Yesterday I've was working with a group of people to orchestrate a communication session. As I moved through the day I wondered how we were deciding who was going to do what to get the session designed, resourced, and seamless to the participants.
It's a group of people I haven't worked with before and we're under very tight time restrictions. So when I stumbled across a review I happened to come across in my files of a book called Results without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn't Report to You Tom Kendrick. New York: AMACOM, 2006. I stopped the thing I was doing and re-read the review. Kendrick is a project manager, and as the book reviewer reports the book is written from a project perspective :
structured in two parts, the first one describing three elements of project control: process,
influence, and measurement. The second part shows when to use these three elements of control throughout the life of a typical project, following the five process groups defined by the Project Management Institute's (PMI, 2004) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).
The piece of work to get the communication session ready is really a project – if only a 6 day one. (It happens next week). It's one that demands quick responses from people to pull it together so influence skills are needed, and the communication session itself is one where we hope to influence positively the perceptions of the matter being discussed. Thus I was caught by the 10-Step Process for Influence that Kendrick discusses.
The ten steps are:
(1) Document your objective. – this is ok because we have a purpose and outcomes for the session so we know what we want to achieve and roughly how to do it.
(2) Identify who could do the work – this is the struggle. We are all fully committed to other stuff, and we don't know who is available to work on the project and how good they might be if we could find them. (A learning point is to set up with the training manager some kind of pool of people who would love to be called on at very short notice to work on a significant project as a development opportunity).
(3) Evaluate your options and select the best person. In terms of preparing the session at the moment the options seem to be do it ourselves so maybe we're the best people. (That is , the group of four of us who coalesced around the idea that we had to do something quickly) but in terms of putting the message across in a way that positively influences perceptions that's absolutely a question of evaluating options and selecting the best people to do that.
(4) Consider the other person's perspective. Again in bearing in mind our audience for the communication session, we are aware that we might be treading on people's toes, covering old ground, working in counter-cultural ways so hopefully that will help us be sensitive to the way we put things across. But how will we know until we've done it? We're trying to see it from all angles but inevitably we're individually and collectively biased.
(5) Consider possibilities for exchange – this is where the point of the session comes in. We want to influence the session participants so how much voice should we have, how much should they have, and what level of talk versus participation are all things that are coming into play as we sketch up the design. Things like video shots, photos, web demos, etc all require resources (and time) to pull together – and both are in short supply.
(6) Meet with the other person. Here we have two tracks of influence – how are the project teams members influencing each other's thinking and tasks as we pull together short meetings and even shorter phone calls/instant messages. How will the project team influence the session participant's thinking when we do meet face to face next week? Will what we have designed work in practice (no time for piloting or test running)?
(7) Verify your assumptions and determine what to exchange. – As I said no time for piloting and test running so what level of risk are we prepared to take? We have senior leadership support for the approach we've put forward – which is supposed to be the most important attribute of any project.
(8) Request a commitment. For the team – we are making a big assumption that we can rely on each other. But I'm confident that will be fine. For the audience we are going to ask them to commit to what we propose. How we will seal the commitment has not yet been determined.
(9) Document the agreement. We don't have time as a team to document what we are doing in a formal way, but there are informal emails, meeting notes and so on that are flying about. But as a general principle documenting the progress of a project is a sound idea. We will be documenting the outcomes of the communication session and following though on them.
(10) Deliver on your offer and track the work to completion. This comes after the communication session. Assuming it goes well we will have a raft of work to do.
So although I am somewhat skeptical of a 10 step plan to influence it does serve as a useful checklist and 'steadying device' when things seem chaotic.