Everything is Negotiable
In my work as a project manager and in sales I’ve learned some things.
First, everything is negotiable. And second, everything includes the chain of command, standard operating procedures, decision making protocols, and the limitations other people set for your work.
Compared to the one-size-fits-all messages of advertising, sales uses customized messaging to match individual prospects with the exact words they need to hear to interpret the value they need but might otherwise overlook.
Most B2B salespeople understand this concept, and spend a lot of time attempting to circumvent a client’s typical procurement process, designed to boil everything down to price. In B2C sales this same strategy is implemented by pitching to all of the decision makers – maybe a husband and wife – at once rather than pitching to just one and hoping they can convince everyone else involved in the decision to buy.
Even for the same product or service, the pitch that worked on a single decision maker might not work for the others. Each decision maker will have their own questions and concerns, but they can also have their own interpretation of spoken and written language that needs to be accounted for.
The lesson here is that accepting standard protocol, pitching to a non-decision maker or only one of many decision-makers as they have requested of you, is a sure way to waste a lot of time and effort not producing the results you’re after. Like anything else, it is attention to the smallest of details that makes the biggest impact in sales.
Following standard procedures can in many ways limit the progress you’re trying to make or kill it all together, but trying to break the mold isn’t that revolutionary of an idea.
Execution Requires a Doers Personality
My work in project management has reinforced this same lesson on numerous occasions.
When you rely on the combine efforts of other people, contractors, subcontractors, clients, and whoever else, to execute a project – you are not only dealing with natural circumstances, but also personalities that can obstruct the success of a project.
Most people that get into sales are doers, if you prefer the DISC assessment classification you’d say they have a dominance personality. They place emphasis on accomplishing results, and they like to measure their productivity by counting the number of tasks they’ve completed.
These kinds of folks might not be naturally outgoing, but if they find that a situation calls for them being the most outgoing person in a conversation, they find a way to make it happen.
A lot of project managers are the same way. They find ways to organize the chaos of working with a variety of stakeholders, because it is required for the success of a project. Their team may have never worked together before, but successful managers find ways to keep things moving at a consistent pace regardless of such hurdles.
This kind of success-or-death mentality and resourcefulness is what makes Hank Reardon of Atlas Shrugged one of my favorite literary characters. When his peers and colleagues would tell him that something couldn’t be done or that there was an unfortunate circumstance he’d just have to accept, his natural instinct was to start looking for a way to deliver his steel, outperform his competition, and surpass expectations.
Not Everyone is a Person-of-Action
Of course, not everyone on a project team is so focused on delivering results. Some just simply don’t believe they can have a significant impact on the outcome of a situation, they have a strong external locus of control. These team members are much more likely to accept a schedule delay when the first thing they try doesn’t work.
If you haven’t worked in sales or management very long – even if you’re a results focused person by nature – it can be easy to fall into a pattern of accepting the news from a colleague that a sale is dead or a project has to be delayed for reasons X,Y, and Z.
If you’re a doer it’s hard to imagine that someone would come to you and say something can’t be done if they haven’t already tried a dozen possible solutions. So, you assume that’s the case and accept the limitation.
What I’ve learned through my own experience is that most people are not doers, they’ve only tried to fix the problem one way before throwing in the towel, and some won’t have tried anything at all. I’ve also learned that there is usually more to the story than what they’ve shared with you.
Emotion Intelligence is Key to Getting Things Done
One thing I learned from Joe Navarro’s book, Louder Than Words, is that in most cases people aren’t trying to lie to you, most people aren’t inherently malicious, but they are uncomfortable with telling you the whole truth.
It only takes a little bit of what Navarro calls non-verbal intelligence – Daniel Goldman might consider it emotional intelligence – to clue into the discomfort that people have when they tell you something other than the whole truth. Navarro’s Louder Than Words is a great introduction to what some of the clues are. Beig able to identify discomfort is important because it is these signs of discomfort that will tell you there is more to a story.
It could be in their tone of voice, it could be the way they shift in their chair, or the way they hold their hands that lets you know that the reality of the situation has more depth.
Even if the person is purposely keeping information from you, as most are in the antidotes Navarro shares in Louder Than Words, building rapport and gently circling the conversation back to topics that have caused someone to feel uneasy is how he was able to get the full story from some of the FBI’s most wanted criminals.
Chances are your work doesn’t require you to interrogate criminals trying to maintain their innocents. It’s much more likely that the people who are placing limits on the things you are trying to accomplish aren’t telling you the full truth because they don’t want to look incompetent. Or, they simply don’t want you to know how complacent they actually are. Some people know they could do more to better the situation, but simply prefer not to.
If you’re a team leader or manager, learning not to accept anything but the desired outcome can help you accomplish a lot, but it’s important that you inquire about what others consider to be roadblocks in a manner that doesn’t cause them to become defensive.
Navarro’s method of circling a back to topics in conversation is meant to be indirect. In a working environment this might include asking questions of team members that help you both to better understand the circumstance and its possible solutions.
