on the organizational chart? See, for me, ultimately, why I turn up to work is about fixing things. I need to feel empowered to fix things that are broken. You know, they could be physical things, software, organizational structure, sometimes even, or even individuals through mentoring, career development, you know, anything like that. That's probably a good topic for another episode. But in the end, there's always got to be a balance between my sphere of influence and my sphere of control, at least in the context for this discussion about fixing broken things. Sphere of control by authority is straightforward because people report to you, hire, fire, remunerate, goal set, all of that stuff. But sphere of influence, well, that's a fair bit harder. I think it ultimately comes down to the sum total amount of effort expended to achieve the desired result. So as a manager, authority means that, well, generally speaking, your people are motivated to implement your work direction that you set out either A, out of concerns for a pay adjustment, either positive or negative or neutral, or B, for concerns about continued employment. I mean, it's brutal but it's generally the case. People tend to be motivated by those things generally speaking, not always mind you but generally. So, if you are a manager, it's relatively easy in that situation because it's low friction and low effort to set a direction and enforce that your people follow it. So I personally don't like to work that way. I much prefer to explain the rationale behind things and get a consensus from the team and agree the best path forward wherever that's appropriate which is you know hopefully most of the time. I like the idea that if I personally, if I can't genuinely sell it to myself whatever is I'm trying to sell, if I can't sell to myself first then how can I sell it to anyone else? I mean I have to believe it's true logically or I can't push it. Well, I mean that's just me. Potentially that's a career limiting move maybe in some scenarios but no, well, too bad. But that's not really what we're here to explore. So what about when you're not a manager or you're not a technical leader or a technical authority or you don't have any actual authority in an organizational structural sense and how do you then influence if that is the case? Because if the thing you do need to change isn't something that's within your sphere of control, it's only in your sphere of influence, how do you go about it? to affect that change, you are going to have to expend a lot more effort. You need to have a very strong sales pitch to explain your position and why that outcome that you're proposing is the best outcome and you need to highlight specifically why it's in the people's best interest that you're trying to influence especially why they should follow that direction because probably also that's why it's in the best interest of the overall business. In the end though, if you're unable to convince those people and influence their direction, there's one thing you can't directly influence and that is their personal and professional priorities. The problem with that is priority and focus inevitably comes from the organizational structure as we previously discussed, which is their managers and their managers' managers' expectations. Before we go any further, I'd like to talk about our sponsor for this episode. And that's Clubhouse, the first project management platform for software development that brings everyone on every team together to build better products. Clubhouse was built from the outset with agile development in mind, with an intense focus on intuitiveness and responsiveness. With their web app backed by Fastly CDN, it really feels like a local app on any platform. Clubhouse delivers developer-centric tools for everything from Kanban boards to epics, milestones and cards, with different card classifications for features, bugs and chores. But it's more Clubhouse's ability to interconnect all of them together that's so impressive. Users have reported creating less duplicates. Navigation is also very fast using a common board but with as many configurable workspaces as you like to customize that board for whatever purpose you might need. Morning stand-ups for different teams, sub teams or all the teams, it's up to you. Ultimately any collaborative project management platform has to be as low friction as possible and not just for the software developers but for everyone in the organization. Marketing, support, management, you name it, the lot so everyone can contribute an actual collaboration actually happens. Finally, the other part of Clubhouse that really shines is its ability to zoom out from individual tasks to the overall project status. That not only keeps project managers happy, but keeps the team connected on how their part contributes to the greater project and keeps them focused on what matters, delivering a result their customers will enjoy. There are others in the market but they're not like Clubhouse and what makes Clubhouse so different is the balance between the right amount of simplicity without sacrificing key functionality structured to allow genuine cross-functional team team collaboration on your project. Clubhouse is a modern software as a service platform with seamless integration for popular tools like GitHub, Slack, Sentry, and lots more. And if the tools that you want to integrate with aren't available out of the box, that's okay. There's an extensible REST API in Clubhouse that makes integrations straightforward. If you visit this URL, clubhouse, or, you can take advantage of a special offer for Engineered