If you want to advance your career as a PM, you must master the art of solving complex problems by influencing people who you have no authority over. This could mean aligning with your peers on a strategy, getting your partner team to prioritize your project, helping your organization make a complex tradeoff decision, and the list goes on. So, how can PMs master the art of influence without authority? Meta Product Leader Satish Mummareddy shares insights on cultivating the right mindset and developing interpersonal skills to influence without authority.

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Influence Without Authority

And over the course of time, I’ve applied the same principles to my own carrier. And I’ve started to have a more positive impact on people, along with actually like having product outcomes that I’ve been driving along the way. So let’s start with defining what influence without authority is in the first place. Influence without authority is the process of earning every single decision that needs to be made. And these could be very small decisions, like which metric do we use to measure the success of our product in a conversation with your data scientists?

Or it could be pretty large company defining decisions, like what strategic investments should we be making, to address the platform shifts that are happening right at this moment, it could be in one on one conversations with a colleague that is in passing, or it could be in a small peer group of your own team that you’re trying to influence, or the leadership of your arc, or company leadership that is trying to rationalize decisions across multiple organizations. When you do influence without authority, right, it should do a bunch of things, people should do something because it is the right thing to do for the company. People should do something because it is the best trade-off that can be made among tough choices that we constantly have. People should do it because it’s in the best interest of the collective. And people should understand why they are doing something that is being asked of them. People should feel inspired to be doing things that they’re being asked to do. And people should feel respected and valued.

 And when you do influence without authority, right, people should trust you more, and they should want to work more with you in the future. And that’s what influence without authority gets you. And what makes influence without authority hard is that all of our work is with extremely talented people who have diverse opinions, who see a piece of the picture, and who have strong voices. And getting them all to align in one direction is actually like hard. A lot of the time that the decisions that we’re trying to make are extremely complex, there are no easy solutions. It’s not cut and dry. Everything is a trade-off, that is nuanced. And then the third thing is that most of the work that we do these days is across organizations to do anything that we want, we need to actually like get alignment between multiple teams who have different goals that they’re trying to accomplish. And we’re trying to get alignment across these organizations.

And we try to do this with the people who we have just met new and that is what makes influence without authority hard. So what can we do to build skills to actually like make influence without authority, a lot more concrete, and things that you can actually like get better at? So there are five key principles that I have tried to codify for myself, that I try to go and then debug every time I make a mistake. So the five things are one is the mindset. Two is relationships. Three is processes for his skills. And then five are leveraging reviews.

So, I’m going to like talk through a few of these and then give a couple of tips about what the fundamental shifts are that are going to help you get over to get better with influence without authority, and mindset. So I think the first part of it is that you need to establish credibility in order to be able to influence people without authority. And what does that really mean? It means that people need to believe that I am willing to do the right thing for the group, rather than push my own agenda. And once you have that mindset, it earns you the credibility to be able to influence other people. So what are the kinds of things that you can actually like think about? One is that influence is not about peddling your agenda.

But it is about helping a group of people solves a problem together. And I think that’s a fundamental mindset shift that I had to go through to get better with influence. It’s about making an informed decision by understanding all of the different perspectives in the room, and actually making the right set of trade-offs. And then, in order for me to be able to influence people, I need to be willing to change my own mind, in the face of new information, when I think that I’m wrong, and somebody else’s right. And changing that mindset. One brings me to the group with the right frame of reference and gives me the credibility that people are willing to change their minds if they need to. The second big mindset shift is that it’s about developing a shared vision or a shared point of view. It’s not about my idea or somebody else’s idea. 

It’s not about ownership of my idea of winning in this space. But it is about how we as a group, come together to solve a problem together, have a shared vision have a shared plan that we all believe in and give up that ownership is actually like, what creates the environment for us to be able to influence others. So one of the things to think about it, even though you might be the one who might have the idea first, or you might be seeing something first, it just means that other people have not yet actually like seen that perspective. And you need to give them the time and space and walk them through to get there to the same place, and then becomes their idea. It’s not your idea anymore, but it’s their idea as well. I think that that mindset shift is actually really critical to be able to influence people.

