Monthly Archives: January 2010

Keith and Rush are right for all the wrong reasons

If you listen too long to Keith Olbermann or Rush Limbaugh, you may come to believe politics are important only as a tool for beating the tar out of those you don’t like.

No wonder most people are turned off to politics all together.

That’s a shame, because politics – like coalitioning(?) – is really important as the art of the possible:  How do you  assemble the right groups of stakeholders to identify, implement and sustain effective solutions to important problems.?

And when it comes to achieving success on issues or projects that are complex, large-scale or heavily regulated or legislatively affected, likely nothing happens without engaging in – or at least understanding how – the politics of getting things done.

That’s why I recently counseled a new PR professional looking to be successful in public policy communications to familiar with – and hopefully comfortable at – working with governmental relations.

Even in outcome-neutral public involvement programs, success as defined by the client and the community will rest in part on how well goals and issues are communicated to elected and regulatory officials who have to implement any recommendations.

There are lots of ways to gain familiarity with politics and with the unique pressures and motivations that drive public servants.  But here are two great organizations and sources for becoming more adept at government affairs and using that skill appropriately:

Time spent with either of these two groups are likely to be more productive when it comes to politics than another minute spent with Keith and Rush.

How thin is your margin of error?

My wife and I consider The American Restaurant our go-to restaurant for special events; we have ever since our net worth became greater than a blank check and a three-day float.

But two off outings in a row – including a ruined New Year’s Eve dinner – has moved the Crown Center classic out of the “no brainer” category into “not now/maybe never?”

New Year’s Eve was the worst. High expectations.  Left a fun party for a highly anticipated late night of intimate dining and dancing.  Dressed to the nines (Linda beautiful as always and me, well, Cary had nothing to fear nor did innocent bystanders).  And ready for a great meal by Chef Gold.

What we got was “meh” food, incredibly slow service and no attention from our server (at one point he did the reverse “Walk like an Egyptian” to avoid eye contact towards the end of a 30-minute span during which no food was delivered to our table).  We eventually had to enlist the butter boy into being our emissary. And then all we got was an incredulous look when we balked at receiving two courses at the same time when the food finally arrived.

With Linda nauseated from no food (it’s now 11:15 pm), a dense cloud of forbidden cigarette smoke in the ladies lounge and the (mutually shared) bile of having a good night out, we left early and headed for home, two surprised dogs, shrimp marinara TV dinners and an irritable take on the AR.

And the thing is, it didn’t have to be that way.

IF … the restaurant had kept us informed about what was going on … acknowledged the problem and the difficulties it presented … sent an appropriate representative to confer with us … recognized our goal was getting something resembling food, not slices of bread falling like autumn leaves … and asked if there was anything that could be done to restore our confidence … things might have turned out differently.

And for us coalitionists, the key take-away may be that our margin of error on delivering the goods – and fixing problems when quality falls short – is slim. We had a two-decade investment of good times in the American, and quality issues have put a serious wobble in the relationship.  Most of the people we seek to engage don’t have a similar 20-year reservoir of confidence and good will in the institutions we may represent.

Good design makes you smarter

The bottom line of a recent post of mine is that bad design – of anything: process, materials, content – prevents us from winning the confidence and support of potential allies.

It probably also prevents us from fully tapping the creativity of stakeholders when we ask them to help us brainstorm solutions for knotty problems, according to Don Norman in the following video (see esp. the portion at around five minutes).

Norman’s a world-renowned usability expert who believes intellect and emotion are – and should be – brought together by good design in ways that increase creativity, productivity and satisfaction.

Without Comment: Seven ways to get what you want

7 Ways to Get What You Want: “Influence is the key to any leadership role. Some folks do not like talking about it, but power and influence are natural phenomena in organizations and in leadership roles. People who want power and influence often try not to appear as if they are seeking it, and some people who have power and influence are reticent about how they actually got it.

Research into the area of power and influence is fascinating. In one notable study, 165 managers were asked to write short descriptions of occasions when they influenced their bosses, co-workers, or employees. (See Kipnis, Schmidt, Swaffin-Smith, and Wilkinson, ‘Patterns of Managerial Influence,’ Organizational Dynamics.) The responses from these 165 managers were condensed and rewritten into a 58-item questionnaire that was then administered to over 750 managers. In this questionnaire, the managers were asked both how and why they influenced people in the workplace.

This research identified seven key influence tactics:

(1) Reason: Using facts and data to bolster your request.

(2) Assertiveness: Using a direct and forceful approach, such as demanding compliance, ordering others to do what is asked, and pointing out rules that must be followed.

(3) Friendliness: Creating goodwill by being affable and acting humble prior to making your request.

(4) Sanctions: Doling out punishments or distributing rewards.

(5) Coalition: Getting the support of others to back your idea, proposal, or request.

(6) Bargaining: Negotiating with others for the exchange of benefits or favors.

(7) Higher authority: Gaining the support of others at higher levels in the organization to back up your idea, proposal, or request.

The researchers discovered that the managers did not rely equally on the seven influence tactics. When the managers were interacting with their superiors, the most commonly used tactics (in order of frequency) were reason, coalition, friendliness, and bargaining. When the managers were interacting with their subordinates, the most commonly used tactics (in order of frequency) were reason, assertiveness, friendliness, and coalition. Interestingly, the use of sanctions was the least popular influence tactic by the managers. What’s more, the managers who controlled resources valued by others, or who were perceived to have more power than others, used a greater variety of influence tactics and employed assertiveness more often than did managers with less power.

To be an effective leader, you need to know which influence tactic to use in which situation. This leadership skill often separates the great leaders from the rest.

So, what influence tactics do you use?

Scott Derrick is the Director of Professional Development at the Senior Executives Association, a nonprofit professional association of career federal executives. Scott is also an executive coach and leadership consultant with the Federal Executive Development Group LLC, a consulting company specializing in leadership development in the federal sector. The views expressed here are his own.

(Via GovLoop.)