Great Leaders Breed New Leaders
Managers and team leaders might be wise to take a page out of a Dave Ramsey book. In EntreLeadership, Ramsey describes the common scenario of an employee showing up with a problem he/she wants their boss to fix. In Ramsey’s depiction of the situation the employee shows up with a monkey on their back, a monkey that then jumps on to the boss’ desk and becomes their problem.
Ramsey’s solution is similar to Navarro’s at first, asking questions that helps the team member to understand the situation before brainstorming possible solutions. From there Ramsey suggests that it be made clear to the employee that the next time the team member has a problem, they are expected not to show up to the boss’ office without at least three possible solutions ready to offer.
The idea behind setting such an expectation is that Ramsey wants to instill problem solving skills in his workforce. He recognizes that the efforts of his team cannot scale if he is the only one that knows how to make decisions or solve new problems.
Be Your Own Solution by Facilitating Direct Communication
Ramsey’s approach seems great for developing talent within an organization. However, there are times when the person that wants to tell you how something can’t be done isn’t part of your own organization – they aren’t an employee, they might be a client. In such a case you may have to rely on a conversation that explores the true extent of the obstacle and then fix the problem yourself.
In my own work, there have been plenty of occasions in which the success of our company’s work requires the contribution of another company, agency, or consultant that doesn’t report to me, they often report directly to the client.
Plenty of clients have called to say that because of circumstances outside their control or mine we have to delay the project. In most cases this is a symptom of a long game of telephone in which correspondence is being bottle-necked and distorted by the standard chain of communication.
Similar to how a salesperson would deviate from a standard B2B procurement process, I’ve often opted out of the standard chain of communication in preference of direct communication with decision makers, direct communication can overcome a lot of obstacles when managing projects. It does however take initiative and a bit of emotional intelligence to do this.
As rigid as a lot of these communication protocols seem to be, no one ever seems to mind the deviation in process if it looks like you’re trying to improve the situation.
It is fairly common for projects of any kind to be delayed by the standard operating procedures of a stakeholder. When you work with people who aren’t doers by nature, they will default to their standard operating procedures, whether those procedure were designed for the circumstance or not. But, by communicating with them directly rather than through another party, you have the opportunity to build rapport.
By building rapport, identifying topics that cause someone discomfort, and then circling back in conversation, you’re likely to find out that there is room in their procedure for acceptation in special circumstances.
Explore Solutions with Gratitude
In such a situation your building of rapport is going to be most successful if you approaching the ordeal with gratitude. Give praise to the person going above and beyond the call of duty and standard protocol to make your project work as planned.
Not only is gratitude something you should be giving to everyone you work with because it is the right thing to do, but as the saying goes: you will attract more bees with honey, than with vinegar.
When it comes to getting things done there will always be limitations (Pronounced: excuses) you can set for yourself or that other people will be happy to offer, but you always have the power to circumvent those limitations.
Question Every Limit You Encounter
In the words of Jim Rohn, “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.” If you don’t like how your latest project is going, change it. If you don’t like where your career is headed, change it. If someone tells you something can’t be done, do it anyways.
By questioning normal, by simply asking why something is limiting your progress on a project, on an assignment, or in your career, you can come to understand the situation. With understanding solutions for overcoming a limitation become very clear.
7 Things to Remember That Will Keep Your Work on Track
Everything is Negotiable – If you really want something you won’t settle for anything less. Sometimes that requires becoming an investigator and asking questions until you can unearth a solution in which everyone wins.
Execution Requires a Doers Personality – Decide right now that the little details are your responsibility. Even if you delegate something to a team member, it is your responsibility that they do the work and do it well.
Not Everyone is a Person-of-Action – When things get hard, assume that you haven’t been given the whole story. Keep digging into the ins-and-outs of a circumstance until you understand why the success of your work is being presented with a limitation or obstacle.
Emotion Intelligence is Key to Getting Things Done – It is a natural tendency for people to be less than transparent. By recognizing non-verbal signs that someone might have more information, you can circle back in the conversation until they feel safe enough to share the protected details.
Pro Tip: Simply being silent – not being rushed to respond yourself – can give the other party dead air that they feel nervously compelled to fill with details they may not have otherwise shared.
Great Leaders Breed New Leaders – Use the hurdles your team encounters as teachable moments. If you never spend time developing your team, you’ll waist a lot of time solving the same problems instead of moving on to bigger and better things.
Be Your Own Solution by Facilitating Direct Communication – Communication is crucial to good work, but it doesn’t take much for communication to break down. Failures in communication can usually be avoided simply by eliminating middlemen.
Explore Solutions with Gratitude – The natural tendency for people to be less than transparent isn’t malicious, it’s an instinct in self-preservation. By being appreciative of someone’s willingness to rise above that instinct to help you, it is much more likely that they’ll do so.
Growing up we’re taught to follow the rules and not to question the norm.
Being indoctrinated to think in such a way makes it even harder to ignore protocol, ask why, and find ways to do your best work when changing circumstances and red-tape seem to challenge your every step.
That’s why we’ve created the easy to follow Troubleshooting Check-List. This one page check-list walks you through a process of systematically overcoming any obstacle you might face while managing a project or working on a team – even teams that extend beyond your own organization.