Has this ever happened to you?
You’re asked to look at a pressing issue and report back your findings and ideas at the next management status meeting.
You interrupt what you're doing, invest time, do the research, and develop a rationale for what's causing the issue, as well as some ideas on how it can be addressed.
The status meeting is well attended by all the right decision-makers. You present your ideas, your logic is irrefutable, your research and data bulletproof. Heads nod in agreement. It seems to go well.
The meeting ends, and when back at your desk a “ding” signals the arrival of an email thanking you for your ideas. A short time later, you hear from others your proposal has been parked.
What went wrong you wonder?
Too often people make the mistake of focusing too much on the content and not enough on how it’s delivered. There is a huge danger in using a ‘one size fits all’ approach when presenting ideas. You suspect this is at the root of your disappointment.
In an earlier blog I discussed how to approach writing a communications plan. If you recall, a checklist emphasized a number of key considerations regarding potential audiences, including knowing beforehand who they are — identifying and characterizing each 'persona', their interests, and the language and keywords (buzzwords) they commonly use.
In this blog, I'd like to focus on how to develop your strategy to persuade each persona, and avoid your message being misunderstood, misheard, and ignored, or your ideas parked.
Let's go back to this hypothetical status meeting. Remember, this was a management meeting.
Let’s assume you know who typically attends. You also know and can characterize their individual personas. I'll talk about this a little more in a moment.
I’m also going to assume that although you’re familiar with the language and buzzwords used by each participant, you didn’t properly research the current communication noise nor tune into it as part of your proposal.
So, given a do-over, how would you better prepare the information and message you need to convey, and unlock their minds so they can properly assess my ideas?
The good news is, there’s no shortage of models and analysis on how leaders make decisions.For example:
Other research suggests types such as the following:
As I said, no shortage, they all help.
But, I’m going to use the five types or personas offered by Robert Miller in his book, “The 5 Paths to Persuasion: The Art of Selling”, mainly because it’s very easy indeed to read (Miller uses storytelling to get his points across), and the selling perspective is also key. After all, we are asking our audience to “buy into” our idea. We want them to take some form of ownership.
In his book, Miller describes a new framework for understanding how best to influence decision-makers. Developed from a multi-year study of nearly two thousand executives, the framework concludes there are five (common) types of executives:
Miller describes them as follows; perhaps you can recognize some of them in your own organization.
Charismatics (25%): "… Easily enthralled with new ideas, particularly bold and innovative ones, but will not make a move until they are sure others have thought through the details."
Thinkers (11%): "… Need to cautiously and methodically work through each pro and con of every conceivable option before rendering a decision."
Skeptics (19%): "… Highly suspicious of every piece of information I will really trust anything that doesn't fit with their worldview."
Followers (36%): "… Make decisions based mainly on how other trusted people, including themselves, have made similar decisions in the past."
Controllers (9%): "… Must be in charge of every aspect of the decision-making process, and need to have some ownership of an idea before proceeding with it.”
Obviously, there's no cookie-cutter approach that meets every need, but Miller gives us some excellent pointers on how to position and “sell” our ideas to decision-makers who fit these personas. The most successful proposals are custom tailored. They have deciphered the executive type, and matched communication tools and tactics with the type.
Paraphrased, here are some of the strategies suggested for each type.
Charismatics: Buzzwords include: results, proven, actions, show, watch, easy, clear, focus. Fight the urge to join their excitement. Focus the discussion on results. Keep arguments simple and straightforward. Use visual aids to stress features and benefits.
Thinkers: Buzzwords include: quality, academic, think, numbers, intelligent, plan, expert, proof. Thinkers need lots of information. Have your research at the ready in both its raw and summarized forms. They will want to dig deep and look at things from every perspective.
Skeptics: Remember, this type will be demanding, disruptive, disagreeable and even rebellious. Their buzzwords include much more open, softer language, such as: feel, grasp, power, action, suspect, trust, demand, issue, culture, cult. Credibility is critical here, your credibility, or that of your research and sources. Find a way to attract the credibility, perhaps by gaining an endorsement from someone the skeptic trusts.
Followers: Buzzwords include: innovate, expedite, expertise, similar to, previous experience, best practice, case study, standard. Followers need to feel certain they are making the right decision and that others have succeeded in similar situations.
Controllers: Logical and analytical, their buzzwords include: details, facts, reason, logic, power, manage, handle, done, black-and-white. They respond to structure and, like the skeptic, credibility. They appreciate details but only if presented by an expert or presented expertly. They can react negatively to open selling of an idea. They need to convince themselves.
I'm not suggesting you script everything. Nor can I say the buzzword and types are a complete list. But they offer a great starting point.
Make sure you are aware of the types of decision-makers you may face. Maintain your core message and keep returning to it at every opportunity, but plan to speak briefly to each type of decision-maker in turn, using their preferred language and set of buzzwords. Let each of them know this as you do so.
Deliberately engaging and disengaging each decision-maker using words and style of communication they are tuned to, helps to ensure that your core message is heard the way you need and intend it to be heard. It also helps solicit individual support that may be used by the group as a whole to overcome isolated objections.
Hopefully, this all too brief exploration of decision-making types will help you develop more effective tactics to tailor your proposals and arguments, so they receive the consideration and endorsement they deserve.