This post is a part of Strategy Month—my 30-day LinkedIn series aimed at bringing strategy down from its lofty perch and providing the ideas, techniques, and tools to democratize strategy in your team or organization. So far, we’ve had Strategy Creation week, Strategy Mobilization week, and last week was Strategic Thinking week, focused on how to reflect, connect, and make choices. Today is the start of Strategic Influence week. You can follow along here.
You’ve been spending more time reflecting lately. You’ve seen a connection between a few disparate opportunities emerging in your industry and you’ve got a great idea for a move that would really help your team be successful. Awesome!
Only one problem, how do you convince the team that it’s a great idea?
Being strategic requires more than just having great ideas, it means being able to communicate your ideas in a compelling way and to overcome the resistance that might derail your progress.
Here are three mistakes I see in influence attempts that fall flat:
Mistake #1: You over-weight the facts
You’re the “who can dispute the cold, hard facts” type. You focus on having iron-clad data presented in eye-catching charts and graphs. You’re confident that those facts will speak for themselves. Won’t they?!?
Well…not likely. Or not always. Or not with everyone.
Humans are less logical than you expect. People proceed with decisions they’re comfortable with, and that’s emotional, not rational. If you don’t internalize this, you probably overemphasize the facts that show why the action is good and under-represent the facts that counter the little voice inside people’s heads saying that the action is risky. The people you’re trying to persuade are making an emotional decision and then using facts to support their choice. Fear speaks louder than excitement. Give them the data to make them feel more excitement and less fear about your idea.
Mistake #2: You try to persuade people with whom you have no credibility
You have zero credibility with the decision-maker, but why should that stop you when you have such a great idea! Surely everyone will be receptive to an amazing opportunity!?! Isn’t it about the quality of the idea, not some political B.S.?
Just because there’s a credibility gap in your influence attempt doesn’t mean the other person is being political or that it’s bullshit. You’re not just asking the person to take a risk on an idea, you’re inflating the risk by asking them to take a risk on an unknown quantity (and if you’re a known quantity with a spotty track record, it’s even worse).
In situations where your credibility is low, it can be much more effective to enlist someone who is better positioned to make the suggestion. You’ll find that exactly the same points coming from a different mouth will resonate much better.
Mistake #3: You start at the end not the beginning
You love your idea so much that you want to do it justice when you finally present your baby to the world. You’ve got it honed to such a degree that the team just needs to say “yes” and you’re off to the races. You walk into the meeting, hand out your gorgeous materials and give your laser-light show presentation. You blew it.
Presenting what looks like a finished project implicitly says, “I didn’t need you,” and depending on the internal monologue of the audience, might be interpreted as “I don’t like you,” “I don’t value you,” or “How could you possibly when I am so very, very smart?!?”
Trying to influence someone without incorporating their ideas is hard. Instead, engage early with drafts (that look like drafts) and use successive iterations to demonstrate where you’ve included people’s ideas.
Other Useful Approaches
Connect your idea to an existing strategy
Drawing links between your idea and an existing strategy (or process, or product, or project) can make your idea seem less foreign. It’s also valuable because then your idea feels like a validation of past efforts rather than a rebuke of them. It’s the difference between “you guys were getting it wrong and I’m the hero here to fix it” and “you guys are really smart, and I want to build on your smarts.”
Frame your idea in the perspective of a key stakeholder
Discussing how your idea would benefit a key stakeholder is another effective way of increasing receptiveness to your idea. It’s a way of borrowing someone else’s clout when you don’t have enough of your own. It’s the difference between “imagine what a rock star I’ll be when you implement my idea” and “imagine how happy our suppliers will be when we implement this idea.”
Respond to criticism with curiosity
Responding to criticism with questions and openness will not only help you improve your idea, but it will also help your team feel like you value their contributions. It’s the difference between “I’m invested in being right” and “I’m invested in this being the best it can be.”
Engage with any passive-aggressiveness
Bringing passive-aggressiveness (such as sarcasm, eye-rolling, or silent disapproval) into the open and engaging with it as if the concerns were more overt will allow you and everyone else to differentiate between those who have something legitimate to contribute and those who are just cranky, cowardly, or lazy. A quick “I’m noticing the body language. How should I interpret all the crossed arms?” might just do the trick. It’s the difference between “Let me get out of the room unscathed” and “Let me give this idea the best chance of being implemented.”
There are many things you can do to improve the quality of your strategic ideas but the best idea in the world doesn’t assure you of a fair hearing if the innovation disrupts your teammates’ sense of confidence, competence, or comfort. More energy invested in making your idea palatable will increase the likelihood that it gets a fair hearing and that neither it nor you are dispatched.