The Trick Getting People Who Don’t Work For You to Do Work For You

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Sep 20, 2013
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: Sometimes, readers ask about past TLNT articles. That’s why every Friday we republish a Classic TLNT post that some of you have requested.

One of the questions I get most frequently is how to get people who don’t work for you to do work for you.

So many people are in matrixed situations, or they are a program manager over an endeavor that is dependent on people from all over the place.

So you are on the hook to get something done, and you are at the mercy of others that have no motivation to help you. How do you get them to be more committed to your cause, and to do the work so that you don’t fail?

Public humiliation works

Here is a story from early in my career where I stumbled upon a great way to deal with this.

I was a product manager for a product line that interfaced with multiple third-party products. Part of my job was to make sure that each time we changed a version of any of the products in our product line, that the interfaces to all the third-party products still worked.

This required tasks like building or upgrading new versions of interfaces, and/or testing new combinations of versions.

I could not do this work myself. The only way to get this done was to pester the engineers to do it — and they didn’t work for me. If anything, they prided themselves on not having to answer to me!

To make matters worse, this work was never going to be the most important work they were doing. It was never going to be the most interesting or fun work they could do. They had no personal motivation to do it.

List all the work and add names

Because there were so many moving parts, I needed to just get my head around it all.

So I began listing all of our product components, all of the third-party products they interfaced to, and the status of each interface: What needed to be done, the date it was due, and the name of the engineer who was responsible for it. I put this on the large whiteboard that hung in my cubicle-office.

The reason I put it on the whiteboard was because it was a big enough place to get all the information in one look. Computers weren’t what they are today for displaying information and it was a good thing.

Because of the whiteboard an amazing thing happened. The engineers all started using the back stairway near my office, and stopping in to make sure their name was not on the board! The didn’t want their name listed as being late for anything, where the world could see it.

I never had to bug them again. In fact, I never needed to even ask them again. I just had to put the new task on the board and note the date and a name.

They would, on their own, seek out if they were on the hook for something, and then deliver it. They were motivated to get their name off “Patty’s whiteboard.”

Here is the big lesson:

By showing the work that everyone needs to do to everyone involved, people are shamed into doing the work so they won’t look bad.

They might not mind being the reason that a program is failing if they don’t really care about the program, but they don’t want to be the obvious reason a program is failing — if everyone will know about.

How to apply this to your program or project:

Here is how I have coached people to apply this to a program or matrixed project of any kind.

Create a document with the key elements of work that you and everyone need to contribute to the program. Make it a one page document.

  • Show everyone’s work that is due.
  • Show the status of each item.

Here is a very simple version of what I mean:Pattychart (1)

The magic is in the distribution

Distribute this to:

  • Everyone on the team;
  • Their managers; and,
  • All the stakeholders of the program.

Positive communications

All of these people have a postitve reason to know what is happening, either because they are dependent on the program, or because someone on their team has work committed to the program.

If you start doing this at the beginning of the project you are not attacking anyone — you are just communicating work, due dates, and owners in support of a cross-organization program.

If you distribute this regularly from the beginning, and people (who don’t work for you) realize that their peers and their bosses are all seeing it, they will be much more motivated to do their part.

Automatic resolution

And when later, something is not getting done, you don’t need to do anything special to call it out.

Your positive communication process will automatically call people out publicly. They will be motivated to get their name off the list, so they’ll do the work!

This also saves you loads of time from having to pester people individually, which doesn’t work as well anyway.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her new book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.
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