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Becoming A Stellar Games Industry Manager : Learning to be an Influencer

In the latest edition of his ongoing series on improving your games industry-related managerial skills, Marc Mencher begins a new chapter, focusing on the power of influence.

Part 1: Getting People to Listen

We have Dale Carnegie to thank for one of the top-selling books of the past 70 years. For under $10.00 you can pick up How to Win Friends and Influence People, a relatively slim volume that will reveal the secrets to financial success through knowledge and give you the ability to “express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people.”

Born in 1888 in Missouri, Carnegie achieved success the hard way – he earned it. He became one of Armour & Co.’s top salesmen by selling bacon, soap and lard, and from those humble beginnings he created what is now a national craze for self-improvement programs and franchise operations. His successful program is based on five “course drivers” – self-confidence, basic communication skills, “people” skills, leadership skills and stress-control skills – all of which should sound fairly familiar.

What is Influence?

According to dictionary.com, influence is “The capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others; the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others.”

Influence isn’t about forcing people to listen to you or accept your ideas. It’s about finding the right combination of words, expressed the right way, to make people do something you want them to do – and either embrace your idea enthusiastically or think that it was their idea all long. This is not actually as sinister as it sounds.

Influence is a key element in getting your ideas heard and accepted, but how much influence you have and how much you can/should use are more difficult to gauge and implement.

Wielding influence is hardly a new concept. According to Aristotle, a successful influencer speaks logically, fluently and confidently to inspire and motivate others by appealing to their hidden interests. To be truly convincing, an influencer uses logic to win over others’ minds, emotion to win their hearts and at least a veneer of confidence to be regarded as authoritative.

The great philosopher learned his lessons from his teacher Plato and passed them along to many students including Alexander. Not surprisingly, they are as relevant today as they were back in the 4th century B.C.

In a perfect world, you would be able to influence everyone around you – your team, your developer (or publisher), and management – to do things exactly your way. If this were Lemmings, you’d be able to click on a person, assign a task and know that the worker would continue on the job until it was finished (or something prevented the little guy from working…).

But we live in the real world, or a close facsimile of it, so managing a team and wielding your influence requires a bit more effort. No matter how hard you try to click on others, they will probably want to do things their own way.

Using Your Powers for Good

  • Motivate your team: Once you find out what drives each person on your team, outline the benefits for everyone involved from achieving team goals
  • Create a positive environment: People on your team will get more work done and be happier even in pressure situations when they trust you so focus on how you present yourself and your ideas
  • Be open to negotiation: Achieving positive agreements will enable you to establish positive collaborations, which is crucial on every level of game development
  • Be open to change: Sometimes the right way may not be your way. Regard your situation as an on-going opportunity for learning.
  • Build a loyal customer base: Make the effort to find out what the customer wants
  • Improve your career prospects: Build a strong team and prove that you’re a valuable and valued leader

Motivation

Research shows that opinions can be swayed in many ways: how you conduct negotiations, how you present your ideas, the way you look, the way you conduct yourself in business situations and how others react to you. If you can learn to motivate others to define their personal and professional goals, you can energize team members to work toward a common goal, get support for your ideas from your colleagues, your management and your customers.

While no one expects you to be a mind reader, it’s helpful if you can learn to sense what your teammates are thinking, or at least learn to gauge their reactions by their body language. Use your imagination and your own experiences to sense clues that can give you an idea of what other people might be feeling. You shouldn’t (and legally can’t) pry into your team’s personal lives, but you can be accessible when they need to discuss a situation that might be affecting their work.

People are most likely to open up to those who act with sincerity. Often people will talk around something that’s bothering them rather than addressing it directly. You need to be aware of how team members are interacting with each other, and whether there is any factionalizing or jockeying for power behind the scenes.

If you sense problems like this, be ready to get to the bottom of the matter as directly and openly as possible. While talking to team members individually is sometimes effective, you run the risk of the first person warning, coaching or even intimidating the second person, so the responses you get may not be valid.

On the other hand, talking to each person individually may encourage them to open up and tell you what’s bothering them (and what’s really going on!). Some helpful questions include:

  • If you had control of the situation, what would you like to happen now?
  • What concerns you the most about this issue personally? On behalf of the team?
  • What do you consider to be the most important thing we need to do to resolve the situation?
  • Aside from this, are there any other issues that are worrying you about this situation?

