As product managers, we’ve all experienced it: a sense of frustration when you’re accountable for delivering value without having any authority over the people that are critical to delivering that value. Whether it’s stakeholders, customers, developers, designers, there’s only so much we can do to influence and create the level of buy-in or cooperation required to create successful products.
In Influence without Authority (2005) Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford explore ways in which we can influence others without having authority over them. Cohen and Bradford’s “Model of Influence without Authority” forms the backbone of this book.
“Influence without Authority” outlines the key components of this model, illustrating the scenarios in which the model can be applied. These are the three learning points I took away from reading this book:
- The currencies of exchange – The aforementioned Cohen-Bradford model is based on exchange and reciprocity – making trades for what you desire in return for what the other person desires. There are number of potential currencies that one can use to trade (see Fig. 1 below).
- Gaining clarity on your objectives – For the Cohen-Bradford model to work effectively, it’s important that you figure out exactly what you want, and prioritise your goals accordingly (see Fig. 2 below).
- Deciding with whom to attempt exchanges – The ability to consider and decide potential allies to exchange is a critical part of the Cohen-Bradford model and the book outlines some valuable considerations how to exchange directly with a potential ally (see Fig. 3 below).
Fig. 1 – Frequently valued currencies – Taken from Influence without Authority, pp. 36 – 51:
Inspiration related currencies:
Inspiration related currencies reflect inspirational goals that provide meaning to the work a person a does.
- Vision – You can help overcome personal objections and inconvenience if you can inspire the potential ally to see the larger significance of your request.
- Excellence – The opportunity to do something really well and pride in having the chance to accomplish important work with genuine excellence can be highly motivating.
- Moral/ethical correctness – Probably most members of organisations would like to act according to what they perceive to be ethical, moral, altruistic or correct thing to do.
Task related currencies:
Task related currencies are directly related to getting the job done. They relate to a person’s ability to perform his or her assigned tasks or to the satisfactions that arise from accomplishment.
- New resources – Resources such as budget, people, space, equipment or time are important currencies when it comes to enabling someone to get the job done.
- Challenge – The chance to work at tasks that provide a challenge or stretch is one of the most widely valued currencies in modern organisational life.
- Assistance – Although large numbers of people desire increased responsibilities and challenge, most have tasks they need help on or would be glad to shed.
- Organisational support – This currency is most valued by someone who is working on a project and needs public backing or behind-the-scenes help in selling the project to others.
- Rapid response – It can be worth a great deal for a colleague or boss to know that you will respond urgently to requests.
- Information – Recognising that knowledge is power, some people value any information that may help them shape the performance of their unit.
Position related currencies:
These currencies enhance a person’s position in the organisation and, thereby, indirectly aid the person’s ability to accomplish tasks or advance a career.
- Recognition – Many people gladly will extend themselves for a project when they believe their contributions will be recognised, so its importance to spread recognition around and recognise the right people.
- Visibility to higher ups – Ambitious employees realise that, in a large organisation, opportunities to perform for or to be recognised by powerful people can be a deciding factor in achieving future opportunities, information, or promotions.
- Reputation – Reputation is another variation on recognition. A good reputation can pave the way for lots of opportunities while a bad one can quickly shut the person out and make it difficult to perform.
- Insiderness – For some members, being in the inner circle can be most valued currency. One sign of this currency is having insider information, and another is being connected to important people.
- Importance – A variation on the currency of inside knowledge and contacts is the chance to feel important. Inclusion and information are symbols of that, but just being acknowledged as an important player counts for the large number of people who feel their value is under recognised.
- Contacts – Related to many of the previous currencies is the opportunity for making contacts, which creates a network of people who can be approached when needed for mutually helpful transactions.
Relationship related currencies:
Relationship related currencies are more connected to strengthening the relationship with someone than directly accomplishing the organisation’s tasks.
- Acceptance / Inclusion – Some people most value the feeling that they are close to others whether an individual or a group/department. They are receptive to those who offer warmth and liking as currencies.
- Understanding / listening / sympathy – Colleagues who feel beleaguered by the demands of the organisation, isolation or unsupported by the boss, place an especially high value on a sympathetic ear.
- Personal support – For some people, at particular times, having the support of others is the currency they value most. When a colleague is feeling stressed, upset, vulnerable, or needy, he will doubly appreciate – and remember – a thoughtful gesture.
These currencies could form an infinite list of idiosyncratic needs. They are valued because they enhance the individual’s sense of self. They may be derived from task or interpersonal activity.
- Gratitude – While gratitude may be another form of recognition or support, it is a not necessarily job-related one that can be valued highly by some people who make a point of being helpful to others. For their efforts, some people want appreciation from the receiver, expressed in thanks or deference.
- Ownership/Involvement – Another currency often valued by organisational members is the chance that they feel that they are partly in control of something important or have a chance to make a major contribution.
- Self – concept – These currencies cover those that are consistent with a person’s image of himself or herself.
- Comfort – Some individuals place high value on personal comfort. Lovers of routine and haters of risk, they will do almost anything to avoid being hassled or embarrassed.
Currencies are what people value. But it is also possible to think of negative currencies, things that people do not value and wish to avoid:
- Not giving recognition
- Not offering support
- Not providing challenge
- Threatening to quit the situation
- Raising voice, yelling
- Refusing to cooperate when asked
- Escalating issue upwards to common boss
- Going public with issue, making lack of cooperation visible
- Attacking person’s reputation, integration
Fig. 2 – Gain clarity on your objectives – Taken from Influence without Authority, p. 82:
- What are your primary goals?
- What personal factors get in the way?
- Be flexible about achieving goals
- Adjust expectation of your role and your ally’s role.
Fig. 3 – Deciding with whom to attempt exchanges – Taken from Influence without Authority, pp. 134 – 136:
- Centrality of the ally – How powerful is the other person? Power means more than hierarchical position: What needed resources does he or she control? How exclusive is the person’s control of those resources? How dependent are you on that person for success?
- Amount of effort / credits needed – Do you already have a relationship with the person, or will you be starting from scratch? Is the person likely to insist on trading in currencies you do not command or cannot gain access to? Will the person be satisfied as long as you at least pay your respects and stay in touch, without asking anything directly?
- Alternatives available – Do you know anyone whose support will help gain the support of the potential ally? In other words, who can influence the ally if you are not able to directly? If you can’t influence the person in the right direction, can you find a way to neutralise him or her? Can you reshape your project to take the person’s opposition into account or to skirt the person’s worst concern?