3 Things You Can Do To Drive Change AND Build Your Influence
Read Time: 4 Minutes
I just finished a round of conversations with ten producers and discipline leaders about their struggles as line leaders in games. One thing that came up repeatedly was a struggle to get other teams and other leaders on board with ideas to improve things. They didn’t have the influence to get others on board. To build that influence, they needed to make changes and improve things.
The ultimate catch-22. They felt like their hands were tied.
Some leaders wished they’d known how to influence earlier in their careers.
Some said they learned influence through experience but couldn’t tell you how.
They all said influence was essential for shipping games, and no one had told them about it.
I think a lot of times we imagine our work is entirely technical or rational. We forget just how much the human element plays in. Whether we acknowledge them or not, things like “political capital” exist.
Influence is a core topic we should educate leaders on and learn ourselves. It’s much bigger than I can cover in this newsletter completely. What I can do is give you 3 ways you can start to get things moving forward AND build your influence today. You can use these on a new team (or company) or if you need a fresh reboot on existing teams.
Ask Questions and Understand People’s Needs
The best way to build political capital and trust from others is to meet their needs. But first, you need to understand them and they need to feel understood.
A lot of people will recommend you spend a lot of time “sitting down and talking to people.” This is incredibly important, but it’s equally important what the focus of those conversations will be.
The best way to approach these conversations is to ask questions. Try these:
What’s their journey up to this point? Have them share their story.
What’s frustrating or difficult about their work or environment today?
How could you be helpful to them?
What do they wish for? How do they think things should work?
Your goal is for them to walk away feeling understood, cared for, and believe that you’re priority is to help them.
You have to start with them first.
Many leaders make the mistake of assuming if they go out and solve the first problems that jump out to them from day 1, their credibility and trust will go up with others. I’ve personally witnessed (and experienced) the opposite happen. I’ve run into situations where driving change lowered my influence substantially.
I could have been solving the exact same problems, but it ended up hurting me because I didn’t take the time to tie them back into my understanding of the needs of the people around me.
Often times people were frustrated with me, thinking that I was a maverick who didn’t know what I was doing. How dare I just show up and think I could tell them how things should be?
Understanding who they are and what they care about creates trust.
That trust allows you to offer solutions later.
If they trust that solution coming from you, they will trust you even more when you solve it.
If you need to call in support later, that person will likely be there for you.
Reduce Peoples’ Pain > Trying to Change Things.
Generally, I encourage leaders (especially significantly younger or less experienced ones) to address people’s pain points instead of “I have a bunch of ideas to make this better.” I’m sure you can imagine which of those two approaches is more easily digestible for their teams.
I don’t mean whine about problems instead of driving solutions. I mean surfacing people's pain points, then offering your help in removing those problems. This is a great strategy to use if your influence is low or if there is a higher likelihood of people dismissing you for being too young, too experienced, or too new to the organization. All you’re doing is helping out, right?
A mistake I see many leaders make is jumping to solutions or trying to implement change without linking it back to the pain points or problems people are feeling. Oddly enough, if you focus on solutions, people will often reject them out of hand if they don’t already have high trust (i.e., your influence) in you.
Create a list of problems for each person you speak to. Collate the list and prioritize them based on people's feedback. Show them the list and declare which problems you’d like to tackle first. Ask them how (and if) you can help. You’ll be surprised at how disarming and practical this human-based approach can be, especially when starting from scratch.
Let Others Choose the Path Forward
It’s easier to get people on board, comfortable, and feeling in control when they have a choice, and they aren’t just subject to your methods, approach, or opinions.
One of the mistakes I see new/junior leaders make in the influence game is dictating too much instead of opening space and offering options. You feel like you need to add value, have the answer, or make a decision to be seen as competent. I’m not suggesting a meandering discussion; far from it. Come up with 2-3 possible solutions that make sense in context, and present them to the people you know are key decision-makers. Doing this is a phenomenal work hack because…
It invests them in the outcome since they made the decision.
It creates space and flexibility for them by giving them a choice on “the how,” reducing stress and increasing comfort.
If they don’t want to decide or want to know your opinion, it prompts them to pass the torch over to you while staying personally invested.
If you have a preferred option and they like your thought process, it immediately demonstrates competence and critical thinking, building trust in you before you even start.
Influence is a crucial part of the game production process. It’s hard to build if you can’t make the changes you want to make or prove your capabilities. This is a trap many leaders find themselves caught up in early on. Even senior leaders moving to a new company can find themselves in this position.
Make sure that influence isn’t purely the domain of the loudest or most overbearing. If you’re an introvert, this will be harder AND more important. Choosing not to play the influence game means handing it over to someone else who will, regardless of their skills or principles. It’s not a bad game. We need the right people playing it.
The best way to generate trust & influence is to solve problems that improve people’s lives. Use these tools to do both at once!
If you want to go deeper about developing influence and creating effective relationships in game dev, check out our podcast episode with Zach Blitz: E26 How to Build Trust as a Leader
Whenever you’re ready there are 2 ways we can help you…
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