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Convincing your Boss!

Chris has been working at the GlassBottleCo for the past 4 years. He is a manager in the Operations division and is responsible for the line of perfume bottle production. Hard-working and enthusiastic, Chris has always been full of ideas to improve the operating performance of the company. He has some ideas to improve the company’s performance in fulfilling sales orders. He has approached his boss – the Head of Production – with several of his ideas, but his boss has always ignored them or worse, pretended to listen and then promptly forgotten all about them. Chris is getting frustrated! Life is looking bleak for him…

Ever faced a Chris-like situation at work before? You have ideas, you believe they are the best, you have done your homework and prepared the financials to support these ideas. When you go to your boss with your break-through ideas, you expect to be embraced by him with tears in his eyes, while the HR team will pat themselves on their back for having recruited you and your colleagues will do a slow-clap applauding your genius.

Welcome to the real world, buddy! Your boss will probably growl at you for wasting his time and curse the HR folks for hiring ‘these MBA-types’ while the HR guys will immediately start looking for scapegoats who can be blamed for the whole recruiting fiasco.

Well, I find the ‘Social Style’ framework a very useful tool in such situations. It is a great framework to help you decide the best way to communicate your ideas, depending on the nature of the person to whom you are presenting.

The framework uses 2 dimensions: Assertiveness and Responsiveness! Both these dimensions are graded from low to high. On the high end of ‘assertiveness’, you have people who are absolutely convinced that they are right and will try to influence others as directly as possible. In other words, they are the people who will tell you that ‘it is my way or the highway’ or ‘take it or leave it’ or some such variation of that. People at the low end of assertiveness will also try to influence you, but they will do it in an indirect manner – citing data analysis, suggesting new processes, introducing benchmarks etc. Basically they will provide you all kinds of supporting examples to show why they are right! In other words, insufferably self-righteous people!

Responsiveness is a measure of the extent to which you are perceived to control or reveal your emotions. So, on the lower end, you have the stone faced individual displaying the entire emotional range of Sylvester Stallone at his career peak, while on the higher end you have the hyper-active, overtly emotive people.

Put these together, and you get 4 groups (Refer Figure).

Social Style

Driver: People who are fast paced, decisive and impatient with people. If your boss is a ‘Driver’, then give him your fundamental idea quickly and the basic benefit of the idea. In other words, get to the point quickly. In Chris’s situation from the case above, a good communication approach will be – ‘I think we should double the throughput of bottles this month, as the seasonal demand is going to increase next month and we will be able to meet those sales orders easily with our available capacity and this month’s inventory.’ Do not spend an inordinate time building the background of the idea and advantages of the same – you will lose your audience in such situations.

Analytical: These are cautious people who want everything to be reasoned and based on rational arguments. You will need to impress them with your background research, attention to detail and data analysis based on which you came up with the idea. As an illustration, for such people, Chris will be best served by saying – ‘The last 10 year demand and production data shows that we have never been able to meet sales orders in the season even after running at peak capacity. The reason is that demand outstrips our capacity in these months. However, in the quarter before the season, we have enough slack capacity to make additional bottles to meet this demand. Hence, …’

Amiable: These people are considerate and supportive. They want to make sure that the entire team is on board with any idea (It also helps to deflect blame from them when things go wrong!). Example – ‘Well, I spoke to the production supervisor, the sales team and our supplier. All of them agree with me that we need to make more bottles during the months before the season, so as to meet the seasonal demand.’

Expressive: They have a vision and they want to get people excited with this vision. These guys are adventurous, enthusiastic and creative. You want them to organize your bachelor party for you! In Chris’s situation, he can say – ‘Imagine a situation where you are able to easily fulfill the season’s sales orders for bottles. How can you reach such a situation? I suggest we take a risk! We make more bottles in the earlier months. So what if it means that there will be additional inventory? I am sure that the additional sales will more than make up for it!’

Note that in all the above cases, the onus is on you to make sure that you do all the homework on your ideas. No matter what kind of person your boss is, if your idea is not good enough, it will not be sold! Also, you should spend some time thinking about which of the above categories does your boss lie in? If your boss turns out to be an ‘Amiable’ person, and you use the ‘Driver’ approach to sell him your ideas, it will be a disaster!

Good luck with selling your ideas using the above framework!

Chris decided that his boss was the ‘analytical’ kind and made a detailed presentation explaining why increasing production in non-seasonal months is a good idea. The presentation was supported with detailed historical trends, statistical analysis, cost comparisons and benchmarking information. Unfortunately, Chris made the presentation on the same day when his boss’ in-laws had come visiting. In a foul mood, his boss asked him to conduct more research, perform more benchmarking analysis and develop more scenarios to support his hypotheses. Chris realized the futility of his efforts, quit his job and became a script-writer for B-grade Hollywood slasher movies. He is happy now!

What do you think of the framework? Do you think it is a useful guideline for helping you to craft your messages?

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