Then the second thing that is really important is influence is all about relationships. And there are a few different aspects of relationships that I want to put the filter on for you all to think about. The first one is that we need to influence people who we have just met. So how do we do that? How do we build trustful relationships with people who we’ve just been throwing the collagen of hard decisions, and we need to actually like work together on? So there’s a trust hierarchy that you can actually like think about. And the first set of things is much easier to get to, and then later things are much harder to get to and then take time. So you can always make sure that people understand that you care about them. It is super easy to do. 

So I could just say, Hey, this is the first time I’m meeting Rishi but I can say, hey, Rishi, you’re you have this vision of actually like getting good product speakers to talk and then actually, like, share their learnings with the rest of the people. I understand that thank you for actually making space for that. And giving me a chance to do that it’s like an easy way, to show that I cared about Rishi at this particular moment in time. And I could ask questions, and actually like, listen to what is outcomes are. And it’s an easy way for me to make sure that I build a trusting relationship on a strong foundation with him. Then the second thing that you can do to earn a cross is to be a great listener.

So everybody has a different perspective and a different set of problems that are actually like trying to solve if you can listen well, and then make sure that people feel that you understand them really well. That’s actually a great stepping stone to earning trust. People should feel that you’re going to represent them accurately, even when they’re not in the room. And that is actually like a place where you can earn trust credit easily. You can in a conversation say, Hey, this is what I’m hearing you say this is what your concerns are. These are what your perspectives are. This is what you want out of this outcome. And did I understand that accurately? And by doing that you actually earned the trust of the person that you really understand them. 

Then when that person is not in the room, represent them 100% accurately, and if you do that you earn their trust that you’re actually going to represent them well. And then you can actually like earn this process of being a collaborator, you can earn the reputation that you are there for the best of the group versus your own self, and demonstrate that in small ways, give credit to other people, if it is somebody else’s idea, give them credit and say, hey, this person brought up this idea. And it’s a great idea. And I think that we should actually like, think about that more. And by doing that, you establish that you’re in it for the group, you’re actually trying to help everybody else shine. And you actually like want this group to succeed together.

And that is a way that you can actually like, earn trust very quickly. And then finally, like, you want to be establishing yourself as a thought leader, and someone who produces results, but that actually takes a lot of time. But with all of these early steps, you can actually like do quickly earn trust with one person or with a group of people. So that’s the hierarchy that you can think about, and then see, where you get your quick trust wins. Then the second thing, which is kind of a part of what I just talked about, is that we work with extremely talented and opinionated, excellent partners, whether they’re in design, whether they’re in engineering, whether they’re in user research or product marketing. And then, if we elevate those people include them earlier. And I’ve worked on areas where legal and policy are actually like subject matter experts. 

So, if you’re working on teen wellbeing, or if you’re working on integrity or safety policy, people are actually like the subject matter experts. So including them early on treating them with the respect that they deserve that, hey, you are the subject matter experts, bringing them in into the process of product development, helps you earn reputation Hearns earns you actually like the credibility that you need to be able to influence them on product direction at a later point in time. Then the third important thing that I learned over time, is that as PMS, we work with a lot of acceptant functions, and all of these functions start to overlap as you become more senior in your career. So design, engineering, research, and data science, all will actually have

value contributing to product strategy, as actually like a fundamental evaluation lever for whether you can actually like growing up in your careers, if you want to go from IC five to IC six, as an engineer, you need to actually like demonstrate product strategy and skills that matter. The same thing to design. And the same thing to research. If you want to go from six to seven, it’s actually even higher, that your influence on product strategy and execution needs to start to shine across these functions. So early in my career, I view that as competitive, but now I actually like the view that as it makes our team much stronger, it gives me more time and opportunity. If all of these people can step in and then lead different pieces of the puzzle for I to actually like create a bigger puzzle together with all of these people. 

And that mindset shift, and creating opportunities for our excellent partners to step in, and then shine on all of these areas that we think are our job is actually one of the key shifts with respect to building better relationships. So earning trust to is, is actually like leveraging and amplifying our excellent partners. And then three is not viewing them as competitive. But I actually like understanding that our roles overlap. And then actually like creating space for them, is what builds this amazing set of relationships that helps you eventually influence everybody. Then the third thing or the third principle is our own processes. Influence is not something that you do in one meeting with some amazing presentation that you do. It’s a long process that you work through, to get a bunch of people to start having a shared vision and a shared set of principles or shared plans that they can all get behind.

