How to win business and influence people….

Written by: Vanessa Williams, March 2018 ©

If you‘d like to save yourself from wasting masses of effort into creating something for your client or boss, only to be brushed off with a statement along the lines of “You don’t understand our business” or for your ideas to be overshadowed by criticisms of the ‘small stuff’; then read on.  Winning acceptance and ownership of a solution needs to be ‘built in’ and requires a set of interpersonal skills and a partnership approach.

The good news is that a partnership approach is not ‘rocket science’. There are several out there and the approach I use comprises just FIVE STEPS. It was created through PhD research (Colin Sheppard and David Moscow) and formed the basis of a successful consultancy firm which I joined in 1998. At that time, we were using it to develop PWC consultants. I have used the same principles in a number of context from equipping individuals from the National Nuclear Laboratory to work in partnership with the European Space Agency, enabling John Lewis’ Buying Department to work more closely with Marketing and enabling HR functions partner with their business. It informs how I work with all my clients.

These are the five steps.

Step One; Gaining Entry and Contracting.

First and foremost, this stage is about investing in the relationship to build sufficient trust and credibility as someone who can deliver the task in hand. As an employee, this might include working on a relationship so that it is ‘fit for purpose’ by, for example, repairing reputational damage or clarification around roles. When working externally, it’s about reaching the point where the parties feel “this is a person I can do business with.” What gets us to this can be feel intangible, but a good guide can be had from Peter Hawkins Authority, Presence and Impact framework (API).

Authority is knowing we have a ‘right to be at the table’ due to our own strengths, abilities knowledge and experiences which aren’t solely derived from our area of expertise.

Presence is about filling our space, reading the moment and establishing ‘contact’. Much of this is conveyed through the subtleties of body language.

Impact is about seizing the moment and doing something effective on the spot which might, for example, shift the discussion, transform mind-sets or create an emotional shift. It reveals what people would get if they ‘hired’ you.

A high level of entry brings confidence in your solution, latitude to make ‘human errors’ and a low level of resistance to your ideas.

The ‘contract’ is the understanding between you about what is to be done, by whom, when, why and how. Contracting is a continuous process of seeking a mutual understanding around expectations. I can pretty much guarantee that all problems arising down the line can be traced back to insufficient contracting. The skill required here, is in getting people to give the time needed to ‘bottom out’ the key issues.

Step Two; Shared Diagnosis.

Shared here means i) harvesting knowledge/perspectives and ii) communicating your findings. Both need to be done selectively (so that the right people are involved) and wisely. For example, I was brought in to support an IT project that failed at the implementation stage because the project leader didn’t talk to the end user before designing the solution. I learnt my own lesson on this. A client initially rejected my solution because they didn’t recognise my diagnosis of the issues they faced. I had fed this back using my language and ‘turn of phrase’, not theirs. Thankfully, I spotted my error at the time, shared my mistake and we got to a different outcome.

Step three introducing the solution.

This stage is about solution design and implementation in which change management is an integral part. Think about it this way; if it is your idea, you will have created it, thought about it and come to your own conclusions. You will have undergone a change in your thinking and possibly your behaviour. The person receiving your ideas, will also need to undergo change to take it on board. This can take time. Your investment in steps one and two (above) pay off by reducing that time (involving people will lessen any resistance) and by creating the conditions needed to talk openly about any difficulties.

Step four is about Evaluating the solution.

Change is hard work. Have you found yourself starting the new year with new resolutions that didn’t make it beyond the end of January? We all have. Celebration and recognition makes that effort worthwhile and can sway the cynics. If you identify milestones and ways of capturing data at the contracting stage (Step One), you are all set up to identify early wins. It is also an opportunity to sift out what isn’t working early on and to spot unanticipated side effects; sometimes these are more fruitful that the targeted benefits.

Finally, step five is about making your solution ‘Stick’.

Businesses are perfectly designed to do what they are currently doing; something needs to ‘give’, to allow for change. This entails getting into the helicopter to look across the organisation and beyond so that you can spot where adjustments need to be made so that your solution ‘sticks’ without your ongoing involvement. What’s needed could be anything from adding someone’s name to a distribution list through to investing in new skills, software or reward systems.

In an earlier life I worked in a business where they sought to introduce ISO 9000. The consultant came into the business, rooted around, found an office for himself, shut the door and beavered away on a solution. He produced some fat manuals for us to add to our already full shelves and gave a power point presentation on what managers had to do. His work started to go to waste from the moment he walked through the front door. He saw himself as expert and thought his word was enough to bring about behaviour change. Having said that, the organisation paid the bill and they were happy with that because he hadn’t made them aware of what they missed out by not changing.

