Your boss is about to do something stupid.
You know the routine. They make a terrible decision that ends up costing the company money. When they realize they’ve dug themselves into a deep hole, they’re upset, blaming you or your co-workers.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
It’s a catch-22 many developers find themselves in on a routine basis. Their boss makes an unrealistic request then reacts negatively when you’re unable to deliver the results they want.
What’s wrong with them?
Your boss needs you to change their mind
Good decision-making is incredibly difficult.
It doesn’t matter what your boss has on their plate, their job is a difficult one. At any given time, they’re spinning and balancing multiple plates:
- They’re working with legal to address contract or project-level disputes.
- They need HR’s help to deal with the developer on your team that’s lazy and killing morale.
- Directors and executives are hammering, demanding that they produce results they know are impossible.
- They’ve been pushed into a management role they’re unqualified for and disinterested in.
- The majority of their developers are fighting each other for the same opportunities.
- You don’t know it, but their budget was slashed by half; executives are demanding more work for less.
There’s a very good chance your manager is discouraged, overwhelmed, and backed into a corner. Many managers don’t have the knowledge, resources, or support they need to do their jobs well.
This isn’t my problem.
Ah, but it is. Your boss is looking for an employee who’s willing to help carry their burdens for them.
When you gain the ability to change your boss’s mind, you also provide your manager, employer, and yourself with the ability to:
- avoid serious problems that eventually lead to layoffs or firings (such as projects that are inefficient, overbudget, bloated, or filled with poor quality code)
- generate more revenue for your company (important when you’re looking for a raise)
- find cost-effective, more efficient ways to solve complex problems
- properly evaluate opportunities as they appear — meaning you’re aware of upcoming opportunities before the rest of your co-workers or teammates
- create a work environment where you’re surrounded by allies who are willing to go out of their way to help you.
But it’s a risk.
If you go out of your way to help your boss or manager, and you do it wrong, it could blow up in your face. Besides, you’re just a developer. What are you supposed to do to help your manager?
Why go to the trouble of changing your boss’s mind?
This is how elite developers are made.
When I use the term “elite”, I’m referring to the top one to ten percent of developers in a given industry or profession. These developers receive a string of benefits other developers don’t:
- they’re paid far more than most developers
- they win coveted jobs and promotions in the face of intense competition
- customers and employers wait/fight for the chance to work with them
- they win promotions before they’re publicly available
- they receive special perks and rewards most developers are unable to get
- co-workers, publishers, and thought leaders seek out their knowledge, attracting more rewards
- they can wield a greater degree of control
- customers and employers trust them at the start of the relationship
- customers and employers are willing to pay for their equipment, growth, and development
So what do these elite developers know that most developers don’t?
It’s not about the work.
What does that mean? Elite developers are focused on very different things:
- The value they provide
- The people they serve
Most developers focus on the work, getting better at their craft, increasing their knowledge, producing higher quality work.
Elite developers do this too.
But they understand that being great (not just good) at your job is an entry-level requirement. This is the part most developers miss; they naturally assume that being a great developer is all it takes to improve your career prospects.
It’s not enough.
Elite developers use the value formula to create huge amounts of benefits for their managers.
Do you know it?
It’s a formula created by Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal. This is the formula that elite, top performers use in every industry:
- Create X dollars of value.
- Capture Y percent of X.
Can you see what’s happening?
The more value these developers create for their manager and their employers, the more value they can earn and extract for themselves.
What kind of value can developers demonstrate?
- Take the initiative by solving recurring or longstanding team problems in your free time.
- Demonstrate the negative impact live code or development processes have on the organization.
- Take on more than is necessary, working to earn their trust and become an indispensable employee over time.
- Consistently exceed key performance indicators and metrics in your organization (such as technical debt, lines of code, ability to ship code, meeting deadlines, etc.). This will vary by organization.
- Create tools, documentation, resources, or libraries that reduce development time across the organization.
- Show clients how your code solves the Five Q’s of strategy.
Not detailed enough?
Think of it this way. There are two kinds of results your manager wants from you: conventional and transformative results. Here’s a quick recap of my previous post.
- Transformative results: these are results that make things better for your company, the industry, or customers as a whole. It can be as simple as shared knowledge or as detailed as software that transforms the industry.
Here’s why these results matter. Conventional results build trust. It’s easy for your boss to take a risk on you, to spend more on you when they trust you.
What’s in it for you? Quite a lot, actually.
If you can change your boss’s mind reliably and in a trustworthy fashion, you can write your own ticket (career-wise). These aren’t lofty or unrealistic claims. Elite developers achieve results like these regularly.
What you’ll need to change your boss’s mind
You’ll need two things: a good working relationship and a framework.
When it comes to changing your boss’s mind, you’ll need to know the what, when, and how. Here’s a concise breakdown of each.
Change your boss’s mind when:
- their decision hurts you, the company, or themself
- they’re about to make a decision that will cost the company money, slow a project down, or increase development time unnecessarily
- their decision will make customers or clients unhappy and far more likely to take their business elsewhere
- their decision will make their colleagues and co-workers unhappy or turn others against them
Do you see the pattern?
Don’t attempt to change their mind if:
- the change benefits you exclusively or primarily
- it makes things worse for your boss (obviously)
- it goes against instructions from those above your boss
- the change damages or destroys relationships between managers, co-workers, or customers
Do attempt to change their mind if:
- you’re reasonably confident you can improve the situation for your boss, co-workers, team, or the organization
- your boss is missing crucial information that’s necessary or essential
- they’re asking you for feedback or have a proven open-door policy that solicits feedback
- you’ve developed the trust you need to act on your co-workers’ behalf
See the difference?
