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How to Change Your World

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By Chuck Csizmar

You’re in charge.  Or at least you have a say in developing compensation programs for your organization.  That’s a vital responsibility, especially these days when  all is not smooth sailing in many organizations.  Perhaps an audit of pay programs has generated worrisome results, or the latest employee engagement survey indicated a growing measure of discontent.   Perhaps turnover of key talent is rampant, or you’ve just sat through an uncomfortable meeting with a boss who’s upset over the runaway cost of labor.

Something has to be done to better utilize your payroll dollars.  Too much money is dripping out of your company like a leaking faucet – and not giving you much bang for the buck.

The challenge, then?  You have to change your world.

How do you do that?  Of course, there are program design considerations, costing models, impact studies, external and internal analyses, even focus groups perhaps, but at the end of the day you can’t simply snap your fingers.  Your ideas, your recommendations each need to be approved by the higher ups.  How do you make that sale?

Let’s start with the easy part; what not to do

When facing senior leadership with business-impact proposals, the quickest way to be shown the door is to tell them what they don’t want to hear.  That seems obvious, but basic judgment errors are commonplace when you’re so caught up in knowing the answers that you forget to focus on asking the right questions.

A few examples of how not to sell your ideas:

Leading with “it’s the right thing to do” is rarely a good idea.  Using an emotional, feel-good rationale is seldom a strong argument and is easily sidelined by the bean counters or anyone else playing the “this is a business” card.

“Surveys tell us . . . “ can be another weak point, because the argument that everyone else is doing something hasn’t worked in a debate since you were a kid.

Over analysis:  The more extraneous numbers you throw at senior management (numerical charts, graphs and regressed formula trend lines) to make your point, the more vulnerable your proposal becomes.  Over reliance on data risks having the numbers become the story, which can pull attention from your message.

I’ve worked with senior executives who felt compelled to ask multiple and often tangential questions about the support calculations they were shown, just to show that they’re engaged and shouldn’t be taken for granted.   So don’t let your proposal  rise or fall on the comfort level of decision-makers who are struggling through the details vs. the concept.

Principles of the sell-job

What follows is a series of suggestions worth considering before you walk into that critical proposal review meeting.

> First, make a business case:  Specifically,  seek to illustrate that the result of implementing your proposal(s) is that the company will win.   Once you have them nodding their heads at their own good sense, they’ll be more easily moved to support your recommendations.

> Tell a story.  Start with a statement of the problem, then augment with a back story that explains how the situation became so precarious.  Show the impact of inaction, then close out with your recommendations – highlighting impact, savings, reduced turnover, whatever your goal  is – that solve the problem.

> Do you know the ROI for your proposal?  You had better have one, as that could be your strongest argument.  Pros and cons?  Are there potential glitches?  Rarely will you have simple, uncomplicated solutions that can’t fail.  It would be better for you to address any troublesome possibilities early on, to soften the potential “gotcha’s” that could trip you at the worst possible time.

> Always have a backup plan.  As all-or-nothing strategies don’t work well outside of the movies you’ll need a plan “B” in your back pocket, just in case.  Better to get half a loaf today and be able to hope for more later, than crash and burn today because of pride and lack of foresight.

> You shouldn’t fall on your sword over your own ideas.  But be prepared to compromise.  Proprietary ownership of thought (I want it my way) should be secondary to achieving the business goal.  Often times pride does get in the way though, derailing sound concepts for the wrong reasons.  Remember that it’s not about you.

> The numbers rarely speak for themselves.  In fact, you’re at risk if you rely too much on statistics as your main argument.  Instead, paint a picture with text and a few graphics.  Use your figures and reams of data only tosupport the points you’ve already made.  Strategic thinkers balance technical skills with the art of persuasion, influencing others to undertake the desired action.  They don’t throw out a bunch of numbers and say, “see?”

Even when the task ahead is daunting, go ahead and take that first step; it’s usually the hardest.  But if you’re prepared to achieve incremental gains vs. sweeping changes, if you keep your eye on the ultimate goal, you’ll find that the second step is easier, and then the third and so forth.

I’m reminded that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a classic and over-used phrase, but for good reason.  Because it makes sense.  Because it rings true.  So think of building blocks when you try to change your world.  Just don’t act like Don Quixote and run off chasing the windmills of illusion and distraction.

Chuck Csizmar is the Founder & Principal of CMC Compensation Group,an independent global compensation consulting firm whose expertise lies in helping companies manage the effective and efficient utilization of financial rewards for their employees. He also maintains a popular blog on compensation at his website

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