Political Trade-offs

Political Trade-offs

 

Have you been in a position where you must implement a solution that you disagree with?

This is the situation Anya found herself in recently, which set up a great discussion around trade-offs, politics and what to do when your CEO is one of your objectors.

In tonight’s working session we helped Anya craft a story that has some useful lessons.

In sum, respectfully documenting disagreement can place responsibility where it belongs while also providing one last chance to reverse the decision.

  1. Disagreement can be respectful
  2. Feeling pushed into a taking a poor decision may signal that you are taking on someone else’s responsibility
  3. Communicating your disagreement can put that responsibility back on the decision makers

Disagreement can be respectful

We played around for quite a while to work out how to present this story so that it both gave the leaders what they were insisting upon while explaining the costs of this approach.

We decided to

  • Avoid going in ‘all guns blazing’ and recommending the Clarity solution given it would get the general manager, executive director and CEO offside.
  • Stick with the leaders’ preferred recommendation but help educate them about some areas where they were ill informed. For example, they were conflating ‘on prem Clarity’ and ‘Cloud Clarity’. Their high-cost experiences were based on the on prem version of Clarity being used for project payslips, not the Cloud version Anya preferred to use for project management.

Feeling pushed into a taking a poor decision may signal that you are taking on someone else’s responsibility

Part of the difficulty in crafting a story like this is the emotional frustration that can get in the way. As Anya said, she had expected to sit down over the weekend with a couple of gins and tonic to work out what to say to her leaders.

The reason it felt difficult is that she was feeling the heat of a poor decision that would be costly and time consuming to implement in comparison with her preferred solution.

Laying out the trade-offs for the leaders gave her an opportunity to pass the responsibility for those trade-offs back up the chain to those who were making the decision.

If the reports were costly or late, it would no longer be her problem.

Communicating your disagreement can put that responsibility back on the decision makers (and protect you too)

Leaders are charged with making decisions with the whole organisation in mind, which can lead to unpopular decisions. Sometimes, however, these decisions can also be ill informed simply because they are not close enough to the trade-offs incurred.

This is where a delicate effort to convey those trade-offs while respecting someone’s position is essential to return the responsibility for the costs of a decision to the decision makers.

 

Tonight we took two steps to achieve that. We

  • Balanced curtesy with a directness that meant they could not avoid seeing the cost to the business they were recommending. For example, we edited the so what …
    • From this … Given our existing relationship, I recommend proceeding with Service Now for the 5 PMOs, despite delayed reporting and greater cost when compared against Clarity.
    • To this … I recommend proceeding with Service Now for the 5 PMOs, prioritizing our existing relationships over delayed reporting and greater cost compared against Clarity.
  • Structured the story to compare the two options by factually comparing them to draw out the trade-offs they were making.

I have laid out the storyline below for your use, but do encourage you to check out the recording further down. It was a great conversation.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Davina

A New Influence Framework

A New Influence Framework

One of my colleagues, Louise, has a treasure trove of practical human relations models.

I have her to thank for introducing me to the Bolton and Bolton Work Styles framework we use in the Core Curriculum, for example.

Over coffee last week she shared another one that I think will help you too.

David Rock's SCARF model identifies the key drivers that trigger reward and threat responses, so shaping our ability to influence others. Let me first introduce the model and then offer an example to illustrate how it can be used.

Model – SCARF offers five psychological triggers that can trigger reward and threat responses. Here they are:

S: Status. Withdrawing status can cause stress circuits to light up more than physical pain. Equally, if status is nurtured it can light up reward circuits more than if someone is given a financial prize.

This is why receiving negative feedback can create significant stress. It affects how we perceive others perceive us.

C: Certainty. David suggests that the brain is a certainty creating machine always trying to predict what is going to happen. Great leaders create certainty with clear expectations providing great certainty. This also lights up those reward circuits in the brain.

A: Autonomy. Most of us value having a certain degree of autonomy, control and choice in what we do and how we work. This is why being micromanaged is rarely enjoyable. It may also say a fair bit about why so many employees are reluctant to return to the office full time.

R: Relatedness. Our brains interpret new people as an automatic threat. This reduces once we have a small interaction that moves people into the category of ‘like us' rather than ‘not us' and therefore fearful. He suggests that even small personal interactions can build significant relationship capital.

