Indirect Influence

My mother always knew that the most effective way to get me to do something was not to force me. Commands like, “Clean your room,” were never spoken. Instead, she made a challenge or a game out of any timeless chore. I had forgotten all about this indirect tactic until I participated in the recent NCWIT Practices Workshop in Redmond, Washington. Two things occurred to me as I listened to panelists and speakers throughout the day:

1. Indirect enforcement is often more productive than direct enforcement.
2. My mother is a smart woman.

The morning keynote speaker, Curt Coffman – co-author of The New York Times
best-seller, First, Break All the Rules – spoke about various methods managers may use in order to get their employees to reach goals efficiently. The most interesting method involved managers letting employees find their own route to reaching defined outcomes.

When managers define procedures for their employees to follow – whether the procedures are based on how things have always been done or how the managers think the task should be done – the employees are often forced to use specific skills that may not be their strongest. However, by simply defining the desired outcomes, managers give their employees breathing room for creating their own means to provide solutions, while supervising indirectly.

An afternoon panelist, Alexandra Kalev – University of Arizona Assistant Professor of Sociology – spoke about myths regarding effective ways to promote diversity in the workplace. The most typical diversity programs in the workplace include taskforces, evaluations, and training sessions. However, Kalev’s research shows that these methods can have little or negative effects on the employees.

Conversely, the most effective diversity programs were those that were often adopted without diversity in mind. For example, cross-training job rotations allow minorities to have greater visibility and exposure as well as the opportunity to learn more skills. Allowing individuals to shine in this manner indirectly fights bias.

The conference left me wondering, In what other context does indirect influence seem promising? Recruitment? The most typical question pertaining to recruiting women to IT is, How can we go out and recruit women? I think the question should be, How can we make it so that women want to come to us?

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