Today’s professional is expected to work smarter and work harder. But what does working smarter and harder means?
Professional practice effects how you are perceived by your peers and management: who you are, what you’ve got to offer, how viable your ideas are, and how well you present them. It is what makes people listen to you and take you seriously.
A critical skill to be mastered in building your professional practice is influence.
It is vital to understand what is essential to the decision-maker, before proceeding to influence them on your recommendation.
It isn’t just about giving the decision-maker what they want but depends on accurately reading what they need and value their interests and priorities.
Here are ten principles on how to better influence decisions:
1. Don’t assume alignment between what you propose and what you want to be agreed. It is your responsibility to convince the decision-maker. This requires you to become an expert in knowing what is essential to the decision-maker. It is always a good strategy to test the water beforehand if possible, by consulting key influencers, ask their opinions and listen and making adjustments based on what you learn.
2. Focus on what’s important and ignore the trivial and irrelevant. Don’t try and present everything you know about the proposal. As you have been working so closely it for so long you lose perspective, so sift our the less important and keep to the vital few points.
3. Effectively communicate in presenting the case that is readily understood by the decision-makers. Often decision-makers are ‘lay professionals,’ i.e. they know the strategic overview but not the technical details (that is what they employ you for!). Think about limiting how much time and effort they have to spend in understanding what the proposal is about.
4. Promote the benefits and how they align with organisational and community goals. Strategic alignment really means helping a decision-maker get what they want (i.e. what is in their performance agreement).
5. Emphasise value for money, presenting the argument that the benefits are higher than costs. This may require supplementing a cost-benefit analysis with a qualitative assessment of some of the benefits that may be difficult to quantify in dollar terms.
6. Outline why your proposal is a priority, such as how it competes with other projects for funding. This means providing the argument that the proposal is affordable in the current funding environment.
7. Demonstrate deliverability by outlining how the proposal will be implemented, how you have aligned the key partners, what you propose as performance measures and monitoring protocol and the governance mechanisms.
8. Show how risks will be managed and in particular that you have considered optimism bias (i.e. over-optimistic estimates of benefits and underestimating real costs).
9. Present a ‘forward-focus’ where the decision will lead, only using the past as a context to the future. It is not always relevant to extrapolate from the past.
10. Look for opportunities to revisit the proposal if it isn’t supported the first time, if possible. Don’t burn any bridges, listen to the concerns and any constructive criticisms and rework the proposal for another try.
Success is getting your proposal approved the first time. Which means doing your homework in preparing for a decision — building your professional practice by improving your understanding of how to engage the principles of influence.