Presenting a budget upstairs for approval is a request, as is selecting an outsourced service partner, or adding desperately needed headcount.
The answer to “Will I agree to your request?” is only confirmed by your exec’s actions: If you don’t get the answer you need, well, then you weren’t persuasive enough. And like anything worth doing, preparing to persuade your exec is worth a little upfront work. So, here is a quick check to help with that preparation.
But first, a little about persuasion in general.
Persuasion may be the most important key to business success. Think Steve Jobs launching Apple products, Bill Gates giving his malaria TED Talk, or closer to home, when you got your departmental budget approved upstairs on the first try.
All depend on the ability to persuade. And the basis for persuasion starts with understanding other people.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood
– Stephen Covey, 1932-2012, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
Before Persuasion, Understand First
Persuasion requires understanding other people BEFORE you can figure out what information to present and how to present it.
And there is a ready-made framework to help do that, it just takes a little tweaking from its original form.
The original model we’re borrowing from is called “ServQual,” which is based on service quality research published in “Delivering Quality Service” (affiliate link) by Valerie Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman and Leonard Berry in the mid-1980s. The ServQual model describes how customers assess service quality and provides an actionable starting point to understand customers’ expectations and perceptions.
From this model, we’re looking at the 4 influencing factors on customers’ expectations and have re-ordered them. We’re using these factors as a starting point to understand others, which in our world is the preparation to persuade.
4 Influencing Factors
So, take a little time beforehand to consider what your customer’s (your exec’s) expectations (starting position) may be: You’ll be in a better position to create a persuasive request that achieves your desired outcomes.
After quick checking these 4 factors, if you find positives, you’ll not want to overplay them. Although it’s good to know about them in advance, they may not be as strong as you’d guessed, or even there at all.
In most cases it’s the negatives you’ll need to prepare for. If you’re fortunate enough to hear about them, consider how you might defend against them by changing your request’s content and/or how you may present it.
#1) Personal Needs
What’s in it for them personally?
Your exec has needs of their own from whatever you’re requesting. These are in addition to the expected organizational needs like a 10% budget reduction, greater scope with less staff, etc.
Their personal needs are, well, personal. Consider:
Where are they in their careers? If they’re:
- Near retirement — they may want a non-disruptive/non-ambitious last year: you may want to dial down risk & build up mitigation supports
- Just starting out — they may be more ambitious & look for a higher-risk project to make their name: you may want to dial up risk tolerance & build up SOW for greater payoffs
- Stuck in the middle — they may want moderate risk with some upside because this isn’t their first rodeo: you may want to balance your request’s scope with a conservative payoff
How much juice do they have in the organization?
- How much of a decision can they make on their own? Who above them do they need to keep happy? — they may look for safer decisions that only stay in their swim lanes, keep their heads down & appease their immediate exec
- Who are their allies, and where is their allegiance, e.g., who are the higher up execs they’re close to, or are they alone in the crowd? — they may seek to send up a flier for a more ambitious decision on your request
Their personal needs influence their expectations so proactively address them in your request. Find some aspect of your request that will help fulfill what they want, even in a minor way. They’ll notice it even if no one else does, and they’ll be slightly more inclined to your request than otherwise.
#2) Past Experiences
Any train wrecks relative to your request?
Whatever past experiences your exec has had relative to your request will influence their expectations, good or bad.
So, it’s in your interests to find out in advance if they’ve gone sideways with you and/or your request in the past.
It may be uncomfortable for you to ask your exec directly if they have issues with you. However, your allies/friends nearest your exec may be able to provide that insight. So ask them instead.
If you’re not familiar if your type of request has blown up in the past, ask around your organization/department about its recent history, and plan accordingly.
#3) Word-of-Mouth Communications
What might they have been told by others?
What your exec hears from a trusted source will color their expectations regarding your request. Think about who may have been talking about you and/or your request, and what may have been heard.
You’ll need to have your ears open for this Word-of-Mouth (WOM) intel, which can only be gained tangentially from your direct conversations with your exec, or directly from your allies/friends nearest your exec. You can’t really ask your exec straight up, now can you?
#4) External Communications
What info/media have they been consuming relative to your request?
External communications are everything from marketing pieces to research papers, social media to mass media, and everything in between. And all of these will, to some degree, influence what your exec expects when you make your request.
Of course it’s not realistic to know all the external communications your exec has consumed. But it sure helps to know the ones that made an impression and stuck in their minds. That’s where your allies/friends nearest your exec can help with that type of insight.
Again, strong organizational relationships upstream, downstream, and peer-wise will help you get that understanding of where your decision makers’ minds are at.
Better yet, be the source for compelling external communications. Start some time before you expect to make your request, and send them the external information from sources they’re likely to trust, and in the format they’re likely to consume. Why not be the expert educator?
Quickly Map 4 Influencing Factors
Quickly considering these four factors will serve the “Forewarned is forearmed” mantra. Only then can you craft your request to protect against negatives, or expand positives.
Fill in this table with short, simple statements; don’t spend too much time on it (5 minutes prox.) because you’ll never know exactly what influenced their current frame of mind.
But take your best guess. Considering nothing before presenting your request will mean you’re presenting in the dark. Or like the great philosopher once proclaimed,
If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
– Yogi Berra, 1925 – 2015
Hopefully, this prep exercise takes no more than 5-10 minutes tops out of your request preparation: A small amount of time to invest to avoid the “If only I had…” after getting a “No.”
Of course, this type of preparation can only be done if you’ve built relationships within the org/department and listen for those subtle, nuanced background noises that can mean the difference between success and irrelevance.