Compare this to another experience a few years later. A holiday organisation was looking to gain market share by increasing re-bookings, capturing a wider audience and extending its season. The Marketing Director worked this FIVE STEP approach with the business. He had a clear contract not only with the MD but with all key stakeholders and external providers. He built effective relationships and worked collaboratively. He led external and internal focus groups to gather the very best ideas from within the business and the market place. We were all on board with delivering the solution; from the seasonal waiter through to the MD. The project was stretching, tight and exhilarating. Because roles and responsibilities were clear from the outset, we had one success after another to celebrate. Repeat business went up and bookings for Spring and Autumn breaks rolled in. There were unexpected winners too; for example, the chamber maid (as they were entitled then), was found to be the most important person in the eye of our holiday maker. The project took on a life of its own and carried on beyond the tenure of the Marketing Director who left for a bigger role elsewhere.

So, the moral of this story is to let those who need to implement or own your solution make their mark on your ideas knowing that this is the route to winning ‘buy-in’. Without this, your perfect and shiny solution will eventually be stacked on a shelf.

I am hosting a webinar and a workshop on related topics. Click here for details and to reserve your place.


What learning is there for other organisations from Oxfam’s experience?

By Vanessa Williams | March 2018 ©

Over the past few weeks, the media has been awash with misconduct allegations in the aid sector resulting in impaired trust and calls for resignations. I have been looking for some learning.

To survive and thrive in a complex and rapidly changing environment, organisations need a culture of continuous learning, where leaders and managers are encouraged to keep an open frame of mind and have the emotional intelligence to pick up on important signals.

The stories surrounding the Oxfam case frequently speak of denial. Deborah Doane, (Observer, 25.2.18) wrote “the large NGO model has wrapped itself in a shroud of delusion.” There are some statements which leave me wondering if this denial started from the ‘top’; for example, it was reported that the former Global Head of Safeguarding, asked for a meeting in 2015 with the senior management team to inform them of the scale of the abuse in Tahiti.  Apparently, her request was turned down and she was referred to the ‘relevant director’.

This denial suggests a culture of ‘discounting’ or ‘turning a blind eye’ to what is unwelcome. ‘Discounting’ is common within organisations. It happens when someone makes judgements through ‘tinted glasses’ by minimising or ignoring aspects of a situation. It is a way of a way of fitting things into our frame of reference and results in people doing nothing, over-adapting, agitating and ‘acting out’.

Discounting can take various forms, the most extreme being the denial of the existence of the issue, moving to denying the significance, then the possibility for change and finally the abilities of those involved.

The press coverage points to discounting at the level of SIGNICANCE. For example, Oxfam’s Chief Executive, Mark Goldring was quoted as saying “the scale and intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability. What did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?”.

When discounting is at the significance level and below, any measures put in place to manage the situation are unlikely to be sufficient. This might account for the suggestions that the safeguarding team were under resourced and accusations of failures to systems and process; such as criminal checks were not carried out on prospective staff, country ambassadors were not fully informed of incidents and the charity was accused of failing to disclose full details to watchdogs.

When an incident is exposed within an organisation, we need to be mindful that organisations work as ‘systems’, with each part being a ‘fractal’ of the whole. In other words, the behaviour of individuals and groups often highlight ‘themes’ that are present elsewhere in the organisation.

As the Oxfam story has unfolded, it included accounts of abuse elsewhere. There were reports of 123 allegations of sexual harassment at the UK stores, of surveys of staff working on aid programmes that showed one in ten claimed to have experienced unwanted sexual assault from other members of staff and of a survey of programme workers in three countries, which found accounts of people witnessing rape and attempted rape and of being raped or sexually assaulted.

The answer does not lie in scapegoating individuals. The dynamic relationship between an organisation and the individuals within it means it is only possible to understand the behaviour of individuals within the context of the prevailing culture. Hence it is of paramount importance to build a culture that is ‘fit for purpose’ by equipping leaders to understand culture and recognise the part they play in its formation.

It also highlights the need for leaders to ‘keep their fingers on the pulse’ of their organisations by paying attention to what their teams are seeing and hearing and by not being afraid of turning over a few stones to see what lies beneath. I’m the first to advocate a clear purpose and direction. However, this can be unhelpful if it creates a culture that is desensitized to anything outside of this.

Abuse issues are not limited to Oxfam, or even the aid sector. Individuals are speaking up on a regular basis. No sector or industry can be assumed to be exempt. I have been invited to address cultures of abuse, bullying and ‘grooming’ in organisations ranging from the finance sector through to food manufacturing.

I am hosting a webinar and a workshop on related topics. Click here for details and to reserve your place.