Pushing on closed doors

Ever pushed on a closed door at work? You've presented your analysis, but to no avail? This email explains what to do instead. 

People act on facts. Apparently. So, to persuade people, surely we simply drown them with facts. Tables, graphs, analysis, more, no? No. To convince sceptical bosses to spend more on training, we benchmark (“We spend less than rivals”). We cite studies that ‘prove’ £1 spent on training reaps £3 in extra profit. We hope sceptical bosses now believe in training. But they don’t.

Yes, analysis is great, it helps us generate ideas, reach conclusions. But often it isn’t the best way to persuade others to go along with them. It struggles to get under our skin and win our hearts and minds. We nod along to analysis – but don’t go along with it. We can all too easily dismiss it if we want to. We convince ourselves it’s flawed. Or self-serving. Or different to our circumstances. (I bet you weren’t convinced by the ‘£1 training = £3 profit’ stat.) Finally, we often struggle to remember analysis. Hence, even if it convinces us when we first hear it, we don’t remain convinced. How can we remain convinced if we don’t remember why we were in the first place?

Conclusion: logic and analysis often have a half-life. They beat us temporarily into submission.

Instead, try this, it's what an in-house analyst did when asked by bosses to review their firm’s training on soft skills (i.e. presenting, managing, etc). He'd found the firm spent a tiny amount on it. Just £19 per person per year. Now this was a decent stat. Some stats can easily be dismissed (e.g. ‘£1 training = £3 profit’), but not the ‘£19’ stat. It was fact.

So far, so good.

So the analyst decided to suggest that bosses spend more. Surely they’d agree, given the £19 stat...

No. Some bosses would debate. “What was last year’s spend? What do rivals spend? Is the spend effective?” They’d ask him to benchmark and come back in two months – then ignore his report. Not good.

The analyst needed more. So when presenting to bosses, he started with two words. “Pot plants.” After a pause, he said: “We spend three times more per person per year on office pot plants than soft-skills training.” 

It hit home. Bosses felt embarrassed – is this how we look after staff?! No-one debated the figure (“Do we get value from plants…?”). By finding an arresting angle, the analyst achieved much. He silenced opposition. Won the moral high ground. Started a chain reaction - the ‘pot plant’ story spread like wild-fire. He gave people ammunition and vocabulary to go into bat for him - if, a few months after the start of a new training programme, someone asks: "Why do we waste money on it?", colleagues can retort:  “Should we instead spend it on pot plants…?”.

The analyst had given his idea something neat: repeatability. And my series of emails on 'communicating' explain more about this (they're within the 'past emails' section of my website).deo from the 1990s. 

PS in the 'pot plant' story, I was the in-house analyst. The bosses to whom I said: "Pot plants" were notorious for debating ideas to death. I had to find something to grab them.


Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | jon@jmoon.co.uk | www.jmoon.co.uk

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