To achieve top performance form others, it is necessary to excite their interest in your ideas. Build trusting relationships with individuals, understand their values, involve them in decision making, secure their commitment, and give the necessary support.


Lay a Foundation

You are more likely to gain people’s cooperation if you have a good relationship with them. Look for opportunities to establish mutual interests and respect. Offer people support when they need it, and they will then be more likely to respond favorably to your requests for cooperation. When you talk, pay attention to nonverbal behavior. Invest time and care in your relationships with team members and colleagues.

Always aim to engage people’s interest. When you give a team member a new task or an additional responsibility, give the details of the whole project to increase a sense of involvement. Knowing the big picture motivates people because they can see how their contribution will support a successful outcome.

People are motivated to do what they like doing. They may not, however, be motivated to do what you want them to do. Discover people’s values by asking what’s important to them. Stay away from personal questions and focus on career and workplace satisfaction.

Get Everyone Involved

Participating in decision-making motivates people. When you talk to a co-worker or team member about how a job could be done, view it as an exercise in joint problem solving. Explore different approaches and brainstorm about how to achieve a workable agreement. Once you have agreed on a goal, let your colleague have some influence over the process to assure commitment to the outcome.

Discuss mutual goals with team members and how they can be achieved together. When people feel that their input is valued, they will be more motivated.

  • Talk about team goals in terms of what needs to be achieved and how
  • Identify individual goals and discuss how they can help and be helped by the team’s goals
  • Work as a group to align individual and team goals, encouraging everyone to give their input
  • Cement people’s interest by emphasizing what they stand to gain.

Adjust to the Team

Adjust your leadership method to the type of team you’re managing. A team that’s having trouble achieving results needs someone who will first re-evaluate the goals and then determine how authoritative to be to set a clear direction and motivate the team to achieve its goals.

A team with a lot of strong-minded members needs a leader who can moderate discussions while a team in conflict needs a leader who can re-establish good relationships. Of course, leaders who can combine all the necessary skills are likely to be most influential in the long run.

Getting people to work together as a team isn’t easy. Your best chance is to define a common purpose that everyone can believe in. This could be high standards, recognition of good work, a community idea, or mutual growth. Whatever it is, it has to be something people are willing to give up their time and effort to have. Look carefully at the team’s function – what is its purpose? What would it mean for it to do well? Then you will be in a position to outline these values to the team.

Handle Diversity

Your team members will differ in their interests, needs, ages, motivations and cultural backgrounds. Your job is to motivate them to work for themselves and for the team.

Once you’ve defined the team’s purpose and goals, discuss how each member can contribute. Establish what each person likes to do and most wants to achieve, then provide as many opportunities as possible for these goals to be achieved without losing sight of the overall project goal.

Planning Action

Influence your team’s capacity for creativity and ability to process constructive criticism. Direct discussions in a structured way so that you can work together to find solutions and form reasonable action plans.

Make It So

Sometimes it’s not enough just to want to do a task. People need to know how to do it and then get the chance to put their plans into action. Give your team the best chance of success by providing the necessary authority, budget, training and support. If time is an issue, work with them to change priorities, reassign tasks and improve time management. When they’re successful, you’re successful and they’ll appreciate the effort you made on their behalf.


Loyalty

Along with building a reputation of trustworthiness, you want to develop a level of knowledge to support your position as team manager, or at least show that you’re willing to get the information or arrange for team training. For instance, if your background is in casual space games and you move over to next gen development, be sure you know enough about the new genre so your team doesn’t see you as a newbie who talked his way into the job because someone in management owed you a favor.

Even if you already know a great deal about the new venue, there’s a fine line between serving as a trust resource and trying to impress with what you know. (And whatever you do, avoid saying, “Well, when I was in charge of …”)

People tend to be influenced by those whom they trust. This works on the team level as well as the customer level. A game company that consistently delivers quality product and demonstrates that it listens to players will be more successful than one that doesn’t; it’s a simple lesson but a true one.