And it’s a process that takes time. So the first part of it is, is building a lot of lead time and detailed planning on how are you going to influence a group of people in something. So everything takes longer than you think it is going to take. So give yourself more time than you normally think. Then think about what are the different modes of collaboration that you need to be able to accomplish the type of outcome that you want. Is it a small thing where it’s incremental to the top thinking that already exists? Or is it a larger paradigm shift that needs alignment across a larger set of people across different layers of your company? And if that is the case, then what are the different types of collaboration that you need to have? 

When do you need to have async meetings and async collaboration on documents? And when do you need to have synchronous communication with a larger group of people and how do you leverage one on ones to influence key state Kohler’s to understand their concerns and as well as change their minds? So think about what is this process that you need to lay out to be able to influence people to get the outcome that you want. Then the third thing is every influence profit process has a list of decisions that we are going trying to get alignment behind being very clear about what those decisions are that we’re trying to make, and documenting those. What is the current understanding and alignment between people, and continuing to do that over time is something that’s really critical to the process itself?

And then the last thing is that leadership reviews are a forcing function. People can take keep talking forever. But when there’s a deadline, and there’s a forcing function that we need to get to, on one on the same page, it forces everybody to actually like, have the hard conversations and actually get to alignment. So that is something to keep thinking about. So you need a plan to be able to like get alignment with a good set of people and then run great inclusive processes, think of what actually like when people would perceive it to be inclusive versus not thinking about the different modalities. So there was this point in time where I thought that I wanted to run include your processes. And I set up recurring Delhi meetings to get a group of people together to work through a problem that we were doing. 

But what I found out later was that people found that to be not inclusive, because the time was not going to work for everybody. People could not make some of those meetings. And every time they missed a meeting, they felt that a key decision was made when they couldn’t actually like make the meeting. So, figure out actually like when how each meeting would be perceived, should you actually be getting async feedback on a document so that everybody has a chance to contribute to it. So that then you can actually like take only hard decisions into a synchronous meeting to actually like get alignment. And when it’s a key decision, then you need to make sure that the time works for everyone. Think about how to make sure that it feels inclusive to everyone, the worst thing you can do is think that you’re being inclusive, but other people feel that it’s not been an inclusive process.

Then the last thing is to create psychological safety at any point in time, you have people who are at different levels in their careers, who are at different functions in their careers. And there are different power dynamics at play in any room that you have. And as a PM, our job is to actually like make sure that there’s psychological safety that every opinion can actually like, come out. And we can enable that by setting the ground rules for different types of conversations. When is it a brainstorming meeting where all ideas are on the table? And we’re actually like, not passing judgment on them. And then when is it a point where you need to be crisp about, hey, here are the three options that we have. 

And let’s actually like not get detailed in the conversation, let’s focus on these three things. Let’s actually like focus on the trade-offs between them. And then let’s get a decision. It’s our job as PMS, to create psychological safety by setting the ground rules of how we’re actually going to engage in our conversations. So clearly, time and planning include your processes and creating psychological safety. And then the fourth thing is around having clear decision-making frameworks. Every decision fundamentally works down to what options you have. And what are the criteria that you’re going to use, evaluate them, and then what trade-offs do you have to make?

And fundamentally, everything literally boils down to this. For example, here is a trade-off spreadsheet that my wife made, after listening to me constantly talk about decisions by traffic lights, she made this as a joke, but it helped us actually like make our decision on which washer and dryer we’re going to buy. So he made the list of hey, here are the brands here are the models? Where can you buy it from? What is the price? What is the depth? Because that was actually what a constraint was for us? What features does it have? What is the color, so it blends into a room, and when is the delivery date, because the delivery date was important for us? And then actually, we just like laid that out. And then we pick a choice that actually was the right sort of trade-off between price and then the color that we wanted and the delivery date that was available to us. 

And every decision boils down to this, whether it is a small thing like buying a washer and dryer, or it’s a big decision that should be banning somebody off of a platform, it literally boils down to what are our options. And what is a framework? And how do we understand that well, so that we can make an informed choice? And once you see this, you can actually like take, turn it off, because how can you do this in one on one conversations? An engineer comes to you and says, Hey, should we be making this decision? And then immediately you can start putting this framework in your mind and say, Hey, let’s talk about what our options are. Okay, it looks like we have option ABC for solving this problem.

