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Strategic skills: Getting to yes

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

We’ve all had or seen a great strategic idea shut down because the people making decisions were not convinced that the idea would succeed or be worth pursuing. Why do so many ideas fall at the first hurdle? Well, there could be a number of reasons; a manager who prefers to say ‘no’, a bureaucratic structure that drains ideas and makes them less attractive, or perhaps the idea isn’t that great after all.

But sometimes, ideas are rejected simply because they were not communicated well enough.

Whether you work in a big organisation or a small one, there will be people who are interested in your strategic idea and people who you need to convince in order for the idea to happen. It’s important that you understand who these people are and what you need from them.’*

If you’re thinking about emailing an idea to your line manager, presenting a new structure to your board, or proposing a new project, have you considered the following?

  • Who are the stakeholders? These are the people who will be impacted by your idea, who can influence whether it is accepted or rejected, and who might be involved in bringing it to fruition.

  • What do these stakeholders care about? Does your idea align with their needs and interests or does it conflict with them? Are you making it clear that you have considered their needs and are addressing them?

  • Who are the key decision makers, what do they care about, and how to do they like to be communicated with? Who has the authority to accept or reject your idea and what are their interests? (More on this in the tip below!) How do they like to be communicated with? Do they like short emails that get to the point quickly, or do they want you to ask how their day has been before you dive into your pitch? If you can understand their behaviour and preferred means of communication and then use this knowledge to tailor your approach, you’re better placed to get a positive response. Thank you to the Higson Foundation team for teaching me more about this!

To improve your chances of success, answer questions before they are asked. For example, if you know the decision makers you are approaching are likely to ask something specific about projected staff time and required resources, address these questions in your pitch/communication. Make it clear you’ve already thought about this, considered various options, and arrived at a logical decision. Don’t make the decision maker search for the information they need.

Before putting pen to paper, it’s worth considering all of the above. And here’s why!

By addressing each of these key questions, you’ll be better prepared when you come to pitch your idea. And preparation inspires confidence. It can be the difference between yes and no. It can be the difference between an idea remaining an idea, or becoming something much greater.

Several of the thoughts in this post are from Bernard Ross and Claire Segal’s book, the Strategy Workout*. For anyone interested in practical strategy tools, tips, and advice, it’s well worth checking out!

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