First Impressions

The adage “You only get one chance to make a first impression” may sound trite, but even in the relatively informal game industry it’s true. Research shows that people tend to make their first impressions within the first three minutes of meeting. Their decisions can be influenced by many visual cues like attire, voice, handshake, grooming, facial hair and facial expressions. People are, after all, still people whether they’re wearing a designer suit or grungy torn jeans.

Company cultures within our industry vary widely. Some are stricter about appearance while others (usually smaller development houses) are more relaxed. Some fall in the middle, requiring “business casual” when the publisher or investor is visiting but permitting “casual Friday” to be really informal. How you present yourself affects the way people perceive and react to you so you need to be aware of what’s required and expected where you work.

In a formal setting, be sure your clothes fit well and are made of quality materials. You don’t need to wear Armani but you want to avoid wearing something that is obviously cheap (there’s a difference between cheap and inexpensive.) You’ll look more polished and professional if you’re comfortable in your outfit, which means breaking in those new shoes before the first day on the job. Savvy senior management will be able to tell whether you’re trying to adhere to the dress code or dressing to impress.

If the setting is informal, even your jeans and t-shirts need to be clean and fit properly. Unless you’re in a position where your skill set is supremely valued no matter what you wear, try not to give in to the temptation to “make a statement” with your attire. You’ll say more about yourself through your work than your logo garb.

What you wear is only part of it. How you carry yourself counts too – your posture can say a lot about your attitude. You don’t need to walk around like a big happy face all the time, but scowling at everyone sends a message too. Unless you’re the famed lone programmer in the room, learn to initiate and return greetings, even if it’s a brief “how ya doin’” around the box of donuts.

Dress codes also vary between countries, so you should be ready to adapt to match the practices of those with whom you come in contact, especially if they’re located in another country. If you’re making a business trip overseas for the first time, talk to HR about customs and appropriate attire – you’re not just representing yourself, you’re also the visible image of your company.

Managing Yourself

Good influencers know how to manage their emotions. Even if they’re having a really bad day, they know not to bring that into the office or inflict it on the team; instead they find ways to channel that negative emotion in a positive way.

Relaxation is your most important aid, because when you are relaxed you can think clearly and respond to challenges. Learn to stay calm, whatever the situation, by practicing relaxation techniques until they become second nature.

If you make mistakes, see them as learning opportunities. Detach yourself from the situation and ask, “What did I learn from that?” Learn to switch off negative self-talk such as, “I am no good at this.”

Always retain your composure so that you are better able to deal with any difficult situations that may arise. Learn to be honest with yourself:

  • I keep being late for meetings including the ones I’ve called
  • I get stressed when coping with problems so I don’t listen as well as I should
  • I do not like being interrupted so I steamroll over others

Take some time out to think about your talents, strengths and long-term goals. What interests you most about your work? It could be writing, planning, or human relations among many other things. In the long run, you are more likely to be successful at your ob if you are interested in what you are doing.

Be clear and realistic about your limitation. Ask yourself what support you need from others and then set about getting it.

Think about where you want to be in a year’s time. Imaging what your initial steps could be for achieving those goals.

  • Believe in your ability to achieve your goals and motivate others
  • Welcome new challenges but don’t abandon your commitments
  • Always strive to improve your skills and don’t be afraid to learn from others
  • Learn from comments about your work even if it’s negative
  • Accept responsibility as long as you’re no doing it for the power
  • Never become complacent

The mnemonic “SMART” will help you clarify your goals.

  • Be specific about what you want.
  • Make sure that you can measure results.
  • Be sure that your goal is at least remotely achievable.
  • Ask yourself if the goal is relevant.
  • Always consider the timing in terms of the current environment, access to necessary resources, and the team’s ability to reach the goal by a set date.

Learn to Listen

One of the biggest complaints employees have about management is “They don’t listen!” Nothing is more annoying that talking to someone who appears to be listening but pounces on the end of your sentences with a “Yes, but…” and then launches into his own platform. What he’s really listening for are pauses in your breathing so that he can take control of the conversation. Remember to ask other people for their ideas before presenting yours. You don’t have to be right all the time and you don’t have to know everything.

Nonverbal behavior (facial expressions and body language) provides important clues to people’s emotions. By paying attention to these you can fine-tune your approach. Watch out for signals that may indicate a person is drawing away from you or moving toward accepting your idea.

