Today, attention is our new currency. With endless distractions, how does anyone get anything done? For product managers leading the execution of a product, working with an inattentive, context-switching development team is a struggle. This is why developing strong influencing skills is crucial for product managers.
While many articles provide advice on ways to influence, they do not explain how to influence quickly. And getting a product to launch quickly in this competitive market is more important than ever. As this Vendasta blog post points out “…slow speed to market is like handing over the competitive advantage.”
Here are five tips for product managers who want to influence quickly.
1. Determine Individual Motivations for Anticipated Challenges
Each team member has different motivations that can slow development. The product manager must empathize with each individual to understand the why behind their motivation and anticipate related challenges.
For individuals unaware of their motivations, it is up to the product manager to listen, observe and engage in a two-way dialogue to discover it. A strong product manager knows exactly how to create an environment for the team member to share their motivation.
- Sean (a UX researcher) is motivated to have more responsibility because he wants a promotion. The anticipated challenge might be an attempt to take control over development to be better seen by the C-Suite team. By doing so, his actions could potentially lead to chaos or confusion among the team.
2. Reduce Future Frustrations with Custom Communication
Too many meetings, lack of documentation, conflicting interests, and unrealistic deadlines are frustrating but common issues that cause team friction. To avoid roadblocks that slow development, product managers must reduce their individual team members’ frustrations.
To do this effectively, product managers have to customize their communication to each individuals’ needs. By doing this, the product manager provides a smooth path for individual team members to avoid:
- Political or out of scope distractions
- Lack of trust or loyalty
- Depleted emotional capital (see Kris Fannin for more on this topic)
- Since we know Sean’s anticipated challenge, the product manager can position Sean to be better seen. One way to do this could be by asking him to play a bigger role in C-Suite presentations. With custom communication, Sean’s frustrations are avoided because he knows you are positioning him as a candidate for promotion.
3. Increase Engagement with Repeated and Varied Storytelling
A former mentor of mine had the uncanny ability to tell the same story, many different ways. Witnessing this over time, I noticed her listeners were able to:
- Recall and retell the story
- Use the story to empathize and relate to others
- Apply the story’s lessons to creatively solve problems
And it’s not just my former mentor, companies like Virgin, 1-800-GOT-JUNK, Burton, and Patagonia use storytelling as a way to boost employee engagement. While storytelling is a popular tactic when pitching a new idea or advocating for customer needs, I argue the same tactic should be used for influencing product development. By doing this, the product manager can memorably communicate a clear and focused mission.
- Now that Sean has a bigger role in C-Suite presentations, the product manager needs to vary and repeat his story in order for the leadership to understand that Sean is a candidate for promotion. One way to do this is to label Sean’s story as the “presentation change agent. Oh, you need a big presentation done? I recommend Sean, especially if big players are in the room.
4. Get Vocal About Individual Triumphs to Build Trust
Google spent years studying team effectiveness and found the key ingredient to success was trust. Trust requires vulnerability, it takes a long time to build and takes only seconds to lose. For product managers, this can be tricky to navigate with different cross-functional personalities.
Maurice Schweitzer of the Wharton School of Business describes building trust as “…striking a balance between appearing credible and also human.” For product managers, credibility can be achieved with over communicating, strong planning and expert knowledge of the customer and market. But to be human? I believe it is using your unique voice to advocate for others.
Sending a kudos email to your team, giving individual shoutouts during a meeting and expressing appreciation are ways in which product managers can infuse trust and camaraderie. While this can feel forced to some, it’s an important skill to master if you want to make friends, influence people and ultimately, not come off as an asshole.
- One way to vocalize triumphs is by having the product manager say “Sean’s support with C-Suite presentations directly resulted in faster approvals.” After consistency and time, Sean will understand the product manager is advocating for him.
5. Consistent Alignment with Decision Makers to Gain Insights
Every company has a different decision maker. The product manager needs to identify and develop a strong relationship with them. This is crucial because if the decision maker does not agree with the product – no matter how wonderful the team might think it is – the product is going nowhere.
The best way to do this is with consistent alignment so you can understand their needs, gain deeper insights and make decisions together. Without alignment, you run the risk of building the wrong product and never launching. If you do not have access to the decision maker, build a relationship with someone close to them or another key stakeholder.
- The decision maker provided an insight that upper management is focused on increasing smart capabilities into their physical products. With consistent alignment from decision makers, the product manager can share with Sean that one way to stand out for promotion is to work with a team or ask to build smart products.
While there are more than five ways for product managers to influence quickly, these have been the most effective for me.
In order to influence quickly, product managers must determine the team’s individual motivations for anticipated challenges, reduce future frustrations with custom communication, increase engagement with repeated and varied storytelling, get vocal about individual triumphs to build trust and practice consistent alignment with decision makers to gain insights.
If you have other suggestions for how product managers can quickly build influence, I’d love to hear from you.