Ever get a good idea? It starts out as a feeling that you might have a solution to a problem. A few days later you’re thinking Hey, I’ve got something here. This could really help. And the cost is well within reason. I owe it to myself and the organization to get this on the radar. But how do you go about it?
There are three phases in selling ideas or initiating a new approach. There is the pre-sell. Then there is the sell. And then there is the after-sell. The actual sell may be the least important element.
Persuading people to adopt something new is tricky. It requires them to move away from their current thinking and embrace something different. Sometimes the real challenge isn’t getting them to like the new way—it’s getting them to let go of the old one.
If you are looking to launch an initiative and are hoping to get buy-in and agreement, it’s important to take a realistic approach. None of this is apt to happen if this is an agenda item that only gets ten minutes at a one-hour meeting. It’s even less likely if the meeting is virtual—it’s hard to read people when you can’t see them. Double this if people routinely multi-task. And triple it if there are political implications to the issue.
Focus on the Pre-Sell and the After-Sell
To increase the chance of a successful sell, it’s important that there be time and opportunity for some pre-sell activity. Most success stories don’t come from magic answers and silver bullets. It’s rare that you’ll be able to merely announce “Do this and your problems will be over. This will fix everything.”
Give people significant time to get up to speed on the upcoming proposal before any meeting is held. A useful concept to keep in mind is what the Japanese call nemoashi. It means “building consensus and respecting the individual.” Maximizing the likelihood of success requires some pre-sell effort to let people know what the issue is. This includes advocating a solution and making your case ahead of time.
During any sell meeting, manage the agenda to avoid snap decisions with little opportunity for meaningful discussion.
Most important, leave ample time for after-sell discussions. After the sell, attendees may be thinking about potential drawbacks of the new process or decision or the unforeseen disadvantages that the new order of things could cause. They may begin to regret what they agreed to. Of course, we know this as buyer’s remorse.
To avoid this, restate objectives and clarify goals to assuage fears and support the new decision. Give attendees an opportunity to state their concerns. Be responsive to their resistance. Be grateful that they are willing to surface their candid objections. And then deal with resolving those objections.
Take Time So Decisions Stick
If you really want to advocate progress, you have to do whatever it takes. “Let’s just wait until the Friday meeting and decide when we’re all together,” sounds good, but how realistic is it, really? Even if you do get it on the agenda, even if there is a discussion, there is a good chance that the final outcome isn’t going to work. Attendees may agree with it. There may be a show of hands or a successful vote. But will it really happen?
Increase your chance of success by taking the time to get people up to speed. Allow them the opportunity to surface concerns and resolve issues. It’s the thoughtful approach that leads to better results.