How many times have you seen this in your organization: a team of empowered people spends hundreds of person-hours working on solutions to a significant organizational challenge? They carefully examine all the data, work through a process, create a lengthy PowerPoint deck in a pretty binder, present it to the next level and then…nothing. Nada. Niente. Zip. Zilch. Zero.
(*Sigh*) Yep, another organizational time toilet. Hours, money, brains, solutions…all down the drain. It must cost your organization millions, even billions. Nationwide, the statistic is that every year we waste $8.7 bazillion on committee meetings and problem-solving teams that result in nothing being implemented (Source: US Senseless Bureau of Made-Up Numbers).
When we’re brought in to work with organizations, whether it’s strategic planning with the CEO and direct-reports, line workers working to improve quality, and everything in-between, this pattern shows up.
A lack of ideas isn’t the problem
Too often, in the middle and lower parts of the organization, powerful solutions are developed but not implemented. Typically it’s not a weak idea, but rather because the team developing them is unable to get them past the approval of the governing body to whom they report.
Unfortunately, a wise idea is no guarantee it will actually be implemented. It’s a common Dilbert-esque joke that we put together a task force, use up lots of peoples time away from their day to day responsibilities, and end up with pats on the back for creating an impressive binder that sits on a shelf. “What do you do for a living?” one plane passenger asks another. “I participate in off-site meetings designed to create suggestions that are never implemented.” “Me too! I actually sold my house and just live in hotels now. You should see my binder collection!”
Is this article for you?
On a governance body or steering committee? This article will help you prepare your task force to prepare their solutions in a way that will help you move them through the approval/implementation process.
Are you a task force member? This article will help you present your suggestions in a way that radically improves the likelihood of implementation. Imagine the bragging rights!
What successful teams do – What smart managers require
For any pitch of a solution, start with a robust, compelling and complete description of the problem that you are solving. Begin with a commonly accepted goal, the one that needs no selling because it’s intuitively obvious that the goal needs to be achieved for the organization to succeed. From that, link a statement of the sub-problem that you are solving with your solution by saying “We must…”
(We’ll give as an example a hypothetical proposal proposed by one of our US-based partners who is tired of high gas prices driven by oil at $60/barrel. Don’t worry about the content of the solution as much as the format of it. We’re not trying to sell you our solution, we’re trying to show you how to sell your solution)
The Goal: e.g. It would be great if we could ensure our long term economic vitality
The Problem: e.g. We must reduce our dependence on oil.
Next, describe in detail why this problem is indeed a real problem that can and should be solved. Make sure this is a compelling “sell”. Write to your audience here. What do they need to hear in order to be convinced? Data? Consumer insights? Market consequences? Business risk? Potential profit figures? Give some concrete examples of how this problem is showing up in the organization. Be very explicit here. Help the reader see the consequence. Help them feel the pain.
Why it’s a Problem: Oil is a finite resource. It is owned primarily by countries that might not have a permanently positive attitude toward the US. If they choose to make it exorbitantly expensive, we will be over a barrel, yada, yada, yada. Economic impact of high priced oil…blah, blah, blah. Trade deficits…etc. (We’d probably have a few pages here.)
Now, describe your proposed solution(s). Be very detailed here, making this proposal as fool-proof as possible. Organize your solutions in a way that is easy to read by your governance body and flows logically.
Solutions / Actions: What we see ourselves doing is leading the shift into hydrogen-powered vehicles. We’ll work to create market dynamics that accelerate the development of hydrogen technology, infrastructure and economy of scale. Do this by obtaining intensive, long-term government supports and constraints that drive research, create support for early adopters…etc…etc… (Again, for such a complex issue, we might see some real depth here. We’d go into how to implement some of these projects with the detail of the typical “binder on the shelf.”)
So what’s the big deal?
Up to this point, you wouldn’t have done anything much different than a typical task force. The next steps, if fully implemented, change the character of recommendation documents in a powerful way.
We’ll start with an overt sell of the idea. You’ll repeat this in a number of places, at various levels of sophistication/subtlety. If you are the governance body, fear not. You’re not setting up someone to sell you something that you don’t want/need. You’re helping them to really explore, explain, and improve the quality of their solution. You’re setting them up to help you see the wisdom of the idea through their eyes.
Describe why this is a great solution. Be detailed. Talk about feelings as well as facts, benefits as well as features, subjective as well as objective measures.
