Featured in the January edition of Minnesota PRSA Perspectives Blog
By James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA; PRSA BEPS Emeritus
WHEN GIVING OPINIONS to senior management some middle managers and most front-line workers tend to give advice without thinking about how to craft it so that decision-makers will be receptive to it. That can doom a good idea to oblivion.
To a manager or leader, every business question, problem or challenge is just that, a business problem, challenge or question before it is any other kind of problem, including communications.
How information is structured when presented to management is important. Whether the solution proposed is bold, obvious common sense, absolutely applicable, or brilliant and creative, managers will absorb advice better if it fits into their processing approach, builds on their intuitive skills and experience, and allows them to assimilate the information.
The keys are brevity and a structure that follows the format managers use to make their decisions. The elements of this format are: situation, analysis, goals, options, recommendations, and justifications. Omitting or skipping any step subtracts from the value of the advice given.
Brevity. Brevity is important because concentrated, well-structured information presented verbally
or in writing is powerful and more likely to be assimilated and owned by others. What’s more, being brief shows that you respect the boss’s time.
What’s the definition of brief? Believe it or not, most ideas can be clearly explained and supported with facts in three minutes. I call this the three-minute drill. If your strategic recommendations fail to fit this timed structure, go back and rethink, make repairs, and rehearse again. The drill is structured in six steps that impose a useful decision-making structure as follows.
Keep in mind that goals provide focus. Useful goals are understandable, achievable, brief, positive, and time and deadline sensitive.
Many times I have heard advisors offer reasonable options, but when the boss ultimately asks the question—“What is the first thing I should do?” “What are the next steps?” or “Of the three recommendations, which would you choose and why?”—far too often the response from the advisor is, “I need to think about that.”
That response probably makes the boss question why the person put the issue on the table without fully thinking it through and whether the person is capable of that level of decision making. So be sure to be ready with a recommendation and supporting information every time.
Disciplining yourself to provide advice in this 450-word format, which translates to roughly three minutes, will give you a powerful tool that will get you invited back to the table. Anyone who consistently offers concise ideas for problem-solving rather than simply complaining about the status quo is extraordinarily valuable. Keep this up, and you could become the boss’s first call when it matters.