And how do we want to make this decision we need to like think about some form of costs. We’re going to think about some form of, what is the user experience going to be. And then maybe, let’s say there’s a consumer experience and there’s an advertiser experience, and then what is the trade-off between them? You can start applying this framework in verbal congruent issues with people. And then actually you can apply that in a documented form. And then in order to actually influence people, there is the mindset, processes, and relationships. And then the fourth part of it is skills that you need to be able to influence people without authority. You know, things, I think the first thing is emotional intelligence. And this was a hard one for me because seven years ago, I had my lack of emotional intelligence was costing me a lot in my career. 

And I had to figure out how how to actually, like, improve that. And the fundamental definition for me is, it’s the ability to drive positive outcomes in high-stakes situations, without letting anyone’s emotions hijack the conversation. So I think that’s fundamentally like what it comes down to? And how can you improve your emotional intelligence tangibly? So there’s a lot of times where we are in congregations and we start to get frustrated by people we are, we’re actually like getting fidgety and all of these things. So how do you actually like improve your emotional intelligence, there are a few things that you can actually do. One is to understand your own triggers. So what are the things that actually like trigger you?

So, for me at some point in time, the triggers used to be around overlaps in what I thought were job functions, and job responsibilities between different functions, there was the trigger of hey, why do I need to explain even the smallest of decisions to people? Are, I would be like, Hey, I’m seeing this. So clearly, why can’t you guys see this right away? So all of these were my triggers. And your triggers could be completely different. But the first part of it is to understand those triggers so that you can actually like start mitigating them. The second thing is having self-compassion, every time we make a mistake, it actually like gets compounded. And we lose our ability to manage ourselves. 

Because we made a mistake in the past, like developing self-compassion is a great way to improve our own emotional intelligence, then a few other kinds of things around being well, having good sleep hygiene, making sure that you’re actually getting enough time and you’re actually like, not burnt out. And then in going into Crucial Conversations, planning for your own Crucial Conversations, how are you going to actually like, make sure that that you focus on the outcome versus what you want to say all of these are things that actually help with emotional intelligence. The second thing is, is listening skills. One of the most important lessons I learned when I was in meta was will Cathcart used to be is currently the head of WhatsApp.

And then he used to be the head of Facebook at that point in time, and I was sitting in a bunch of a series of reviews which were high stakes, which had a bunch of VPs in them all the time. And each of them had like strong opinions on actually like what needed to be done. Bill would listen to everything that was being said. And then calmly reframe the whole conversation by making sure that everybody’s perspectives were accounted for. And then actually, like reframe the entire problem in a way in which it can actually like, clearly help with making clear decisions. And that was a turning point for me in saying that, hey, listening skills are one of the fundamental levers to being a better leader. And, then I started to figure out, okay, what are the things that that matter in becoming a better listener, the first part of actually becoming a better listener is to be 100% Present. 

A lot of times when somebody comes in and starts talking to us, we actually have someplace else we’re thinking about what we want to do after this person leaves are what we were doing before this person came to talk to us, versus giving 100% of us to the other person, I think that that’s the starting point being 100 persons present. Then the second thing is, is the three-second rule, which is not saying anything for three seconds after the person actually stops talking, which gives your mind a chance to actually like process what the other person said. And then think about, what they need in response to what they said, and how do we actually like, articulate that. And then the third thing is just replayed back what you heard so that you’ve accurately internalized, what is it that the people really need. Sometimes doing that helps you understand does?

Do people want help with figuring out a solution? Do people want us to just empathize with them? Or actually, just be a sounding board for them to just talk through their own process with us? And replaying that is a great way to actually like do it. And the fourth listening skill is actually like doing this with multiple multiple people in the room. You’re having a meeting with 10 people, and then being able to listen to all 10 people, Ravel, and then synthesize it and say, hey, there seem to be three different opinions in this room A and B have this opinion CMD have this opinion, E and F have this other opinion. 