Network listeners. Of course, you'll get the 14-day free trial, but if you sign up, you'll get two months free. And because this is a team-centric solution, the offer will work for you and for your team. This offer is only available to Engineered Network listeners for a limited time, so take advantage of it while you can. Thank you to Clubhouse for once again sponsoring the Engineered Network. So no matter how well-intentioned people are, how responsible they are, how professional they may act, when push comes to shove and there's only eight hours in the working day, you will find that the very people you think that you've successfully influenced to achieve that desired outcome will fall back to the expectations of their direct manager or their organizationally driven priorities. So the final piece of influence comes down to influencing the managers of the people you're trying to influence to get the desired outcome. Because without their support, the priority and focus will not likely coalesce when you need it to. The organizational component is effectively impossible to overcome at most levels of the organization. So if you have to affect a change to the organizational structure of the entire company achieve an outcome, unless you have ambitions to be a CEO or to work for the CEO, then that's probably a bridge too far. And this is why it's so much effort to influence without authority. In terms of time and effort expended, it can be extremely hard for any given issue. So it would be a full-time job for weeks or months to influence every person and their managers and potentially their managers to get the desired outcome. Some things to consider when you are trying to influence other people anywhere in a business, I think there's probably good advice. So I'd consider the following things. Research the detail before you approach people and know what the heck you're talking about first. Remember that relationships are two-way streets. Be as free with information with them as they are with you. Holding back and speaking in half facts doesn't build trust, it kills it. Be concise as well. Everyone's time is precious and you need to respect their time by not wasting it. Get to the point and stay on topic. That's probably more, but there's a link in the show notes for some other suggestions, not all of which I agree with, but it's food for thought if nothing else. I've found that influencing without authority is actually exhausting. It's not impossible, mind you, but tiring. So the benefits that you realize from doing that really have to be worth the trouble. There isn't going to end on a note of defeat, just to be clear. I was recently told by a colleague he was offered a role with a focus on influencing without authority and he turned it down. The reason he gave was that it was a lot of work. And I would suggest that this episode is the explanation why. Although admittedly he didn't offer one at the time, I do absolutely think that there is a place for a role or a part of a role where you influence without authority, but not as a full-time role or commitment. It feels like leadership without authority is best administered in very small doses and for highly targeted, highly beneficial outcomes only. So if you do need to influence without authority, be smart about it, think it through and do it sparingly before it burns you out. But if you can pull it off, your sphere of influence will grow and it can really be worth it. Just choose carefully. If you're enjoying Analytical and want to support the show, you can via Patreon at or one word. With this, thank you to all our patrons and a special thank you to our silver producers, Carsten Hansen and John Whitlow, and an extra special thank you to our gold producer known only as R. Patron rewards include a named thank you on the website, a named thank you at the end of episodes, access to raw detailed show notes as well as ad-free, high-quality releases of every episode, with patron audio now available via individual breaker audio feeds. So if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, there's lots of great rewards, And beyond that, it's all really appreciated. Beyond that, there's other ways to help as well, like leaving a rating or review in iTunes, favoriting this episode in your podcast player app, or sharing the episode or the show with your friends or via social. All these things will help others to discover the show and can make a huge difference too. I'd personally like to thank Clubhouse for once again sponsoring the Engineered Network. If you're looking for an easy to use software development project management solution that everyone can use, remember to specifically visit this URL clubhouse or check it out and give it a try. It'll surprise you just how easy it can be. Analytical is part of the Engineer Network and you can find it at and you can follow me on the Fediverse at [email protected] or the network on Twitter at engineered_net. We also have a YouTube channel with more content going live regularly for your convenience if that's your thing. Accept nothing, question everything. It's always a good time to analyze something. I'm George Agee, thanks for listening. [Music] Oh man it's hot in here. Oh really I've got a high heart rate.
Duration 12 minutes and 2 seconds Direct Download
Episode Sponsor:

Show Notes

Links of potential interest:

Episode Gold Producer: 'r'.
Episode Silver Producers: Carsten Hansen and John Whitlow.
Premium supporters have access to high-quality, early released episodes with a full back-catalogues of previous episodes


John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.