This tactic — changing your boss’s mind — is powerful. It’s a career-ender if this strategy is misused or abused. Following the framework listed above insulates you against any blowback that would cost you your job. At this point, the most obvious question then is, how?
How do you go about changing your boss’s mind?
Most people use push tactics.
They attempt to convince, cajole, persuade, bully, or negotiate their way into the results they want. Don’t get me wrong, these tactics can and do work. When they work, it’s because there’s already a positive relationship established.
These tactics are less effective with acquaintances or contacts.
They tend to backfire because your boss has a sophisticated anti-persuasion filter that protects them from sketchy people and circumstances. When someone you’re unfamiliar with attempts to “persuade” you, what do you do?
If you’re like most people, you resist.
There’s a better way to persuade your boss. Jonah Berger, author of the book The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, shares several counterintuitive persuasion secrets.
What sort of secrets?
Push those you’re trying to persuade, and they’ll resist aggressively. Tell or order people what to do, and they’re unlikely to listen. According to Berger, good negotiators focus on relieving pressure rather than banging on the door.
They focus on:
- lowering their recipient’s fear, uncertainty, and hostility
- removing barriers in the way of their solution
- creating solutions that are win–win for everyone involved
- allow change to happen with less energy rather than more
Berger focuses on five specific principles.
- Reducing Reactance: this means people feel their choices are being taken away or limiting their range of alternatives. Using empathy and active listening, you can reduce the amount of reactance you experience with your boss when you’re sharing your thoughts and ideas.
- Easing Endowment: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is endowment in a nutshell. Showing your boss the consequences or cost of the status quo is one way to reduce the endowment effect. If you can show that doing things the same way hurts, they’re more likely to change.
- Shrinking Distance: have you ever heard, “that’s not my job?” This indicates that the request was outside of the “zone of acceptance” for that person. They were asked to do something that was too far outside the realm of normal or expected. If your idea is too far out there, resistance goes up. Reducing distance decreases resistance.
- Alleviating Uncertainty: will your new solution be as good as the old one or better? How do I know? Your boss may believe your idea is too risky. Removing risk with trial periods, risk-free solutions, or test-drives allows you to make a case for your idea in a way that decreases risk to your boss.
- Providing Corroborating Evidence: providing social proof, feedback from others in similar situations, case studies, and other forms of “proof” are excellent ways to relieve your boss’s fears. The more evidence you can provide that “things will be okay,” the easier it is for your boss to take the leap of faith and accept your point of view.
Together, these principles function as a catalyst to R.E.D.U.C.E resistance.
What does this look like?
Let’s say you’re trying to get your boss to switch libraries. The tried and true libraries your company uses are outdated and not as robust as you know they can be. You’ve identified a better solution. It’ll save the company huge amounts of time, money, and effort.
It’s a game-changer that will help you ship code 40% faster.
What do you do?
When you bring it up with your boss, he’s resistant. You use R.E.D.U.C.E to change your boss’s mind.
You start by:
- Providing them with two to three libraries they can choose from (with the option for you to find more).
- Showing them why they needs it, pointing out that their boss is unhappy with them, your team is over budget, and they’re shipping code with a huge technical debt. Software entropy costs are stupidly high for half of your projects.
- Eliminating distance with an irresistible offer. You do all of the work, and they’ll get all of the credit. You’ll stay on top of all of your work, but you’ll also get this extra work done, and you’ll check in regularly to provide your boss with updates.
- Reducing uncertainty by providing them with the option to compare and contrast both options so they can verify that the new really can outperform the old.
- Finally, you share case studies, samples, and test data to show that these new libraries can make a noticeable difference.
See the difference?
Instead of just coming to your boss and saying, “Hey, we should use this instead,” or groveling for them to see your point of view, you can R.E.D.U.C.E.
If you have a good relationship and a strong track record (conventional plus transformative results), your boss will probably be more open to the ideas and changes you have in mind.
This is how you win hearts and minds.
Changing your boss’s mind feels manipulative and borderline dishonest
If you find you’re able to change their mind pretty often, it’s probably going to feel like you’re manipulative.
And it would be.
If you’re ignoring the framework I mentioned earlier, and you’re using R.E.D.U.C.E to deceive, cajole or manipulate your boss, you’re a terrible employee.
But that’s not you now, is it?
If you’re choosing to stick with the framework I’ve mentioned, and you’re willing to do what it takes to act in your boss’s best interest, that will shine through. If you have a strong relationship with your boss and your team, you’ll have the sway you need to make big changes in your organization.
What if you don’t have that?
What if you’re part of an organization where doing this kind of thing will get you fired? Is there a way to change their minds?
Your relationship is the key.
If you can’t build a healthy relationship with your boss or your co-workers, changing minds is the least of your worries.
Your boss wants you to change their mind
Your boss needs your help to address the challenges ahead.
They’re about to do something stupid.
They’re about to make a terrible decision that may make things harder than it needs to be. When they realize they’ve dug themselves into a deep hole, they may feel betrayed.
“Why didn’t anyone help me?”
This may look like a catch-22 many developers find themselves in on a routine basis. Their boss makes an unrealistic request then reacts negatively when you’re unable to deliver the results they want.
Be the change they need.
Be the employee your boss needs to help carry their burdens, and you’ll find your career will grow by leaps and bounds.