About geraldgraham

Professor, author and management consultant.

How Questions Increase Influence

(Part 2 of 2 Parts)

Wendel, a long-time supervisor, disagreed with the company’s attendance policy and sometimes failed to enforce it.  When Wendel’s manager explained the reasons for the policy, Wendel’s typical response was, “Our policy is too harsh.  Good workers should not lose pay for an occasional lapse.”

Wendel’s manager retired and Sofia assumed his role.  Sofia quickly became aware of Wendel’s inconsistent enforcement.  However, rather than explaining the benefits of consistent enforcement, Sofia used questions to influence Wendel.

“Are you aware of our attendance policy?” Sofia asked.

“Yes, I am,” Wendel responded.

“Do you think you are consistently applying the policy?”

“Probably not.  People do not miss work on purpose.”

“Is your approach fair to other supervisors who are enforcing the policy?

“I’m not leading their departments.”

“Are you aware of the company’s legal jeopardy caused by your inconsistency?”

“Not really. The company can take care of itself.”

“Do you think legal action would have implications for you?”

Sofia started with a softball question allowing Wendel to confirm his knowledge of the policy.  Then she moved to hardball questions that implied more serious implications for the company and for Wendel.

Effective managers rely on both declarative statements and thoughtful questions in their influencing attempts.

How Declarative Statements Increase Influence

(Part 1 of 2 Parts)

While working on a project with a tight deadline, Jessica made a critical error and it did not seem to bother her too much.

When Emma, the team leader inquired, Jessica said, “It doesn’t matter all that much if we are late.  They don’t expect us to complete these projects on time anyway.”

“Jessica,” Emma explained, “the deadline is important.  I want you to correct the error and help get the project back on schedule because it will improve customer satisfaction and revenue.”

Emma used the pronoun “I” and the word “because” in a declarative statement to express her opinion about Jessica’s behavior.  This influence tactic is frequently used and can be quite effective.

However, I have observed that many influencers shy away from using “I” and prefer to substitute the pronoun “we.”  For example, “We need to do what we can to get back on schedule.”  The use of “we” by Emma would have made her expectation of Jessica far less clear.

Some influencers also leave out the word “because.”  Emma by including “because” explained the reason why the schedule was important.

Declarative statements that include both “I” and “because” increase the likelihood of influencing the behaviors of others.



Are You Aware of Your Manager’s Proclivities?

Amelia and Jayden, both leaders of high-performing teams, were having very different experiences with their new divisional manager (DM).

Jayden complained to Amelia, “I don’t know why the DM keeps asking for so many reports with such detail.  It takes a lot of my time.”

Amelia responded, “The DM is a detailed person.  I organize my team’s metrics into subheads and update him weekly.”

Amelia added, “I also learned that he is not interested in reviewing compliance reports.  He just expects my reports to pass muster.”

Jayden countered, “I insist that the DM review my reports because I know he will hold me accountable for any miss steps.”

While both were committed to the division’s mission, Amelia quickly figured out the DM’s work patterns and complied with them.  Jayden became frustrated because the DM did not operate the way he thought he should.

We know for sure that successful leaders are different, particularly on stylistic matters such as:  written or verbal presentations, spontaneous or regular updates, extensive detail or big-picture concepts, what interests them and how they make decisions.

Boss-staff relationships can be as complicated as the tax code.  Subordinates who develop meaningful work relationships with their managers hone in to their communication and decision-making proclivities.

Effective Coaching is Spontaneous, Quick and Frequent

“Does your manager ever visit your workstation?” I asked a group of employees.

“Oh, yes,” was the reply.  “If we make a mistake, no matter how minor, he appears out of thin air.”

“And when work is flowing smoothly . . .?” I added.

“We rarely see his face!” several responded in unison.

Employees, like most of us, do not like to be ignored.  While addressing weaknesses is better than no attention, recognizing successes is far better.

According to the Gallup organization only one in four employees say they receive helpful feedback from their leaders.

If you have every participated in a sporting, musical or theatrical practice session under the watchful eye of a coach, you understand the meaning of instant feedback.

Coaches spontaneously approval successes via hand claps, high-fives, and verbal expressions.  Likewise, coaches clearly communicate disapproval with excitable language, often accompanied by unmistakable facial expressions.

In the workplace, effective managers follow a similar model.  That is, they quickly acknowledge even the slightest of successes while, at the same time, intervene to correct problems.

Coaching occurs several times a day, in one- to two-minute spurts.  When done properly, employees view their managers as available and helpful without being intrusive.



Four Signals that Suggest Termination

While participating in a management meeting, I witnessed an intense discussion about whether Alex, a long-time employee, should be terminated.  Most admitted concern about Alex’s performance but several were hesitant fire Alex.

Managers who argued for keeping Alex made statements like:  “Alex has been with us for a long time.”  “Technology has changed his job a lot.”  “He’s not a bad person.”

Managers struggle with termination decisions because they realize employees need income for food, clothing, and shelter; and often, to support family members.  Peers, even though they realize that their workload is overburdened by a slacker, may still worry about the forever absence of a work associate.

Below are four signals to clarify the appropriate time for pressing the termination button.

The low-performing employee . . .

  1. . . . is unresponsive to coaching and training.
  2. . . . shows little or no enthusiasm for the job.
  3. . . . complains excessively about managers’ decisions.
  4. . . . has shown little, or no, improvement for six months.

If any one of the four statements apply, a caring termination is likely better for both the company and the employee.


How to Begin a New Leadership Assignment

“I’ve just been asked to lead a newly-formed division of our company,” a manager said to me, “and I’m unsure about what leadership style is best.”

“Do you know the performance history of the people that will be on your team?” I asked.

“Not really.  Most will be new people.”

“I suggest that you start by explaining your expectations—performance objectives, metrics, policy compliance—and identify two or three cultural themes (cooperation, teamwork, customer focus, for example) that you value.  Encourage team members to offer feedback.  Should a suggestion represent an improvement, accept it immediately.  If you disagree with a suggestion, tell why.”

When performance of a team is unknown, I think a leader who begins with very clear expectations and guidelines is more likely to get the team’s motor running.

As the weeks go by, the leader will quickly learn which members are the better performers.  Likewise, marginal producers will reveal themselves.  The leader should provide much support and more freedom to top performers.

For marginal producers, the leader can reduce freedom by focusing on performance tracking, process compliance and specific coaching.

On any team, effective leaders treat members differently because members behave differently.


Do Not Overlook This Sign of Leadership Failure

“I may have to remove Walter (the western regional manager),” a CEO said to his human resources (HR) manager after his annual tour of their four regions.

“Really?” replied the HR manager.  “He’s only been there a year and his region is doing pretty well, not great but better than two others.”

“I know but after I explained the changes in our benefits plan to the employees, I did not get a single question.  At all other locations, I was bombarded with questions after my presentation.”

The CEO further explained that lack of employee response suggested that Walter might be a bully leader, and he asked the HR manager to investigate.

After spending several days in the western region, the HR manager reported that employees were indeed afraid of Walter.  Several highly productive employees had recently quit.  A few employees said that Walter, prior to the CEO’s visit, had threatened termination for anyone who made him look bad.  The culture was oppressive, harsh and stressful.

A couple of weeks later, the CEO called Walter to the office and terminated him.  Shortly afterwards, under new leadership, the western region’s performance improved markedly.

The lack of spontaneous and open questioning of leaders’ decisions by employees often indicates failed leadership.