Over the past few years I have been closely observing the habits of highly effective executives and how they manage to get a favorable decision for their proposal, every time. You may call it lobbying, politicking or influencing. But this is arguably one of the most important skills to develop, especially when you want to manage “up” to senior executives.
This skill comes quite handy in numerous occasions including selling a product or a concept, influencing someone, resolving a conflict, impressing in an interview, leading a team, presenting a business case and so on.
In no particular order I am listing below the skills exhibited by highly effective executives:
1. They ensure the proposal is the right thing to do for the organization. Effective executives pick the right proposal to push through – not every single proposal. The one that they select has to be the right one, with sufficient value to benefit the organization.
Once they settle on the proposal, they do their homework exhaustively. They become the authority on that topic, on that proposal or idea.
2. They get a different set of eyes to do a sanity check. It always helps to get someone knowledgeable and supportive to review an initial draft and identify any gaps in judgment. This not only makes their proposal more solid but also helps them cover all bases.
3. They check and see if there is some organizational asset to lean on. For the most part, effective executives know that their proposal will not be the first of its kind. There would most certainly be some initiative in the company or in the industry that has parallel with that proposal. They cite relevant statistics or conclusions from McKinsey, Harvard Business Review, Gartner, and other reports. They get experts who have worked in those areas and get their insights. Since this knowledge is relatively new in the company, it appears to others that these executives invented the idea. In effect, they are thinking out of the box, or looking for a better way of doing the same thing.
4. They get others to provide input and share “authorship”. This is collaborative proposal-making. When others get to provide input to a proposal they feel a sense of ownership in the cause, and want to back up the proposal. Then when difficult questions arise or other areas are needed to be covered, these co-authors are ready with their support.
5. Effective executives somehow manage to lead with the appealing part of their argument. They always, lead with the one statement or fact that will appeal to the audience. If there are two or three people in the room who are part of the decision-making group, the effective executive cites facts that would strike a chord with each of them. That way they lower their guard and are more willing to listen. Of course, they will do their review, come up with their questions and may finally go with another decision, but at least they will be friendly and attentive.
6. They know the difference between “by mid-August” and “in 10 days”. Effective executives understand time-sensitivity. It is alright to be subjective, general and high-level in the initial stages. But as one starts building or executing, one must get down to specifics. Knowing when to generalize, and when to be specific is an art. Efficient executives somehow get the timing right.
7. They know who has the incentive to support the proposal – i.e. who gains most if the proposal was executed. At the same time, effective executives find out who has the most pain that their proposal will solve. These are the people whom they should approach first and gather support.
8. They then find out who has the most to lose if the proposal went through. These are people who will be emotionally opposed and no amount of logic will work on them. Efficient executives tackle these people a little later, after gathering sufficient support for the proposal.
Effective executives almost always do not battle at their level. To influence someone or to get them to come around, they convince their boss to step in. This is in those cases where an obstinate person is missing the obvious. No point in causing further friction trying to trump their emotionally made-up mind with logical arguments. Again this will work only if what is being proposed has good support and high perceived value.
Also, they accept that everyone will have a perception and not necessarily a favorable one. You don’t have to win over everyone. If the proposal can still go through without the support of any naysayers, so be it.
9. They delegate, communicate, engage, document and prioritize. Effective executives do not do everything on their own, but ensure that the responsible person or department for each task performs that task. They prioritize and know what they have to do vs. what can be delegated. They press hard for a decision. And when they get one, they have it documented and communicated.
10. Effective executives stay calm, composed and patient. They believe in their proposal and work their way through. They may not get everything decided in their favor. They ensure they get the big wins and then they are happy to yield on the smaller ones.
An awareness of these actions and practice at every opportunity helps hone these skills and build this capability.
We market things every day. Someone is marketing to us every moment of the time. I have come to realize the benefit of developing such a mindset and such a skillset.
I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this very interesting topic.
Image: (c) Kay Leadership Academy