Coming up with a great engagement strategy for your organization unfortunately isn’t enough to make it happen. Why? Because getting sign-off and support for any new idea is a political process, and that requires a strategy of its own.
Many a brilliant person has been frustrated by pitching to colleagues who don’t “get it” or a boss who doesn’t want to prioritize their idea. But if that brilliant person went about socializing their idea in a different way, or framing it in language and measures that their internal stakeholders care about — that frustration can transform into triumph.
Here we present strategic frameworks for how to take your idea and package it up for the various audiences who need to sign off to make it real.
Note: the following approaches were developed by Eric Abramson from the Columbia Business School and Doug Smith who is the founder / architect of the Media Transformation Program.
The Power / Opinion Matrix
First! Download this PDF to better understand how this strategy works and to follow along.
There are two major factors that will influence whether or not your idea gets the green light: power and opinion.
The power / opinion matrix is where you will place the names of the individuals who will touch your idea and be key to making it happen.
Power: is in regard to your engagement strategy / project, not necessarily the formal power in the organization’s hierarchy. Power can mean they control key resources, have high influence, etc. Ask yourself: who in your organization has the power vis-à-vis this project, to make or break it? (This might not be traditional power like a formal supervisor or boss). If the person has a lot of power, they should be placed in the “high power” row. If they won’t make or break it, but still have some meaningful power as it relates to your project, they should be in the “low power” row.
Opinion: ask yourself: knowing what you know of this person, will they likely have a favorable opinion of your idea, an unfavorable opinion, you can’t tell (waffler) because they have had contradictory stances on ideas related to yours, or do you not know, but need to find out? Place the names of the individuals in the appropriate box.
Stakeholders: depending on your organization’s size and complexity, you may just have a few individual stakeholders to plot into the matrix, or many. You might even have external stakeholders, too. Once you have placed the names of everyone in their appropriate square on the matrix, move down to the matrix below which describes how to handle each group.
Guide to working with people where they sit on the Power / Opinion Matrix:
Whom to pitch first? The people most likely to be your high power backers. If you don’t have any, start with low power supporters. If you don’t have any of those, get a meeting with someone in the “Don’t Know” category, pitch them and see where they stand. Try to get at least one high power backer in the mix.
Approaching a High Power Backer
What are their goals? What outcomes or metrics do they care about? What success will help them shine? How can your strategy help them meet their goals?
What’s the best way to first approach them about your idea? Here are some options to consider.
Informal: casually float outside of a meeting (e.g., desk walk-by, in staff kitchen, etc), over Slack or email, etc.
Formal: ask for a meeting, prepare a short presentation, write a formal memo / pitch, etc.
Approaching a High Power Opponent
At some point you may have no choice but to engage someone who is opposed to your strategy. Getting a high power opponent to flip over into the high power supporter column requires them to change.
What about the Wafflers / Don’t Know?
Regarding the wafflers or people you’ve put in the “don’t know” category, consider asking high power backers to interact with them first. You are not the only person who can have conversations with them to see where they stand or convince them to back your idea!
Formula for Change: Change = Dissatisfaction x Vision x Process
There’s an extremely powerful formula that will help you unlock the leverage to push for change. The shorthand is: Change = DVP
Pressure to Change =
Dissatisfaction with the current state
Clear, shared vision of desired state
Process that provides the pathway and clears obstacles to the desired state
Source: Eric Abramson, Columbia Business School
If the situation you’re looking to change is something people aren’t that dissatisfied with, it’s going to be difficult to get them to prioritize it. If people you need to inspire to change don’t have a vision of what something better could look like or work, then they’re going to be less motivated to do things differently. And if there’s no process or plan, everyone will be frustrated at the lack of coordinated action that can produce results.
Using the high power opponents you identified above, think through what might need to shift in order for them to become a backer of your strategy. Then do your best to test your hypothesis before approaching them with your project pitch. Ideally you’ll then be able to frame your pitch as either: solving a problem they agree is present, contributing to their vision of how the future needs to be, or quell their fears around the process of making the project a total success.
Now that you have what’s missing in the formula, sketch out an action plan to help fill in the blanks. Here are some examples:
You can also use this formula in your own life outside of work to prioritize change. These elements are universally applicable.
Here’s your own worksheet to download, print and use for any idea you’re looking to get support in realizing.
And if you want help in pitching and executing your engagement efforts, reach out! We are here for you.