And if you can do that, you just become so much more influential and powerful in a group, because you are able to actually like synthesize and actually like, provide a clear framing for people to make decisions. For me, one of the things that made me a much better listener is going to improve. Improv is like going to the gym for listening skills. So if you have not done it, please try that out. And it’s gonna like really amplify your listening skills. The third thing is to speak precisely. I’m going to share an experience of mine, I think it was in 2014, I was interviewing for Fitbit, and I really wanted to work at Fitbit. And I did a phone screen with the VP of product at that time. And he asked me a simple question.

Hey, how do you do sprint planning in your company or something along those lines? Some super simple questions. I spoke about it for like 25 minutes. And that was the last interview I had with Fitbit. And the recruiter actually told me that the person was so frustrated with my rambling on that he did not want to speak to me again. And that was the end of the interview process for me. in some form, that was a turning point for me with respect to changing how I spoke completely. And speaking precisely is a great skill with respect to anything that we want to do. If people can’t understand exactly what you want, then you get nowhere. So what can you do to become a better speaker? So first is to think before you speak, and know exactly what outcome you want to get. 

And what words do you need to say, so that you get the outcome you want? And I think that that’s step one, think, before you speak. Then the second thing is to focus on what outcome you want, what feelings you want to generate out of people, versus whatever the heck, your mind feels like you need to say at this point in time. I think that the second mindset shift, it’s really about the outcomes and how people feel versus what you really want to say. And that was actually a very clear thing. Then the third thing is, is speak like how you write, when a lot of us write, we are much more succinct and organized in how we frame points, we say, here’s the TLDR of what we’re trying to say. And here are our rationale for why we think this is the right solution.

So we have a very clear way of writing. And we need to speak like that as well. We say we should speak Hey, this is what it is, this is why we think it’s going to be and you need to allow spacing for people to be able to process that. And then the last thing is, say it once and stop. And those are the things to actually like speak more precisely. The other skill is collaborative writing. So writing together is a great way to actually like drive alignment. And the way that it works is that you just put out a skeleton of a document, which says, Okay, here are the outcomes we’re trying to drive, here are the different things that we need to address. Let’s actually like work on this together, and then bring a bunch of people together. 

And everybody starts putting things together, and that kind of actually becomes a brainstorming of all of the considerations that need to go in together. And he started to get like an amorphous blob of actually like what it should be, then you can start to structure it better, and actually, like, pull in a narrative that starts to like work together, then you put it out there again, and get feedback from people on Hey, what am I missing? What other things should we be thinking and then feedback starts to come back into it. And what it does is do a few things. One is it drives ownership. Anytime people have actually given feedback and given feedback multiple times on a document, they see those ideas as their own, they see the document as their own thing.

And that ownership drives influence automatically. Then the second thing that it does is it makes the proposal much stronger because people have had multiple times to give input into it. And then you had a chance to actually like assimilate the feedback, and then make your own proposal stronger. So that’s what collaborative writing is. So the mindset shift that I made on Facebook is that the only version of a document that matters is the final document that goes into the product review, all of the 50 versions that are there, that there are there before, I’m not going to be ashamed of those things. And because what I really want is for the final review to go really well. And as long as that happens, everybody remembers only that people don’t remember the 50 CD versions before that. 

But if you didn’t get those feedback, one of the CD versions is what goes into the product review. So that’s a mindset shift for collaborative writing. No. And the other thing to think about is disagreements are good. So the only thing that’s worse than lack of alignment is the perception that there’s alignment. It’s when people actually like to think that we are aligned. But actually, you don’t have real alignment, and it falls apart in the revenue, people bring the disagreements into the product review with leaders, and that’s when you fail. So you want to have these disagreements earlier in the process. So can you can reconcile them, and actually, like, take aligned perspective, two meters, to actually like, make decisions? The last thing is Positive Intelligence. It’s about whether are you in the game or not. Are you thinking, about what you can do right, at this moment, to move things forward?

Or are you thinking about what happened yesterday? Or actually, like 30 minutes ago, where you fail, or somebody said something, and that’s got distracted? And or actually, like, you’re fearful of what might happen in this review, and you’re not actually like working on the thing? And that’s fundamentally what Positive Intelligence is, can you actually like switch from a failure, 30 seconds ago, put that aside and figure out what the next steps are, and actually, like, just go forward and do that? One of the people that actually like, and do this incredibly well is Asha Sharma, who is now the CEO of Instacart, she was my manager for a little bit. And she can go into leadership review, maybe like, have things go poorly, she can come in, come outside, and then just like, switch, turn on a switch, and then say, okay, here are the three things that we need to do next. 

