Your Management and Board of Directors have asked you for a recommendation on the direction your organization should take to address a problem. You feel pretty passionate about the solution you are recommending, and they are very anxious to get the problem addressed. You feel like this is either going to be a career making or career breaking discussion.
How can you be sure that you state your case clearly and in a way that, even if they do not agree, your recommendation will be perceived as well thought through and effectively articulated?
We’ve all been there at one point or another in our career. Some of us have been there more than once.
The Wrong Approach
One mistake many people make is to believe they must share the mental process they went through to reach their final recommendation. The truth is, this is just the opposite of what you should do. By the time the evidence is fully presented, the audience has likely made up their mind on what the right course of action is. To the extent it is aligned with your recommendation great. But, the audience will feel they came up with it (or the course of action was so simple you’d be a fool to recommend something else). And, if it is different that what you are recommending, you now have the audience entrenched in a position and have massive damage control to convert them to your way of thinking. Neither outcome is particularly good.
The Right Approach
Instead, you want to begin with the end in mind. State the problem and your recommended solution. Then go on to support your recommendation with evidence based reasons. After presenting the WHAT and WHY, talk about the requirements for and ways to mitigate the risks involved in implementation.
Always think before you speak. Take your time. People want the information you are going to give, so they will be patient while you collect your thoughts.
Answer the question that was asked. Try to hear the question behind the question. Answer what was asked and then provide additional perspective that addresses the real, but unstated concern. For example, your CFO asks a question about the total resource requirements of your recommendation; but you know the third quarter has some cash flow challenges. Answer the question by giving him/her the total forecasted requirements. Then provide the quarterly impact perspective.
Start every response with “Yes”, “No”, “I don’t understand the question” or “I don’t know but will find out and get back to you”. Never, ever say “Yes and No”. This suggests you are indecisive. And never start with providing background before answering. Answer and then if they want more background provide it.
Clarify to be sure your answer satisfied the question. If it didn’t, you will often find that the unanswered question comes back as a roadblock to future progress.
Be as succinct as possible when answering questions. If it requires a long response, and/or you sense it is not a question everybody is interested in, ask if you can follow-up with the person right after the meeting.
Focus on facts first and opinions second. Always clearly state when you are providing your opinion versus a fact. If a manager puts forth an opinion that conflicts with the facts, you must clarify the facts. Do it politely and with appropriate political sensitivity.
Never answer a question with a question. This just upsets people and will not help your effort to align them to your recommendation.
I am positive there are more eloquent dissertations on how to effectively state your case. But, the above is the way it was taught to me and I have seen it work repeatedly. Hopefully it resonates with you. What are some tips/tricks you use? If you were counseling somebody new in your Organization on how to present to Management, what guidance would you offer?
Please leave a comment with your thoughts.
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