Share your insights at the right time and place

Get on the Planning Team's Agenda

timing is everything - reminder words on a vintage slate blackbo

Are you reporting your strategic results when the company is focused on execution?  An approach to getting heard is to sync your results with your company’s planning cycle.

Get on the planning agenda…where the senior leaders will hear you

There is a time when management is planning and there is a time when the organization is executing against those plans.  If you report results during the execution phase, your insights may be ignored and forgotten when planning time comes around.

Our best bet for being heard and influencing strategies is to get our data to those who can use it when they need it — during the planning phase – even if that data is from a study completed six months earlier. This allows us to influence those large corporate initiatives.

Steps for getting invited to the planning meeting

First, you have to have something to say.  Cull through your research and identify the top 5-7 customer insights of the year; the insights you believe management really needs to hear.  You want those few insights that really matter.  The more you try to communicate, the lower the likelihood your insights will be used.

Next, get on the planning agenda early in the process so you can share your top insights with senior leaders while they are interested in hearing them and might do something about them.   You have valuable information. What management group would not be interested in a brief overview of the most important insights of the year?  And who among them would say he or she doesn’t care what the customer thinks?  I have not seen this fail.

You may choose to work through your management, or better yet, simply get your bosses’ approval while you work to get your “Top 5” on the agenda.  I prefer the latter approach as I know my findings will be heard if I’m the one pushing for them.  Learn who is in charge of managing the planning process, then work with this person to get on the agenda.  He or she will likely have to run the idea past their management, but given your content, the odds of your inclusion and presenting to decision-makers will be very high.

Share insights, not data

Don’t structure your presentation like a typical research report.  Here are a few tips for this leadership audience:

  • In this setting, state your point-of-view with just enough data to support. And certainly not every data point you have.
  • Make sure the insights are pithy and to the point. Absolutely not “researchy.”
  • Bring in other, non-research supporting points if possible – it will add credibility to your points.
  • Avoid method discussions. If you are presenting to this level of the organization, they will trust you can execute properly. If they begin asking method questions, it is a sign they don’t like or agree with your insights.  Address the real issue; going into method details will not convince them.
  • Think through who and why someone might disagree with your points and address this in your presentation.
  • Be prepared to defend your point-of-view in the resulting discussion. It is this discussion where your knowledge and understanding can shine.

It works

We recently recommended this approach to a client.  He was added to the agenda last minute. We worked together over the weekend building his Top 10 Insights of The Year. He walked out of the presentation after his delivery to receive a high-five from his CMO.

This is exactly where our profession should be – providing the insights to those at the top of the company as they are formulating plans and strategies.

And it’s even more fun when we can get that high-five.

The CEO Is A Person Too

So how do we influence?

CEO pic

 The top of the organization makes the really big decisions.  And of course we want them to use our insights when makig these decisions.  Unfortunately, many times our reports are our only access to these decision makers.  This makes it more difficult but also very important for our reports and presentations to do their job — to get the reader to really understand so that they will take action.  Otherwise, they are useless.

This post continues the conversation on how to get clients to listen to our insights.  In this series I am using the 3 elements of influence first outlined by Aristotle.

As a reminder, these 3 elements are 1) Logos – the logical appeal, our data, our strength; 2) Pathos – the emotional appeal, story telling, effective presentations; and 3) Ethos – influence through credibility and character, the trust we engender with our clients.

Today I’ll focus on Pathos, the emotional appeal.

Why can’t the facts just speak for themselves?

This is the dimension that makes left-brained researchers squeamish.  We would love it if we could just let the facts speak for themselves.  Why do we need to think about influence and, worse yet, emotions?

The reason is simple – those who make the decisions are human.

The CEO is a person, too!

By now we have all heard that consumers decide based on emotion but justify their decisions rationally.  This has been a theory for many years.  But now with advancements in brain science, it has been proven.  As Gerald Zaltman puts it, “The conscious mind explains actions produced by unconscious processes.”

I was in my office one day talking about this with someone on our team.  That’s when it hit me…the CEO…he’s a person too.   For that matter, so is the CMO and all those on the Operating Committee who make the really big decisions.

So if all these decision makers are people, then their brains work just like the rest of ours – they decide based on emotion and justify rationally just like the rest of us.

Do you doubt it?  Have you ever heard the expression, “Nobody was ever fired for buying IBM?”  This is an emotional rationale for a really big B2B decision.  How about this one — I have seen first hand a highly rated ad campaign killed because the Chairman’s mother, a retired English teacher, did not like that the key phrase was not grammatical correct.  All of our data did not change the fate of that campaign as soon as the Chairman made that comment.

These decisions are not based on facts and logic but on emotion.

Companies have learning disabilities, too!

Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline identified several organizational learning disabilities.  Among them is the inability to escape existing mental models.  I love this quote from John Maynard Keynes:

“The difficulty lies, not in accepting new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” 

I have found that even when the data is clear, it is really hard to get the organization to change course — especially when we are talking about the big, strategic decisions.  And the longer a company has been on an existing course, the more difficult it is to effect change.

This, of course, is not the only organizational disability.  And Peter Senge did not even address resistance to change in power centers or the distorted behaviors caused by quarterly financial reporting.

Of course all the logic in the world will not overcome these learning disabilities — we need to go further.

One solution is learning how to build very effective presentations

Of course we need to do more than this, but a strong, effective presentation is a good first step.  We don’t have to dig too deep to realize that there are many, many reasons why simply reporting the numbers does not work.

If we want our information to be heard and acted upon, we have to understand how to best get our information heard and understood in light of these disabilities.  Fortunately, there are many resources that tell us about storytelling, how to present effectively, and how to persuade.

We will be talking about these in future posts.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback, ideas, and solutions.