And she was incredible at it. And I learned that from her and I want to actually get better at then what a review is for I think that this is fundamentally like what we all do, right? I mean, we want to drive alignment. And then we want to get leadership buying for something we are actually trying to get momentum for some projects of us. Fundamentally, the mindset to think about is that needs at different levels in the organization are here to help you and your team to be successful. And we need to leverage them. And what do they really do, they actually like to do a few things, one, raise the bar on the products your team is building, they need to edit the products that the company ships, and they need to help with resources and escalations to unlock the team.

And that’s fundamentally what their job is. And our mindset needs to be that hey, how do we actually like make sure that once we get the input from the, from the lead, so we don’t make mistakes, too, we actually like get the help that we need. So we build better products, that’s a mindset shift to have. It’s not about actually proving who we are, or actually liking our word, but it’s about building better products. Then the second thing is that it actually like is a way to stay, get alignment and stay in alignment and keep our commitments going. So I think that that’s the fundamental thing, what game are we playing? Making sure that we are aligned on that? How are we defining winning? And are we aligned on that? 

And then actually, like, are we on track, and actual course correcting if necessary, I think that’s fundamentally like, what leadership review is to it, having the right cadence of these leadership reviews gets you like, get alignment, and then stay in alignment. And then in order for actually leaders to give us good input and make strong decisions, the review material needs to be super crisp. And leaders are spending 10 minutes reading a document and actually like trying to internalize something that they have thought about deeply for months, and actually make strong decisions. And they can do that only when the material is super crisp. And they have great skills, but it’s our job to make sure that we actually like giving them the material to make those decisions well.

And then the last thing about leadership reviews is balanced advocacy. Leaders need to believe that I’m willing to do the right thing for the group rather than pushing my own agenda. So I think that’s fundamentally what it boils down to leaders need to trust you and the way that they trust you is that are you speaking about both sides of actually like the of the pros that we get if we win over here? And the downsides of actually doing something equally enough? And are you bringing them up to the table so that they can make informed decisions? Are you are you hiding things? And I think that that’s fundamental, like how you earn the trust of leaders. 

So, you need to make sure that you are framing the decision really well, you’re calling out all of the risks that are there very clearly, you are saying that, hey, this could be a big when, and here are some downsides that are there, and you’re clearly calling them out. And you’re presenting it in a balanced way, and have your own recommendations on what you think we should be doing. And that when you earn the trust of the leaders, we are actually like not over here trying to be salespersons we’re actually like trying to make sure that the company makes really great decisions. And that’s when you earn the trust of leaders. And then, when things are actually taking longer or not going away, take a step back and refocus on the outcomes that you want.

Slow down your speed to bring everybody along. So there is very few cases where ruining your relationships to actually like go fast is actually going to work out well for you and your carrier. It’s always better to slow down to make sure that you’re bringing all of the people along for the ride and making sure that people are aligned. have clear People outcomes, making sure that actually like, everybody feels like they were respected and they were part of the process is actually like a win by itself along with actually getting the decisions that you want. So think about that. And then some common gotchas, I’m gonna close with this, which is, I mean, all of these mistakes, I’ve tried to go faster than what my collaborators and stakeholders wanted to go with the velocity that they wanted to go. 

And there were times when I’ve gone slower than what my collaborators and stakeholders have gone wanting to go. And both of those are actually like failure cases for me. And then there’s overlap and people’s expectations. And then you don’t actually clearly align on who is doing what upfront, not aligning across multiple levels of the organization, knowing which level of the organization does this, this decision needs to be get made at, and making sure that you’re actually like, working through all of the layers in between not having in a back channel communication with leaders so that you know what their thinking is.

So you can actually like get that into a place, having too much back-channel communication, that you’re not doing the product thinking, but you’re actually like just putting their thinking into the document. So all of these are actually like gotchas. The last thing is that your partner’s being surprised when content actually like comes into leadership practice. I mean, all these are batches. So I’m going to start over here. So five principles and some tips on actually like how you could improve your authority.

About the speaker
Satish Mummareddy Meta, Product Leader Member
About the host
Rishikesh Yardi Instacart, Senior Product Manager
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