Tag Archives: Buy-in

Influencer QA

Influencing Corporate Policy

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.


InfluencerQDear Crucial Skills,

Our company has a review policy called the 70/20/10 rule. This means that 70 percent of my staff must be rated “Meets Expectations,” only 20 percent can be rated “Exceeds Expectations,” and worst of all, 10 percent must be rated “Needs Improvement.”

I find this rating system unmotivating and unfair for many obvious reasons. Specifically, at the present, I don’t have anyone I’d describe as “Needs Improvement.” However, I must come up with two people to fit this category.

At the other end of the spectrum, more than 20 percent are exceeding expectations and deserve commensurate rewards—yet I must arbitrarily leave people out so I don’t exceed the quota.

I raised my concerns over this policy but was told I should always be able to find 10 percent who “Need Improvement.” This seems like a losing battle, but I’d like to encourage the decision-makers to rethink this policy.

Frustrated Reviewer

A Dear Frustrated,

I find the performance appraisal system you’re describing to be as unjust as you do. However, I believe it was designed to address an even more egregious injustice.

Forced rating systems have been imposed on managers for decades because managers were failing to manage. The heart of good management is the speed and effectiveness with which managers hold crucial conversations. However, they typically put off holding crucial conversations for many months and, even when holding them, tends to gloss over the most fundamental messages.

I believe that forced ranking systems have been imposed on managers primarily because senior leaders believed that, without the compulsion of these systems, managers would continue to shrink from their responsibility to deal candidly, ethically, and professionally with performance problems. Managers are now being governed by unjust systems because so many failed to exercise ethical and leadership responsibilities in addressing performance problems willingly.

Now, with that said, most system responses to behavioral problems are doomed to fail. They produce unintended consequences of the kind you describe. They are brute force solutions to entrenched influence problems. Those familiar with our work on influence know that problems exist because there are six sources of influence that are perfectly aligned to produce the negative results you’re experiencing. To change those results, you must affect four or more of those sources of influence—nothing less will do.

Okay, soapbox aside, here are some thoughts as you decide how to be an ethical manager, a loyal employee, and a decent human being at all once.

1. Keep the spirit of the law. Given that the 70/20/10 system’s intent is good, first make sure you are not fooling yourself about the quality of your team and are stepping up to crucial conversations scrupulously—both in the interest of your organization and in the interest of your team members. You lose the moral authority to claim there is a “better way” than the 70/20/10 system if you aren’t an example of that better way yourself. For example, if you conclude that 40 percent of your team is in serious need of development, you should acknowledge that just as honestly as when you believe 40 percent deserve a rating of “Exceeds Expectations.”

2. Choose only from ethical options. When considering my options in confronting value conflicts in organizations, I distill them down to three. I can quit, stay and accept, or stay and influence. In other words, I could conclude that I would be a hypocrite to stay in an organization whose practices so conflict with my values. If you take this option, I’d suggest you use your exit as an opportunity to exert influence. In a clear and respectful way, detail what you admired in the company and all of the reasons you are reluctant to leave. Add your concern with this system and the inequities it made you participate in. One strong and clear voice like this can be remarkably effective at influencing change. It may not happen overnight, but it can plant seeds of doubt that spur reflection after you leave.

Second, you can stay and accept the circumstances. The only ethical way to do this is to decide to loyally fulfill your duties, even though you personally disagree with the system. If you stay in your current position at this company, carry out the 70/20/10 system as you are bound to do, and avoid badmouthing the system or the leaders who choose to continue with this program.

Third, you could stay and influence. You could, for example, decide that you are remaining only contingent on your success at influencing the system. If you do so, you must do so under the same ethical terms as the previous option. You must carry out the spirit and letter of your management duties. But at the same time, you can make your best effort to influence change. If this is the approach you take, I’d suggest a time limit to your efforts so you don’t become the angry rebel and waste your professional efforts in a lost cause.

If you choose to stay and influence change, here are a couple of options you could consider:

1. Invite study. If you have influence with HR or senior leadership, attempt to invite them to study the effectiveness of the 70/20/10 system rather than simply criticizing it with anecdotes. Honestly share your concerns with some of its effects, but also express openness that further study may convince you it’s the best approach. Encourage HR to declare what “dependent measures” they believe will be positively affected by the employment of the system, then study over time whether or not better results are following. It’s likely you’ll find that the system did produce some worthwhile effects—which will help you make recommendations more useful than just “throw out the bad system.”

2. Teach influence. As I mentioned earlier, the intent of the system is to influence managerial behavior. Our research into the six sources of influence is often a very effective way to help leaders see the limited success of their “single source” influence strategy. Share copies of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything with key leaders and attempt to engage them in reflecting on its application to managerial behavior in your organization.