Why this is a great solution: In our current situation, much of the challenge we face economically, environmentally and geopolitically exists because we are seeing it becoming increasingly difficult for the oil-based economy to sustain itself. Hydrogen is the most promising path to economic vitality and geopolitical stability, especially for the countries that develop this economy first. Freed from the burden of maintaining the fragile oil-supply chain, we are able to turn our economic creativity, and stronger fiscal position toward the good things that a first world country can do. Gone will be the days when Americans traveling overseas will pretend to be Canadian out of embarrassment, and ushered in will be the days that Americans will take pride in their ability to innovate in service of global economic vitality, yada, yada, yada. Long term focus to take us through short-term recoveries, blah, blah, blah. Etc. We could, and should, go on here.
Now a tricky part. No idea is perfect or fool proof. Complex ideas always have a downside or a group who will always attack them. Explore the possible objections to your idea. Try to solve them. Some of your solutions will be taken up to the Solutions/Actions section, and used to strengthen and refine it. Other issues that require solving or that are related but outside of your domain might best be spoken to in this section.
Possible Objections and Solutions
How might we ensure the safety of hydrogen? Hydrogen is explosive yet it is far less explosive than gasoline and other petroleum based products. We will need to engineer simple yet effective safety features…etc.
How might we manage the huge cost to make the shift? Yes, this shift will be costly, but it is inevitable. Unifying a country like the US around this is a project, much like was done with the nationwide rail network, interstate highway system, the petroleum distribution network, the moon project, or the internet-economy. By implementing and leading similar intensity and government support, we will see long-term results. In the near term, this will place the country that develops the systems in the patent holder’s enviable position. The potential yield economically, environmentally and morally is far more than that which would be gained by putting a man on Mars. (Besides. Men are already from Mars. And we’d rather eat a Mars bar than step on one. – okay, we’re getting silly here. We probably wouldn’t get this punchy in the proposal. Then again…).
Keep going here…find every objection your governance body could possibly come up with and answer them.
At this point, you’ll describe the benefits that may not directly relate to your initial goal, and may be outside of your scope. Since they are benefits anyway, and will be seen by people with other responsibilities and perhaps a broader scope, they should be noted.
Additional “side” benefits of this proposal
The US has lost much of its reputation and moral ground in the world in the last few years as our high petroleum consumption rates and large vehicles stress the oil economy. With this shift, we will reclaim much that was lost and be able to leverage the renewed respect of the world for continued economic strength.
As other countries adopt this fuel, our large vehicles and their convenience will become sellable in more markets. We will save the costs of needing to build new electricity generation capacity because of home based fuel cell distributed generation capacity
Home-based fuel cells also make the electric infrastructure less vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Additionally, health care costs due to respiratory illness and biodiversity loss due to continued growth in CO2 emissions will be reversed.
(And so on…)
If your recommendation has parallel efforts, often there is an interrelationship that can be pointed out and leveraged to increase the likelihood that both are agreed to by your governance structure. In other words if your distribution recommendation has marketing and accounting recommendations, while it might not be in your scope, further up the chain it might be especially compelling. Specifically, if another recommendation that we were making was to increase funding for education in emergent fields like nanotechnology, we could also do the following:
Connection to other recommendations
Expand this proposal to improve education in nanotechnology through targeted educational grants to educational programs geared toward the science and technology needed in a hydrogen economy.
Now it’s time to get real with the financial dynamics. What will this cost? What will be the long and short term human resource implications. If your proposal will achieve savings for your organization, how much do you project them to be, and when will they be realized.
Costs, Resources, Savings
(If we were playing out our hydrogen economy suggestion here, we’d pull the facts and figures together to make the bottom line real and understood. We don’t have those numbers. Do you want to join a task force to work them out? We’re sure there’s been one already. The numbers are around somewhere. In a binder. On a shelf. Look around.)
After you lay out the bottom line, it’s time to ask for what you want. This is the most important part of the proposal – don’t chicken out now, go for it! If you’re also going to be the implementer, you’ll ask for approval and budget. If you’re attempting to influence your organization, you’ll ask for whatever is needed to get your solution moving. Not onto the shelf, but into reality.
Work with congressional representatives to encourage the legislature to vote on House Bill Number 123 enabling and funding the creation of the National Hydrogen Initiative
During the next trip to Camp David, motivate the President to inspirationally launch NHI in the next State of the Union address etc…etc…
The final words
Here’s where the rubber meets the road: binders on shelves don’t make a difference and aren’t a sign of accomplishment. And since they’re mostly made from plastic, they maintain our dependency on oil. If you want to move past the typical task force time-toilet that exists in most organizations today, plan for the sell. Require that proposals are thought through to implementation actions. Follow the process above, and you’ll improve your proposal(s), as well as the odds of good stuff being implemented.
Valuable offer: Free Template
When you email us, well send you a working template that you can use in your meetings or give to your task forces to structure proposals for success. It’s a Word document that you can build a proposal right into.