At a speech last month at a women’s exec group, one audience member asked “how do I build a business case so I get heard”.
Great question. In my day job, I help execs form business cases all the time, on defining what products should get more marketing push, which business unit should get the next $ of investment, or how to restructure a team to be more effective. I’ve seen their approaches, their peers’ approaches, gathered my own thoughts and here’s what I’ve distilled.
Here’s a (generalized) approach that works for client situations I’ve seen…
1. Always get a clear snapshot of the situation as it is today. Figure out what is “broken” or is needed by figuring out the impact to the business. And, then get people to help you shape that or agree to the point of view. Start by first thinking yourself and then taking ‘straw-man’ ideas to others. That way you are gaining input but still leading.
2. Decide what is the most important thing to solve for. In some cases, it really nets out to 1 decision, not 10. This is probably the biggest mistake I see done. Everyone will want to tack on to your list what you can solve. it’s human instinct. So the key is to say, we’ll get to other things but let’s score a win on the most crutial / key step / foundation / whatever, and move the ball further down the field.
3. Get the facts straight. Knowing the facts is crucial. Everyone hates a dilettante. Figure out what you know, and what you need to know. And confirm, confirm, confirm the facts are really as you know them to be. This can be a place of challenge later so make confirmation a part of your process.
4. Know your audience. Who ever your audience is, talk to what matters to them. I remember when Bono made the front page of Time as part of the Man of the Year thing, he said he quotes scripture and talk about specific metrics for success to George W. Bush. Another part of the story says he spoke to a senator from Illinois, he spoke of development aid as a reminder of America’s greatness in the rest of the world. The core message and ‘problem/solution’ idea was the same. The key was to pick out what really mattered to folks and focus on that.
5. Ask for permission to solve the problem. Funny enough, one way to get buy in is to ask for it. “Do we agree this is a problem that needs to get solved.” Get people to empower you to solve it.
6. Don’t ask for permission to solve the problem. It takes charm, clarity of voice, and the ability to resonate to people’s visions to create change. Just start solving things and you’ll be amazed at how many people will hop on your bandwagon.
7. Tell em what is solved. Seriously, getting all the way up the hill is fun, but plant the flag and let others know it’s solved. Not only will you get credit, but people will now figure out how to advance the territory to another place. It’s key to let people in the organization know what is solved, how it helps the organization and what’s still needed.
8. Figure out what metrics are key to ongoing performance tracking. Things sometimes go back when not watched. Put in place a 3 or 6 month process with a maintenance way of tracking milestone success. it can be a commitment to do a 15 minute report in 6 months. Just knowing someone is going to check back in will normally keep things in line. But at minimum, you’ve decided it’s worth tracking and that makes for good management.
9. Recognize that things take time. A friend and colleague of mine came to me a year ago, and asked me to help her frame something she’d been seeking to fix. She was at step 1; that’s what she wanted help with. 40 minutes later, she had an outline for 4 slides. Last week, she got a new job leading this area. But only because she had identified the strategic value to the organization and why she wanted to lead it.
10. Remember to have fun. Leading is only fun if people are following you and you’re doing to create good change, good value in the organization. It’s not about political gain or career status, but about being a person worth following.
Convincing others to follow you has to have the right intent otherwise you’ll fail in more ways than one.