The power of explaining ‘why’ in getting actions and decisions

The power of explaining ‘why’ in getting actions and decisions

I have been enjoying a terrific discussion with one of my corporate clients this week that has some insights for you also.

My client is head of strategy at a sovereign wealth fund who has asked me to work with some of her less experienced colleagues.

In reviewing one of the storylines we built in a coaching session she had a question for me that nails one of the biggest challenges I see in articulating recommendations and business cases.

She said: “It feels like the author told his readers about the model but did not explain why this is a good model.


This is a common trap when preparing recommendations and I want to share some thoughts on how to avoid it.

The ‘Pitch Pattern' provides a useful frame to explain what I mean and illustrate how to avoid this trap.

I have worked through the pattern here point by point, italicising the reasoning elements to help you see what I mean.

Point 1 – We understand the problem / opportunity. This point demonstrates that you have defined the problem accurately and insightfully. For example, you might say:

Our project is behind schedule and puts our ability to meet our quarterly goals at risk. Here is why:

  • Half the team has been away ill over the past two weeks, seriously affecting our ability to deliver on A, B and C
  • If we do not deliver A, B and C before month end, Team Z won't be able to start their program of work.


Note that I did not just say “half the team has been away ill” without explaining why that matters. Likewise, I explained why it mattered that ABC may not be delivered by month end, rather than just stating that they may not be delivered.

Point 2 – We have a great solution. It is tempting here to describe the solution without explaining why it is the right solution. This is where my client came unstuck. For example he said something like this:

We suggest ‘borrowing' two people from Team Z to help us get back on track.

  • Mary has the right skills to complement Fred's work and is currently under utilised
  • Bill can quickly fill hole X, and is currently working on tasks that are not time sensitive


Note that I did not just say ‘We suggest ‘borrowing' two people from Team Z' without explaining why and then support with further evidence. I have used the same pattern for the supporting points and in illustrating the following two points.

Point 3 – We can deliver. This point offers an opportunity to explain your plan while also justifying why it is right.

If we ‘borrow' Mary and Bill for two weeks we will be able to get back on track within two weeks.

  • The team is now back at full health and we are unlikely to see them take more time off. They have no annual leave planned, they and all their family members have had covid, and they are all motivated to get the program back on track
  • Borrowing Mary and Bill for two weeks will be sufficient to reset our schedule (explain how each of the major the tasks Mary and Bill will undertake will fix the problem)


Point 4 – We can manage the risks. Again here, we need to offer reasons not just tasks.

We can manage the risks to our project and also other Team Z work. To achieve this we will

  • Keep in close contact with Zahir who runs Team Z to minimise the likelihood that his work is not materially impacted by borrowing Mary and Bill
  • Stick to our proposed work schedule and ensure no variations are indulged, which would put our schedule at risk


Note that I did not just list the risks, which is something I see being done a lot at this stage. Think hard about what worries you about this proposal and explain how you will counter each of these worries.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

In conducting a quick review of Brian’s email at the start of this week’s working session we identified some common challenges that stem from a common problem.

How do we match what the reader takes from the page with what is in our heads as the communicator?

This is the holy grail of communication and can be particularly challenging to achieve when trying to follow the ‘rules’ of building a storyline.

With practice, these two things come together, but today’s example highlights some traps to avoid during this learning journey while also reminding us of how to bring the ‘real world’ together with the theory.

[As an aside, I want to thank Brian for sharing this one with us. There was lots of good to take away about the supporting structures … the opportunities for improvement lay particularly with the introduction.]

Tip 1 – Start the story ‘very close’ to the real event rather than going back in time

 

Starting with ‘screeds of background’ is one of the biggest complaints senior leaders have of decision-making papers and updates.

It is also a turnoff for other audiences who need to wade through it all before getting to the main game.

Yet, this is a very common challenge I see in corporate communication of all kinds, which stems I think from a fear of the audience not knowing enough history about the topic being discussed.

So, what to do?

Imagine yourself sitting down with your audience with a cup of coffee. Speak the words you would say to open the conversation. Out loud, possibly into your phone to capture them, not with your fingers on your keyboard.

These may well be the words to use at the start of your communication and if not, they will get you closer than starting ‘writing’.

Here is the difference you will see:

Context going too far back in time –

Regulations that came into effect on 1st June 2021 are being addressed in the Project by implementing a new database and new commissions processing system (Performio). Imagine a few lines of details explaining what has been done to implement the new system.

Context that reflects the right point in time (acknowledging the sentence is a bit long) –

One of the key decisions we need to make now before we go live on 1 October is whether we switch now to the new system or continue to operate the old system in parallel to allow more time to integrate Performio with its dependent systems.

Tip 2 – Avoid conflating the trigger for communicating with the trigger for doing something. These are not the same thing.

 

We use the trigger in storylining to explain to our audience why we are communicating to them about the context right now. We do this so that

The words we use in the trigger will prime them to ask the question we want them to ask.
The link should be so smooth and obvious, they can go nowhere else but to the question we are sending them to … so we can answer it with the ‘so what’.

We don’t use the trigger to explain what has happened to cause the problem or deliver the opportunity we are presenting. This will either be known to the audience and so appear in the context, or news and appear in the so what or the body of the story.

Let me use this example again to illustrate what I mean.

Trigger for communicating –

I have a recommendation for managing this process that needs your approval.

This leads to the question: What is your recommendation?

Trigger for doing something –

Testing analysis for both the database and system have revealed gaps and defects that are currently being fixed for retesting.

This leads to several questions, none of which help set you up to provide the message you need to provide: So? Why do I need to know that? How is this relevant to me?

 

Tip 3 – Craft the question to include only knowledge that you have provided the audience so far in your communication

 

In Tip 2 I explained how using the trigger for doing something sends the audience away from, rather than towards, our so what message.

Another challenge is drafting the question using information that is in our heads and not on the paper.

The initial question from this email was:

Question: Why do we need to retain BCS-BBC processing of Mixed deals in October?

This included information that was not presented to the audience in the context and trigger.

The question needs to flow naturally and so obviously it feels redundant. It might even seem stupidly simple.

Click here >> to get the full before and afters and view the recording.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Kind Regards,

Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of the program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.