F: Fairness. He says that a fair exchange activates the reward circuitry, and an unfair exchange triggers the danger response. Being more transparent than you think is ‘really needed' about the reasons behind decisions and how they are fair is key. This triggers the reward circuitry and avoids creating threats.

Example – understanding which two or three drivers most affect us and our stakeholders helps us have greater influence.

David says that all five SCARF ‘drivers' influence us to some degree. The trick is to know which are the dominant drivers for us and our stakeholders.

These dominant drivers help consciously nurture positive relationships and avoid pushing people's buttons.

For example, it is easy to create conflict with someone who has ‘status' and ‘autonomy' as their two primary drivers. All you need to do is say that their work is substandard and to micromanage them toward improvement.

This will ‘trigger' those who prioritise status and autonomy more than those who don't.

It will deliver a primal response that moves them toward a stress state rather than a reward state. This heightens the risk of conflict and reduces our ability to influence that person.

In contrast, inviting someone with status as a dominant driver to improve their work in a way that lifts their status may trigger a reward state. You might, for example, invite them to improve their work before sharing with others.

He suggests that being aware of our own drivers and that of others enables us to build better relationships and so have greater influence.

You can learn more about David and his work at the Neuroleadership Institute here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – My first podcast episode is now out. Learn more from risk expert Anthony Wilson about how he has successfully engaged decision makers on risk management. His top tip: risk management = change management.

Access the Cutting Through podcast inside the portal in the new podcast tab.

What if stakeholders are wedded to out of date views?

What if stakeholders are wedded to out of date views?

I had a fabulous conversation this week with a client who is head of technology strategy for an insurance company.

He has come to a roadblock in his efforts to shepherd a major technology decision through the ExCo that I thought might interest you.

A dominant decision maker is wedded to an out-of-date view, which he has formed through discussions with friends rather than experts. This not-uncommon challenge is compromising my client's ability to get the best decision on a major technology investment.

The solution is of course challenging, but tweaking a Watch Out pattern before working out how to navigate it through the hierarchy was key. Here are the three steps we took:

Firstly, remember that a deductive Watch Out pattern starts with a positive statement to build rapport and then alerts to negative events on the horizon. Here is what that looks like:

Statement – We have been going well with project alpha

Comment – However, there are risks ahead that will affect project alpha

Recommendation – Therefore, address risks

Please note that I have revised the language being used here to describe Watch Out to improve on the language from the book. We too learn and grow!

Secondly, tweak the pattern to begin by validating the ExCo member's point of view before ‘adding to it' with new information in the comment and recommendation. Here is how that worked:

Statement – Previously XYZ solution was the best available solution even though it required a number of workarounds to meet our needs. He then explained why this was so in fleshing out this part of his paper.

Comment – However, now that ABC new technologies have evolved, DEF is a superior solution that requires fewer workarounds. He then put his case as to why DEF is now the best solution.

Recommendation – Therefore, we recommend investing in DEF solution.

This is the skeleton of the story that he felt would work.

Thirdly, think deeply about how to shepherd the story through the hierarchy to influence the key decision makers.

This involved working out who would be best to deliver this message to whom and in what format.

My client thought deeply about the relationships he has built across the leadership over the past year to work out who was best placed to influence the particular ExCo member and his peers.

He has intentionally nurtured these relationships for a time such as this, which is now paying dividends.

Without having these relationships to leverage, he would not have the influence needed to see his technology investment through.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am starting a podcast called Cutting Through in the coming weeks. As Clarity First members, you have early access. Watch out (!) for an email bringing you the first episode.

 

Another idea for engaging tricky stakeholders

Another idea for engaging tricky stakeholders

It always amazes me how these emails naturally follow a theme. The last two weeks I have written about techniques for influencing difficult stakeholders.

Today I had a coaching session with a consultant from a management consulting firm and he shared a terrific technique that fits this theme.

‘Fred' often uses questions to thaw difficult stakeholders before moving the conversation onto his recommendations. Let me unpack his strategy here for you.

Fred took four steps to engage a particularly prickly mine maintenance manager. He

  1. Understand their concerns fully
  2. Meet one-on-one when stakeholders are hostile to your or your recommendation
  3. Start with questions to demonstrate you are focused on their needs
  4. Use neutral language to segue to your own agenda


Understand their concerns fully. Fred understood well that the maintenance manager at the mine was ‘not a fan' of him or his colleagues.The project had begun too aggressively before Fred joined, and he now has to repair the relationships.

