In every organisation I worked with, I came across many highly motivated people, advocating improvements and solutions that they believed could benefit their environment. But most of the time, the very first and destructive obstacle I saw them run into when trying to implement them was to present ideas in a convincing way.
We can have great ideas but in order to move forward we need to get the support of our collaborators. Whether it's getting a budget, participating in the initiative or simply accepting to run an experiment, we need to first convince the people around us to consider our idea.
For this, there is no magic formula, but there are some guidelines that, when we take them into account, increase our probability of success.
1. Understand their priorities and / or concerns
It is tempting to think that our colleagues do not support us because of laziness / apathy or stubbornness, but it is much more likely that they have some logical and important reasons to resist our suggestions.
When a team with whom I worked tried to integrate remote working into their day-to-day, they encountered resistance from the Human Resources department. After some explorative conversations, they realized that the concerns the HR department had was not the monitoring of worked hours as they originally assumed. It actually had more to do with
the possible perception of it being unfair by other teams and departments if only one team was to implement it
the challenge of implementing this measure in a consistent way across the company
and the way to measure the impact of this initiative on the work of all who implemented it and on the company
Once those concerns were identified and taken into account, the dialogue could continue much more smoothly and the team proposing the initiative served as a pilot to establish metrics, measure the impact and define the best way to extend that measure to the rest of the company.
Having stopped to listen to the concerns of the HR department was the key to un-blocking the situation.
Other elements to take into account when looking for how to understand others are the basic pillars of motivation that are explained in the following video:
2. Impactful arguments
Another mistake we make is linked to the quality of the arguments we use. Many of the initiatives that are brought forward, although they come from a good intention, are often more based on opinions than on facts.
When one of the programmers of a team tried to convince their manager to let the team spend more time improving the quality of their code, the usual response they used to receive was "we do not have time for this, we need to deliver faster". But when the same argument was presented accompanied by concrete metrics showing the decrease in productivity within the team and connecting it to the progressive increase of errors that had to be corrected, the result of the conversation was very different.
Unless we are a recognised expert, whose opinion is actively sought, supporting our arguments with numbers, metrics, statistics or results of a relevant investigation will make them much more convincing.
3. Reduce commitment risk
Even when we have convinced our interlocutors, there is one more barrier we need to overcome, that of stepping into the unknown. No change is safe and there is always a risk of something going wrong. To make it easier, it is useful to reduce the scope of a suggestion and thus reduce the risk and make it easier to say “Yes”.
For example, it is easier to obtain support for a pilot experiment than for a total organisational transformation. Also, it is easier to focus on improving the quality of a team's work before changing the work processes of an entire department.
4. Show results
And finally, those small steps that we take can be our opportunity to show results that will support our arguments
The members of a team who began to do one hour of "pair programming" per week knew that this action alone was not going to radically change their way of working. But when the results of that single weekly hour were measured, they demonstrated that the knowledge shared among team members allowed them to be much more autonomous and flexible as to the type of work they could do. It also allowed them to deliver better results in less time. The department managers accepted to give the team even more time every week to explore ways of improving their effectiveness.
Of course, these tools are not magical, nor do they guarantee that we will win others to accept our position, but they can help you to present ideas in a convincing way.
But, in order to be really effective, we need to learn how to use them skilfully and that takes time and practice. However, it is this kind of investment which can make the difference when it comes to making our ideas a reality.