We all understand that senior management values decisiveness. So why are many of our documents or presentations filled with qualifiers – “perhaps,” “tend to,” “may be,” “90 percent level of confidence?”
The truth is, as a profession, we offer a great deal of expertise, but we also tend to offer a great deal of ambiguity, and we often lack decisiveness. Our managers are looking to make decisions and for us to be decisive in giving recommendations that help them make those decisions. So the question becomes, are we giving them what they need?
I’ve cited in previous blogs the statistic that 85 percent of senior managers want market research professionals to be a trusted partner and internal consultant, but only 25 percent think we are. I also read recently that companies are increasing their research spend, but limiting the research head count expenditures. This all tells me management values the information but not necessarily the researchers themselves. The fact that we are all too willing to serve up our data with a side of caveats and ambiguity rather than decisiveness may be one of the reasons we fall short.
We’ve all witnessed that painful sight when a less experienced researcher gets his or her shot at presenting to a senior executive. The researcher, rightly proud of the work, wants to share all of the great information. But as he or she does this, the executive becomes more and more impatient, waiting for the bottom line. Waiting for the answer. And when he asks the key question “what should I do?” he gets hemming, hawing and caveats. The researcher has just wasted the opportunity to influence senior management.
We are comfortable in shades of gray – but management is not
Researchers understand that few things in life are black and white. We live in shades of gray. We want our clients to understand these shades of gray and nuances. But our clients are not us. There is a point where we need to rise above the shades of gray and form an opinion or point of view as to what it all means for the company.
We need to recognize what most business leaders understand – there is no such thing as perfect information, and that we often need to make decisions without having all the facts.
For those of you who have been fortunate to work with strong leaders, you understand they want your opinion. They want to know what you think they should do and why. When we answer with “well we could do this, but on the other hand, that has merit as well, ” we limit our effectiveness and do a disservice to ourselves and our firms. Yes, there are shades of gray. But since you understand all these shades of gray and nuances, evaluate them and state of point of view. Really, who better to offer an opinion than you?
Developing a point of view is not easy – nor typically within our comfort zone
I offer a workshop to my clients on how to get results heard. In most all cases, this is perhaps the most difficult challenge the participants face. They may understand the concept and the rationale, but many are just plain uncomfortable taking a position and having a point of view. There is a risk involved. What happens if the CEO disagrees? What happens if we’re wrong?
The key to successfully offering and owning your point of view is to ensure your opinion is based on evidence. If you can support an opinion based on logic and strong evidence, then you are on solid ground and your point of view will be valued – even if others disagree. You will have contributed to the decision. Others will have other sources of information and other points of view and that’s okay. Perhaps their arguments will win the day. But you brought your insights to the table for discussion and as valuable input for the decision.
There are hidden benefits to having a point of view
A huge side benefit of having a point of view is that it forces us to analyze our results with a different perspective. It makes us think like leaders — not just reporting data, but trying to decide ourselves what we would do. This might lead to slicing and dicing our data in different ways, or integrating data points from other sources into our documents to support our points. But if we do these things, we will become more comfortable with our own point of view and we will have produced a much more decision-ready report or presentation.
Owning a point of view makes us much more prepared to answer that question “what would you do?” And in doing so, we will have taken a step closer to becoming senior management’s trusted advisor.