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A Case Of Lost Influence: The Need For Flexibility And Exchanges - Part 1


Prof. Allan Cohen



"People tend to support best that which they help to create” "

- Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart



The Case


Professor Cohen's Analysis and Recommendations


Alice’s problems are, unfortunately, not unusual. It can be difficult to get the kind of responsiveness needed from a new manager, especially one who feels a great deal of pressure to get results. But she is also under pressure, and if she can’t get Louis to respond, she will have to leave. What can she do?

The basis for influence is exchange, giving what the other party values in return for what you need. When what you need is new behavior, it is imperative to figure out how what you are asking for is in the best interest of that person. Then you have to show the person how failing to change can lead to the opposite of what the person wants.

In this instance, Alice needs to do some diagnosis of Louis’s interests. First of all, he has a stake in the integration of the departments and the adoption of new methods going well. And he does not want to lose all the staff, as we saw from his reaction when Alice brought to his attention that staff members were applying for other jobs in the hospital. This gives her some leverage to bring to the discussions. But her style of dealing with Louis, asking for appointments and passively waiting for him to respond, then exploding when things have gotten bad, also has to change. She needs to be clear about what she wants, and the consequences for him and his objectives if he doesn’t help.

She might start by insisting that they talk, and refusing to be put off. She has already fired the warning shot by threatening to quit, and it is unlikely he will stall her now if she is insistent. First, she should discuss with him just what she perceives his concerns to be, and test to see if that diagnosis is right. It appears he wants to show he can do the new job, wants to get the departments integrated, and certainly wants to show that he can achieve good results. And he probably has concerns about looking good to his boss in this new organization. Maybe he is also determined to use what he knows, or thinks he knows, about what can work. All of this can be tested with him.

Then she should show him that he is getting in his own way by his actions. Such as insisting on fixed starting times, breaking up whole tasks , and avoiding serious consideration of employee concerns causing mistrust and resistance, the very resistance he does not want. This can lead to a good exploration of the concept behind letting teams do whole tasks, and giving them the latitude to arrange their work days. He probably fears letting go. One way to approach this would be to discuss how he can stay informed, and be reassured that they will do the work needed and not spiral out of control.

If he still resists, then she can escalate to another kind of exchange - -information about the costs to him that he may not see. For example, does he realize that he is acquiring a reputation for not listening, not being available, and not understanding modern work concepts? Does he really want to be seen as the guy who drove good employees out and caused the integration to miss important deadlines? Does he want the wrath of the doctors who are expecting results? If not, then can he be more responsive? Alice can tell him that she does not want to go around telling people about how he has broken up the group, or that he is so certain of his one way of implementing that he is missing great opportunities to build on what was a committed group. That ought to get his attention even more strongly than what he learned about requested transfers.

Finally, Alice can ask if there is anything she is doing to cause him to both ignore her and her advice. Has she been too passive? Has she failed to explain the consequences of his choices (and hers) clearly enough? Has she acted in a way he finds threatening? (These are only possibilities; she needs to be open to any answer). Then she can adjust her behavior in return for his cooperation.

These methods do not come with guarantees, and she can always decide to quit. But until she has tried the full arsenal of influence methods, the problem is hers and not just Louis’s. Fuming, and reassuring yourself that you are right, rather than actively setting out to influence your colleague (or boss), is not sufficient for a leader, and dooms her to similar problems when she next finds a boss who does not automatically do what she wants.


In Part 2

Next month Professor Weintraub will apply his own counterpoint views to this situation.


For Those Interested In Learning More


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    Further Learning

    We have all been involved in situations like the case of failed leadership noted here. You can learn to build your own leadership skills by attending one of Babson's Leadership and Influence Programs or you can request that a workshop be customized for delivery inside your organization. Those who are interested can followup by dropping us a note on our Contact Us form.

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