Some Formulas Work Like a Charm

September 27th, 2011

One of the most important things I learned in business school is a truism I apply in my communications work all the time:

To effect change, you must first create dissatisfaction with the status quo.

This summer I’ve been working with an amazing client who is building a program from the ground up for the largest division of a global corporation. Big stuff. Major.

In helping her develop her presentation to key stakeholders, i.e. to “sell” them on her program and get their buy-in, this concept was critical.

Before we could get any of these senior leaders to care about her solution, we had to first convince them that there was a problem that needed fixing (see Tip #4 on telling a good story). And, they had to feel that it was THEIR problem.

We outlined the presentation as a series of objectives:

1. Create dissatisfaction with the status quo: In this case, share survey and interview results reflecting both employee and management complaints about the situation, and the potential negative business impact.

2. Help them feel ready to change status quo: Despite a bleak situation, there is hope – the surveys and interviews also led to insights about what is needed, and there is a plan to address those needs that is wholly aligned with the business’s strategic objectives.

3. Drive acceptance of the plan to change the status quo: Present a logical sequence and connection between needs and solution, and make explicit the expected benefits to the audience (and again, links to corporate objectives).

4. Enlist the audience with calls to action: Now that they’re convinced, get them on board and make them a part of the solution.

This is essentially an actualization of Beckhard’s change equation, a very useful formula for driving transition/transformation (see diagram, left).

The key to a great presentation, like a great award submission, is telling a compelling story, drawing your audience in with a vivid narrative. But it’s also knowing what you have to do to change minds, perceptions, preferences, priorities.

This presentation was later modified for a meeting with the C-level executive who heads the division and all of his direct reports. She’d need to make a budget ask for the next year, right then and there.

My client was so persuasive that she was given 50 minutes instead of 30, was offered more budget than she asked for and received a round of applause at the end.

Helping my client achieve this huge win is incredibly exciting and indescribably rewarding.

So remember: to sell the solution, first sell the problem.


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