  • In American business culture, folded arms, hands and a lack of eye contact indicates fear, defensiveness, indifference or withdrawal. (In other cultures these may actually be signs of respect!)
  • A positive expression, direct eye contact and an open posture signal interest.
  • Tense posture might indicate fear or withdrawal, but it could also be caused by stress factors outside of work so it’s important to look for other non-verbal signs
  • Forward-leaning posture shows attentiveness

If You Lead, Will They Follow?

Good leaders inspire others to share a vision. They know how to get the job done and still maintain positive relationships. The first step is to be clear about your purpose; this will give you an underlying strength that others will sense. The next step is to be clear about your organization’s purpose. What needs to happen in order to overcome the obstacles to success? Once you have identified what needs to be done to achieve results, you are in a position to exert influence.

To be an effective influencer, you need to do more than just wait for opportunities to come to you. Putting yourself at the forefront of projects that are going forward and taking every chance to make contacts is central to influence. People who back away from challenges often see themselves as powerless to influence events. Become more proactive by acknowledging that you are responsible for what happens to you and always assume that life is what you make it. Interpret events positively and take the initiative to make things happen. Learn from your mistakes and ignore situations you cannot influence.

Establish what you want to achieve personally and within your organization. Make your vision more realistic by defining how you and others can work together to build a successful future.

  • It’s ok to have high expectations of yourself but be realistic; don’t expect everyone to be just like you
  • Establish what’s important for you but don’t assume that what you want is what others want
  • After you define your intermediate and long-term goals, check with the rest of the team
  • When you talk to other team members, really listen to what they say
  • It’s ok to envision how things could be but don’t create a dream that interferes with reality
  • Don’t play favorites - make everyone on the team feel valuable

People place trust in and are influenced by those whom they regard as reliable. People who do not keep their promises lose the trust of others quickly. Before you commit to new obligations, be sure that you can fulfill them. If you aren’t certain that you can, admit it -- it’s better to disappoint at this stage that later on. If, despite your best efforts, you and your team area likely to miss a deadline, call the other party and explain what happened. Before you agree to new obligations, be sure you have enough time and resources to get the job done, meet the milestone, honor the obligation, etc.

Describe your idea for team goals in general terms and then ask your team for their reactions. (If it’s a brainstorming session, remember that there are no bad suggestions!) Draw out their ideas by asking questions. Take a few minutes to think about it before you respond. Adapt your ideas to incorporate as much of the team’s input as possible rather than persisting in your own proposal alone. Respond with questions that will elicit information:

  • Before we decide on the solution, let’s compare notes on what happened.
  • After we’ve discussed this, we can call the customer to let them know what we intend to do.
  • Any ideas on how we can resolve this problem and keep it from happening again?
  • What do you need to get this done by next week?

Make sure your written and verbal communication is always clear and concise. Don’t make your team try to guess what you really wanted or have to hunt you down ten times a day for an explanation. Presenting a thorough and detailed request not only shows that you’re organized but also that you respect your team and that’s an important factor in being a successful influencer.

Influencing Your Superiors

You may not think you have any pull with upper management, but you won’t know until you try. This requires some finesse, but it’s a good lesson in learning how to communicate effectively. Work to demonstrate confidence and foresight, identify criteria that either meet management requirements or enable them to assess proposals (like yours!), adapt your influencing style and be care not to force the issue. Bullying upper management rarely works.

You can impress senior management with your ability to handle responsibility. Ideally, you should already have had some success in completing high-profile projects. The better your track record, the more likely that your ideas will get a respectful hearing.

People are generally promoted when they have shown that they can work at a level above the one they’re on currently. At the very least, try to build a reputation as someone who can be depended on to get results, troubleshoot problems, spot opportunities and successfully manage teams who like working for you.

  • Be ready to take the lead.
  • Take time to review how the team is working as a group
  • Delays can occur so stay on top of that situation – don’t push too hard but don’t let yourself be sidetracked from finding out what’s really happening
  • Listen to your team before offering your own thoughts
  • Don’t hang on to projects when you can delegate
  • Don’t create barriers within your team by playing favorites
  • “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” - don’t interfere if the team is working well.

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