I applaud your desire to do right by your people and your company and wish you the best as you make this crucial decision.


Influencer QA

Influencing Project Management

Dear Crucial Skills,

My supervisor often gives me leadership responsibility for projects involving multiple departments. However, my position is not viewed as one of authority. As a result, I struggle to get results from others when I ask them to do something. When I present my lack of progress and ask for assistance, I’m told I need to stop blaming others for my lack of results. Since I have been trained to teach Crucial Conversations, my supervisor assumes I should be able to convince others to shift their priorities. Unfortunately, people outside of my department are not able to make my request their No. 1 priority, no matter how many Crucial Conversations skills I employ.

How do I get my supervisor to see that I need her support, without making her think I am blaming others? I am at the end of my rope!

Without Support

Dear Without,

You are not alone. When I was teaching at Stanford’s Advanced Project Management Program this was the participants’ most frequent concern. You’re given lots of accountability, but no authority, and you’re expected to use your skills and charm to get it all done.

It doesn’t work that way, does it?

Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations focus on dialogue skills—the skills required to reach shared understanding and commitment. These skills would be all you needed if the lack of cooperation you were experiencing was the exception, not the rule. However, it sounds as if it’s the rule, and that tells me you need to change the rules. You need a structural solution—a solution that involves all six sources of influence.

The situation you describe calls for a project-management system, one that people buy into and have the skills to use. Then it requires holding people accountable to the system—not just to your individual projects.

I will walk through the influence model found in our book Influencer to help you solve this problem. The process starts with identifying measurable results you want to achieve; next, you identify a few key behaviors that, if changed, will bring about those results; and finally, you must outline strategies to accomplish your vital behaviors using six different sources of influence.

Measurable Results. Your goal is to ensure project schedules, budgets, and specs are met.

It sounds as if your projects have to compete with employees’ other tasks. That’s to be expected. The problem occurs when your projects never get a high enough priority, or when the priority gets bumped. Instead of focusing on your project, focus on the overall project-planning process. Your goal is to get people to commit to a fair process—one that meets their objectives as well as yours. Then your challenge is to help everyone stick to the process. Become a champion for the process, not just your project. This change will create greater Mutual Purpose.

Vital Behaviors. The vital behaviors you’ll want to focus on are:

  1. Prioritizing all of your project’s tasks against people’s competing tasks.
  2. Ensuring that people who complete the tasks have input into the project plan and sign up to deliver on realistic schedules, budgets, and specs.
  3. Ensuring that when people have reason to believe they could miss a schedule, budget, or spec, they will immediately update the team on the problem.

The Six Sources of Influence. The sources of influence and specific strategies you’ll need to target are:

Source 1 – Personal Motivation: The people you rely on are feeling a lot of pain. Their plates are too full; they feel as if they have five bosses; and they’re constantly being blindsided with new unexpected demands. Instead of turning up the heat regarding your projects, get their buy-in to a more consistent process—one that has realistic priorities and plans.

Source 2 – Personal Ability: You and your colleagues may have to learn basic project-management principles. Look for resources that are already available within your firm. such as a project-management specialist. Once you have a project-management system in place, you’ll find your Crucial Conversations skills will become more powerful.

Sources 3 & 4 – Social Motivation & Ability: The most important social support you need is from your manager and the managers your resource people report to. They need to fully support a more robust project-management system. Ease their concerns that the priority-setting process may take more time and is less flexible by demonstrating how results are delivered far more reliably.

Source 5 – Structural Motivation: I bet the employees you count on are rewarded for achieving results within their own departments, and not for achieving your goals. Goals that require cross-functional teamwork are often shortchanged. Work with your manager and the resource managers to find ways to reward people for executing on their plans and for keeping to the project-planning process you’ve outlined. Even tiny changes to these reward systems will send a powerful message that managers are serious.

Source 6 – Structural Ability: This entire approach relies on implementing a project-management structure. Check to see if you already have one that’s gone dormant. Check to see if your organization has a Project Management Office that can help you re-invigorate your project structure. Here are some basic structural elements I’d want to see: a priority-setting process that involves the right stakeholders; a project planning process that results in realistic schedules, budgets, and specs; project status meetings that keep the projects on track; a measurement system that provides ongoing feedback on how well people are keeping to their project plans.

Report Back to your Manager. Meet with your manager and frame the larger issue. It isn’t just about executing your projects; it’s about executing any and all projects. Bring in whatever facts you can to back up your case. If you don’t have data on missed deadlines, budget overruns, and failures to meet specs, then bring in examples of the problems: for example, people have unclear priorities, priorities that constantly change, objectives that aren’t realistic, and no clear project plans to follow. Explain that solving this larger problem is the best way to solve your specific problem.

Best of luck in influencing your organization,