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A short while ago in a quality management course, a student expressed frustration about his lack of success in getting management buy-in for a great idea. From his point of view it was a “no brainer,” but there seemed to be resistance to his approach.
Has this ever happened to you? If not, you’re a rare bird because most everyone has experienced this at some point in their career. Most of us have approached the boss with a red-hot, absolutely wonderful idea for improving quality or increasing efficiency only to have him or her become resentful instead of enthusiastic. If you’ve ever offered your friends or significant other “good advice,” you know what I mean when I say that people resent having other people’s ideas forced on them.
The instinctive reaction is to put up a defense against a new idea. Most people feel that they must protect their individuality and the status quo, and are egotistical enough to think that their ideas are better than someone else’s. It may not be true, but that’s beside the point. The perception is that their ideas are better and yours won’t work. We have to turn that around in order to be successful.
From the time we get up in the morning until the time we go to bed at night, we are negotiating, communicating, persuading and influencing others. Is there a way to get your ideas across and generate enthusiasm? The answer might be contained in the following five rules.
1. Take the big picture view. It is easy for anyone, especially the technically driven quality professional, to get caught up in the details. (As the saying goes, the Devil is in the details.) Obviously the details are important, but you can get lose sight of the big picture.
When I failed to sell my management team a new idea that had much promise, a mentor told me, “You gave us so much detail everyone thought they were being fed through a garden hose. This management team only cared about 70% of what you told us. If you’d settled for just what they want, you’d already be implementing the plan.” There’s time for the detail, but you have to get your idea sold first.
2. Speak the language. The language of upper management is different from that of quality professionals. To have your ideas heard and accepted, quality professionals need to learn management’s financial vocabulary. Don’t focus on reduction of defects, for example, but be quick to explain the defects in terms of lost revenue, lost customer confidence, lost profit, and ROI. This gets attention from the decision-makers.
3. Don’t appear too anxious. When you want to sell an idea, take a lesson from the fisherman who casts his fly temptingly near the fish. He could never jam the hook into the fish’s mouth, but he can entice the fish to come to the hook. So don’t appear too anxious to have your idea accepted. Just bring it out where it can be seen. You might say, “Have you considered this?” instead of “This is the way.” “Do you think this idea would work?” is better than “Here’s what we should do.” Let others sell themselves on your idea. It becomes a pull rather than a push situation.
4. Get buy-in. Others won’t accept your idea until they can accept it as their idea or feel they have some ownership. Spend time with individuals who need to accept your idea. Meet one-on-one with key individuals outside of decision-making meetings. Informally pitch your idea behind closed doors. Don’t try to oversell. Give them a chance to disagree. Uncover their perceptions, find out how your idea can help them, and include their key points into your thought process. Your success becomes their success. This can be your most important step.
5. Let others argue your case for you. As an outcome of getting buy-in, decision-makers can be great allies in presenting your idea in informal networking with their peers. “The way to convince another,” said Ben Franklin, “is to state your case moderately and accurately. Then say that of course you may be mistaken about it; which causes your listener to receive what you have to say and, like as not, turn about and convince you of it, since you are in doubt. But if you go at him in a tone of positiveness and arrogance, you only make an opponent of him.”
Abraham Lincoln used the same technique in selling his ideas to a jury. He argued both sides of the case-but there was always the subtle suggestion that his side was the logical one. An opposing lawyer said of Lincoln: “He made a better statement of my case to the jury than I could have made myself.”