The maintenance manager had felt as though he had been accused of running a sloppy shop. He felt this was harsh given he had made important improvements in his first 3 months at the site.

Fred used our storyline planner to flesh these issues out. 
Download the latest version here.


Meet one-on-one when stakeholders are hostile to you or your recommendation. This reduces the risk that either one of you might be ambushed. It also allows for easier course correction if the conversation does go off track.

Start with questions to demonstrate that you are focused on their needs. Fred's gem of an opening question won the maintenance manager over and also unearthed extra ways Fred and his team could help.

He asked: What is keeping you up at night? and then gently probed to get the mine manager talking.

He deliberately did not offer solutions but held back, making sure he allowed the mine manager to unload fully.

Use neutral to segue to your own agenda. He then suggested that perhaps ‘looking at' maintenance processes might help address the issues that the mine manager had raised. Fred deliberately avoided using value-laden terms like ‘addressing', ‘fixing' or ‘improving' and remained very factual in his recommendations.

The mine manager was then ready to hear what Fred had to say, and allowed Fred to work through the introduction and lead to the ‘so what' for his story.

I will hear how it all went when I work with Fred again in a couple of weeks.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

More on nudging indecisive stakeholders

More on nudging indecisive stakeholders

Last week I shared some ideas for engaging indecisive stakeholders by redefining your proposal. I suggested three steps: make it matter, make it easy and make it a win for them.

Given the often great difficulty of nudging stakeholders over the line, I wanted to share some more ideas for ‘making it matter'.

I find I can sometimes tip the balance toward a decision by putting more responsibility on stakeholders and less on myself. Here are four tactics that I have used recently:

First: ask your stakeholders to prioritise for you. You might explain that your team will need clarity around their work to continue to add maximum value over the coming period. If we don't proceed with this, what would you prefer us to work on?

Second: create competition. Explain your own decision frame so they have visibility around your own constraints. For example, I explained to a potential client this week that I can only hold dates in my diary when I have formal confirmation of a project. I explained that there are currently two clients wanting me to help their teams, both of which are working through their procurement processes. The one that comes back first will get their preferred schedule.

Third: ask them what is holding them back. You can decide whether you do this privately or together. In understanding their barriers around time, money or competing priorities, you can get a better sense of the problem. You can then tailor your proposal accordingly. This is the strategy we used for Ravi's issue last week

Fourth: decide that it is better to get a firm no than no answer at all. Indecision requires work. It means that you and potentially your team are distracted by repeatedly trying to get something over the line that may or may not proceed.

I refer back to Kenny Rogers here: Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em and know when to walk away.

Being open to receiving a ‘no' can be liberating. It opens you up to new ways of thinking about the existing problem or creates room for new opportunities.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina
How to handle indecisive stakeholders

How to handle indecisive stakeholders

Has this happened to you?

You put your case multiple times to the decision-making team. They like your proposal but aren't ready to commit.

Yet, they all know your proposal is important. Nobody disagrees with that but even after multiple presentations to answer their questions they still won't sign.

What is going on here? How do you handle that?

While there are many strategies you could employ, I offer one today that I have used successfully and which was the focus of discussion in one of this week's calls.

I encourage you to dig deeply so you can get develop a small proposal that will intrigue your stakeholders enough to make them want more.

My three thoughts are to make it matter, make easy and make it a win for them. Let me unpack this using Ravi’s example from today’s working session.

First: Make it matter. Identify a current pain point that your recommendation will solve for your stakeholders. We discussed this during today’s working session. Ravi brought a challenge that was more complex than it appeared on the surface.

He has an idea for improving math education in his school district and is beginning to engage with the superintendents in it.

The initial challenge here was not just what to say in the email, but what to propose.

What was the best way to hook the school superintendents in the conversation, not just jump to his desired outcome. We needed to understand the barriers he would face in engaging the superintendents. We did this in four steps. We

  1. Thought about what else the stakeholders might be balancing. We got quite specific about this. What would a typical teacher’s day look like at the moment? How full is it? What is it full of? What unusual stresses might there be at this time?
  2. Brainstormed the sorts of concerns the stakeholders might have about his recommendation. What tradeoffs would stakeholders need to make to say yes? Does your recommendation require
    1. Too much time?
    2. Too much money?
    3. Other projects to be sacrificed?
  3. Used those as a stimulus to draw out the key concerns your stakeholders have
  4. Honed in on how he might overcome those concerns by throwing more ideas around


We realised there was a big opportunity here. Students in his school district were already behind the average before covid appeared. Despite this, teachers were continuing with pre-covid teaching strategies.

