We often hear about the need to influence others to help achieve our job and business goals. What we don't really hear much about is how we should do that. Here's an effective, easily implemented, practical approach to try the next time you have to present a proposal.
You'll have built a workbench of tools and strategies that have helped you achieve and deliver results in your business and career. Like all driven leaders and managers, you're always on the lookout to improve your success rate.
Every day, people in your organisation are making decisions that your influence could help make better. How many times have you thought, 'That was not the decision I'd hoped for.'
Here are three practical ideas to consider as useful additions to the way you present your proposals.
1. Start with the problem -- not the solution.
2. Limit the number of options you present with your solution.
3. Use the 'Power of contrast' when you deliver the solution options.
Step 1: Start with the problem -- not the solution
Imagine you're walking through a park and you suddenly become aware of a rather large bull eyeing you intently and looking very agitated. It's a real threat so you immediately look for somewhere safe to get away from it.
You spot a gate on the fence nearby. As quickly as you can, without rushing, you move to the gate, open it, get out of the park and shut it after you.
Phew, you're safe ... what a relief! Now ask yourself -- if you hadn't had the problem (agitated bull) would you have even noticed the gate? The solution (the gate) was there all along -- you just didn't know you needed it until you realised you had a problem (the bull).
How can we use this?
When we present the solution without first presenting the problem it's like the other person is seeing the gate but not realising they need it. No matter how well you describe the benefits of the gate, their mind will likely not be as open to its value. Present the problem first -- it will make life much easier for you.
When you're looking to present a proposal, no matter how big or small, always start with the problem and describe it in as much detail as appropriate. Help the other party to understand the risk or the potential loss.
Make it as real as you can, paint pictures to help them to understand the threat it brings, or the opportunity they'll miss out on. You'll know when you've done that properly because they'll be like the person in the park with the bull -- looking for a safe way to deal with a real and present problem.
Only now should you show them the solution. Only now, that they're aware of the bull, should you show them the gate.
This will do two things:
1. Get the focus and attention of the other party by raising their level of tension because of the "problem" and then;
2. Provide the relevant context for the solution you are presenting. A gate without a bull is not a solution, it's well, just a gate.
So you've got their attention, what do you present to them?
Step 2: Limit the number of options you present with your solution
The modern world provides us with endless choice. Surprisingly more choice makes it more difficult for us to decide. Often without realising it, more options will mean we'll choose to delay making a decision or even not proceed.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice) argues that too much choice is actually a bad thing, causing decision paralysis and unhappiness.
Read more: 'The CIO holds the most strategic role in the enterprise today, with the exception of the CEO'
Sheena Iyengar set up an experiment with a jam-tasting stall in an upmarket supermarket in California. Sometimes shoppers were offered six varieties of jam to taste, other times 24 varieties.
After tasting the shoppers were offered a $1 discount voucher to buy jam. As you might expect, the display with the choice of 24 jams attracted more customers than the display with six jams -- almost 40 per cent more.
But the results of what shoppers actually bought were surprising: The display that offered less choice resulted in 10 times more sales. Only 3 per cent of jam tasters at the 24 variety stand used their discount voucher, whereas 30 per cent at the six-variety stand used theirs.
So how can this help us?
You've started with the problem and you're now ready to present your solution. You generally need to present more than one option so they have a choice and don't feel railroaded into an approval. But as we've seen in the jam experiment too much choice can be counterproductive.
What's the right number of options to present?
You're the expert, you've assessed the options, and you've done the work to narrow it down to the best options. If possible, don't present more than three options because it makes the decision harder and more likely to be delayed. If you're asked whether you considered other options, then just refer to them and briefly explain why you eliminated them.
Does the order I present the options make any difference? It does. Here's how to do it the right way.
A mentor once said: 'Treat your behaviour like clothes -- reach into your wardrobe and put on the clothes best suited to the occasion.'
Step 3: Use the 'Power of contrast' when you deliver the solution options
Compared to a $15 cheese burger, a $35 gourmet burger seems high. Compared to a $100 bottle of wine, a $35 bottle seems low. This is the power of contrast.
Here's how to use that knowledge to shine the spotlight on your preferred option.
Present the most expensive solution first -- this sets the cost level for the solution for this problem. From then on the other options are unconsciously compared against this.
If you have three options then present the lowest cost one second. This will generally not be the optimal solution although valid and would deliver to the requirements of the project. However, it's likely this option will have restrictions in capability or functionality that will place limits on its value as a solution.
Then present your optimal solution last. This is where you need to put all your effort and, with enthusiasm, confidence and authority cover all the reasons why it's the right decision with the most value for the business.
Important next steps to get to 'Approved'
You probably know how to proceed after you've finished your presentation so this next step may seem obvious. However it's super important so let's review it anyway.
When you've finished your presentation of the options and answered any questions, the next step is to ask: "Do you have everything you need to make a decision?" If they say yes then ask for their approval to go ahead.
If they don't have everything, then it's critical to ask, "What else do you need to make a decision?" This is key because it makes sure you're able to uncover any lingering doubt. It makes sure that nothing is left to chance. Nothing is left on the table. You've done everything you could.
Address whatever comes out of this question (more work may be required). Once you've done that, ask again, "Do you have everything you need to make a decision" and then ask for approval.
This gives you the best chance of a decision, then and there, and minimises the chance of a delay.
If the answer is "I need to think about it" ask for a confirmation on what the next step is and the timing for a decision.
There are no absolutes in what drives, motivates and influences human behaviour. No one can guarantee that if you do this then that person will choose to do that. But some approaches and strategies are more likely to be effective than others.
A mentor once said: "Treat your behaviour like clothes -- reach into your wardrobe and put on the clothes best suited to the occasion."
Sometimes you have to go and get a new set of clothes. While you may not feel comfortable with them to start with, after wearing them a few times you wonder why you'd never bought them earlier. Could this be a new jacket or suit for you to try at a couple of your next proposal presentations?