I have been struggling with an issue at work: We are doing a project that I know is the right thing to do for the company and the line of business involved.  With that said, I still need to figure out the best way to inform the partners in that line of business about the project, get their “buy in,” as well as their help to ensure that it is getting done correctly.

You may think, “Why is this a tough problem? If it’s the right thing to do, just tell them why you think so and the logic will convince them to buy in.”  Well, it’s not that simple.  Being right is not enough to convince people to buy in.  In this case, the project will be doing some of the work that they have already done, but in a different way and for a different reason.  The partners in the other line of business can easily construe it in the wrong way:

  • We are wasting our efforts or their time when we get them involved in something they already partially worked on;
  • We are questioning whether their previous work was good enough.  No one likes to feel mistrusted or belittled.

So my challenges were 1) to figure out an angle from which to discuss this new project with them, and 2) to find the best medium for communication.

Angle

The angle is important, as whether or not I am right, it is important to show how this benefits their line of business, instead of just my group.  If I just focus on me being right, I may lose them early in the conversation if they find anything to disagree with.  I also knew that my angle had to be upbeat, so after much thinking, I decided on the following opening line: “I have some great news, but I will need your help.”  It could entice anyone to want to know more, and it would give them a general overview of what I want to discuss: first, how it benefits them, then the good news, and then what help I need – their involvement and their time.

Medium for communication 

Choosing the most appropriate time and place to have this discussion can make a big difference in their buy-in.  Here are the options I considered, and what I ended up doing:

  • Set up a meeting? My first thought was to set up a meeting for all stakeholders and discuss it there.  That concerned me as this would include at least five people.  If any of them had concerns, others could have joined in the group think.  They may also feel blindsided if they had any of the above concerns.  Additionally, having too many people on the phone could upset them or make the communication awkward.
  • Email them?  I actually drafted an email to describe what I wanted to discuss; my email was over a page.  This would have saved time, and I could have sent it to each person at a time.  I thought this would be very efficient, since I could lay out all my thoughts clearly and logically.  This also turned out to be a good way for me to present the angle above.  As I was thinking of sending it, I paused and realized that most people scan emails and may get lost in the middle or disagree with something I wrote, halfway through reading it; I would have been there to address their concerns if I had sent them an email.  They could have also been easily overwhelmed by the length.  Also, email is much less personal and can be misunderstood in more ways than I can imagine.

business callI ended up calling each person individually.  Since I had my angle and the draft email in front of me, I was able to stay positive and organized.  I paused and made sure I listened to any concerns they had and addressed them carefully.  This was also a great way for me to strengthen my relationship with them, as we constantly work together on various initiatives.  Each call took about 20 minutes, and it was well worth the time.  My partners were completely on board, willing to help, and were excited about this project.

I am really glad I decided to pick up the phone and call each person to resolve this on a more personal level.  Everyone appreciates a personal touch, no matter who they are.   Here’s the moral of the story:

  1. Being right is not enough – Make sure you take time to strategize how to best communicate what you believe is right to your key stakeholders.  Also, explain how this can benefit them.  Early buy-in is the key to success.
  2. When in doubt, talk one on one – Large group meetings or emails can be efficient, but they are not always effective when the issues being discussed are sensitive, or the results are unpredictable.  In such cases, the best course of action is to call or meet one on one to work through the issues.  Most people are more flexible when you take the initiative to include them individually and allow them to voice any concerns privately.

This is another example of how soft skills are critical to your career success: Your smarts will help you determine that this project is the right thing to do, but it is your soft skills – like your ability to convince your stakeholders to buy-in and help with this project – that will drive how successfully you can achieve results with the project.  Your soft skills also determine how well you strengthen your business relationships.

Your comments: Do you agree with how I dealt with this situation?  Do you have any question for me.  Share your comments and questions below.  Let’s have a discussion.

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Best wishes to your career success.  I am always in your corner.

– Lei

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