We thought Ravi’s approach might help change their strategies so students leapfrog ahead, rather than continuing the previous slow trajectory.

Second: Make it easy. As you can imagine, wherever students have been in covid lockdowns they are behind in their learning. Teachers are struggling to catch them up and looking for ways to do that. They are also overburdened and reluctant to take on anything extra.

We discussed strategies to reduce the initial burden on teachers while still finding a way to pilot the approach in schools.

For example, Ravi might help teachers’ aides learn the www.ProblemSolvingMaps.com methodology. This would reduce the burden on teachers preparing for maths classes.

BTW – if you have school children, you might enjoy looking this up. It looks like a terrific technique for teaching children to build general problem-solving skills.

Third: Make it a win for them. While you will no doubt have a longer-term vision for your recommendation, it may be too big a ‘sell’. Start with something small that will solve a problem for them while also creating an opportunity for you.

Our suggestion here was for Ravi to connect with some local teachers. He could ask them to identify the biggest inflection point in a student’s math journey and to offer to pilot a solution focused on that point.

He could then work with a small group of teachers’ aides who might appreciate their own opportunity to learn and to help their students at the same time.

So, although we only drafted the start of the email, we made substantial progress for Ravi in helping him think through his challenge.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

I came to Friday's interview with Matt Lohmeyer a bit selfishly. Negotiating has often made me nervous and yet he seems to thrive while discussing and doing it.

So, I wanted to learn how he gets great outcomes while actually enjoying the process.

If I am to interpret Matt correctly, the ‘insight' is to explore ‘possibility’ and seek out ‘opportunity’ rather than be driven by the fear of being cornered by a win/lose proposition.

Here are three fear busters that I took away that I hope help you also.

  1. Deal with the hairy beasts first
  2. See popular techniques as tools rather than the main strategy
  3. Avoid saying no

Let me now give you some more detail about these before offering the interview and two powerful free tools from Matt.

1 – Deal with the hairy beasts first. By that, Matt suggests dealing with the most difficult issues of a negotiation first. He recommends agreeing the negotiation strategy at the beginning as a way to build rapport, rather than dealing with small items. An example might help.

At the beginning you might ask the other person (note, I am deliberate in not saying ‘the other side') to identify their biggest concern. You might even suggest that you think item X is going to be the most difficult thing to resolve.

This gives them an opportunity to agree or to indicate that item Y or Z is a bigger deal for them. Taking this approach offers many advantages. You

  1. Enter into a collegiate discussion about the way forward that builds rapport
  2. Gain insight into their situation
  3. Work out quickly whether this negotiation will go far or not, so that you can avoid wasting time and resources if it is unresolvable
  4. Hold onto valuable bargaining chips that could help you address the hairy beast rather than trading them away to solve lower level issues

2 – See popular techniques as tools rather than the primary strategy. Matt suggests that emphasising win-win solutions or splitting the difference results in mediocre outcomes. Why?

Because they leave you thinking small. They lead you to

  1. Being adversarial which can put you back in the fear corner'
  2. Trading items tit for tat around micro elements of the deal
  3. Taking energy away from finding a really great outcome that neither party may have considered at the start of the discussion.

3 – Avoid saying no, and frame your response as a possible alternative. This doesn't mean NEVER saying no as Matt was quick to point out, but rather avoid saying it.

To give an example. Instead of saying ‘No, I can't have coffee with you tomorrow afternoon', say ‘I could have coffee with you at 9am tomorrow at a location near me'.

This then puts the onus back on the other person to decide whether they will make the extra effort to make that time and location work.

This is a simple example, but a powerful principle that empowers me by offering a constructive way out.

These are just some of the gems that Matt shared. You can visit the recording below, as well as download two powerful resources he has for us all.

 

DOWNLOADS:

1. A diagnostic to help you calibrate your personal blend of preferred negotiation strategies with the norm group of over 2,500 other executives. How do you actually negotiate? To unlock this tool, you will need to use the password Mythbusters.

>> Click here to access

2. A generously detailed PDF full of negotiation strategies for you to employ.

>> Download here 

 

Kind Regards,

Davina

What to do when stakeholders disagree with you?

What to do when stakeholders disagree with you?

I was recently asked a wonderful question:
 

How do we communicate with a large group that includes stakeholders who disagree with us?

 

The client and I had a terrific discussion and I mapped the outcome as a decision tree to share with you all.

The tree offers a series of decision points that we must navigate if we are to deliver a story that gets the result we need.

In this particular case, the issue centred around a common problem, which was how to handle ‘the story' when key stakeholders don't agree with it. Do we ….

  • Tell the same story regardless?
  • Edit the story to accommodate that person (or those people) only?
  • Ask someone else to present on our behalf?
  • Create a separate story that deals with the ‘objector's specific concerns?
  • Scrap the story and start again?

There are lots of alternatives, each of which might suit a different situation but none of which suit all.

Hence, the decision tree.

You can also download the decision tree here >> 

I hope you find it useful.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – For those of you who have not yet joined one of our working sessions, please go to the session registrations tab on the main menu to do so. We'd love to do your work for with you!

The importance of asking ‘Why?’

In this session, we worked on Brooke's email which highlighted the importance of asking ‘why'.

  • Why might audiences be objecting (are they unwilling or unable?)
  • Why do you need to communicate? What is it you need them to know?

Once you have nailed down the ‘why', the storyline becomes so much clearer.

As always, we've included the notes below so you can see how we work through the storyline planner from the initial brainstorming through to the first draft of the email.

How to avoid being diverted by the back story so you can focus on the today story

How to avoid being diverted by the back story so you can focus on the today story

Has this happened to you?

You have an important presentation to make to a senior leadership group and a big chunk of the time is spent talking about ‘background’.

The leaders ask every question under the sun about the history of the program, what you have done in the past and you find yourself repeating your last five presentations. You use precious face time with them looking backwards rather than looking forwards.

This was a hot topic in today’s coaching session with the Senior People Leader at an Australian retailer.

Let’s look at what was going on before looking at a sanitised version of the before and after.

Here's what was going on : ‘Mary’ was going into way too much detail in the introduction

Mary would brace herself for these discussions as they felt a bit like an interrogation and to head off the questions, she included lots of background up front.

She referred to the history of the People Strategy and went into quite some detail about it.

However, in doing this she was also leaving the door open for questions as the first part of her paper wasn’t a complete summary, or perhaps described past events using new words which piqued the Board’s curiosity.

Her strategy was backfiring.

To avoid this, we suggest tightening your introduction to lead your audience directly where you want them to go (to the So What).

Here are four tips for doing that.

  1. Assume you must synthesise your context as tightly as you would synthesise your ‘so what’. Even for a lengthy paper, keep the context short, ideally to no more than 2-3 sentences in total.
  2. Stick to information that is or should be known to the audience.
  3. Ensure the trigger articulates clearly and simply why you are communicating with this audience about the topic described in the context at this point in time.
  4. Focus on material that introduces the topic as it stands right now. This will prime your audience on the topic that you want to discuss and open the door for the trigger rather than more questions.

Here’s a sanitised before and after to illustrate.

The ‘Before’ included far too much detail which gave the audience a chance to derail the conversation and not get to the so what

[CONTEXT] Talented people needed to deliver our ambition, has and been remains a business goal. We have focused on talent over the last 3 years – approach largely individualistic and limited by poor capability frames

Our new operating model provides an opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves in the talent market – move talent to max value work, no other retailer using this new operating approach, and we can become known for development

We have started implementing a 3-year strategy to drive enterprise talent & capability and that has changed the talent profile through recruitment. Development will be the focus in the following years

We will track impact and manage talent-based risk

[TRIGGER] We have a Talent strategy that we believe will deliver on our goal to win through talent.

[QUESTION] What is your strategy?

The ‘After’ is much tighter all round and led to a tighter discussion around Mary's agenda

[CONTEXT] Moving to the new operating model provides us with an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the talent market. This enables us to build on the foundations established over the past three years to develop a winning talent strategy.

[TRIGGER] We have a new leading edge Talent strategy that will enable us to capture the full opportunity that our new business model offers us.

[QUESTION] What is your strategy?

I hope that helps and look forward to checking in with you again next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – We have working sessions this week. Don't forget to register!