Sometimes the best way to make your case is to write it out. A little manifesto can go a long way.
Many times it’s not necessary. A simple conversation will do. Or perhaps a series of meetings. The great oral tradition prevails. You have your decision and you get back to work.
Other times, you need to get a little fancier. Maybe it’s a bigger decision. It could have some cost or risk. Or maybe it’s just that it affects more people or departments.
So, you put a presentation together. The formality of a slide deck gives the whole thing a little more gusto. And seeing all those bullet points on the screen gets the decision made. Once again, you can get off to work.
But sometimes things stall.
You have had discussions. And meetings. Maybe even a slide deck too.
You have done it all but decisions linger. And now you can’t get off to work.
Instead, precious time slips away. Which is frustrating, because often when this happens it’s not really accounted for. The expectation of a high-quality, on-time, and on-budget solution remains.
In this case, you might follow up with some emails. Maybe a revised slide deck. Some hallway conversations. And still the endorsement, approval, and support you need don’t appear.
Things might linger so long that you start to hope for a big fat “NO” so that you can focus on some of your other priorities. That decision would be helpful too.
What is holding things up?
The little detective in your head keeps wondering why things are being held up.
Is it because of the cost? Maybe they don’t understand some of the key points. Perhaps they don’t understand the options. It could be that they don’t fully understand the implications of each choice.
Maybe your boss can’t get a decision from her boss. Someone on the committee may see political risk in making a choice. Or they might not really understand the full picture well enough to have the confidence to make a selection.
When you are asking for approval, you are asking for a personal endorsement of whoever gets to make the decision. So, in a way, their reputation is on the line. At least to some extent.
It can be hard to calculate all of the factors weighing on them. Which could also include lots of things you can’t see, like their relationship with their boss, the pressures from their other responsibilities, or their own personal limitations, fears, hopes, and dreams.
You can’t force the issue. And you can’t easily reverse-engineer it.
Still, you can help move things along. You can provide people with the most clear, complete, and compelling case that you can possibly make for whatever outcome you would like to see.
You can write a little manifesto.
Taking a stand yourself
One of the biggest areas for professional growth is leadership. The kind of personal leadership where you more fully embrace your role.
Most of us try to work hard and do the right thing. But we get a little confused about boundaries.
We all work inside of our little box on the org chart. And it feels funny to step outside of it. Because, if you do, you will be encroaching on someone else’s territory. Or you will be stepping “out of bounds” in some other way.
Human nature compels us to fit in with our local tribe. Work is that tribe for your professional life. So it goes against our nature to put ourselves out there too much.
But the box isn’t really meant to limit us in that way. Rather, it represents an area of responsibility. And you are the leader of that area of responsibility.
Which means that you have a viewpoint based on your experience and expertise in that area. And others need to hear it. In fact, they expect nothing less.
Too often, however, we shrug that off. We deliver lots of data and choices but no real opinion. We don’t take a stand.
But you and everyone else would be better served if you did.
How to develop a recommendation
If this was 100% your decision to make, how would you look at it?
What kind of information would you need to make a choice that you are comfortable with?
Who would you rely on for insight, perspective, and advice?
What would you worry about? How would you offset that risk?
How would you explain your rationale to others? How would you defend our position?
Thinking like this, from a vantage point of taking on full responsibility, will help you to develop your leadership skills. And it will help you to make a solid recommendation.
Because you will need to convince yourself first.
I’m hoping that you see why I’m talking about writing something more than a slidedeck at this point.
I hope you can feel why that is not enough for some decisions.
As you put yourself in the shoes of a decision-maker, you can see where a slide deck sometimes leaves too many questions unanswered.
After all, the deck is really just a bunch of bullet points. Maybe some graphs and charts. But it lacks a coherent narrative that is clear, complete, and compelling.
That’s where your little manifesto comes in.
Putting it all in writing
A narrative document is much harder to write. But it’s also a much more powerful way to make your case.
Because in order to write it all up, you will need to understand everything more completely. And you will need to tie it all together in a way that someone else can easily absorb it all.
It’s sort of like teaching. You know what they say, if you want to learn something really well, teach it.
That’s what you are doing here.
Start with an executive overview
This isn’t a term paper. You will need to summarize your recommendation in just a couple of paragraphs and put those right up front.
Although this is the front part of the document, you need to do it last. You will need to work through all of the details before you can summarize them all.
Next, provide the background
Don’t assume that everyone knows the full history of whatever you are working on. You need to be able to go back in time to some other logical point and put this all in perspective.
What choices were made that got us here? How have things evolved? What is happening now that is creating the need for this new plan?
Tell the story. Which means you will need to learn it thoroughly yourself. That will help this next part.
Then, present a range of options
As you recount the history of the situation, you should be able to hone in on the main issues to be addressed. And there will be different choices about how to proceed.
You should present a set of reasonable options to consider along with the pros and cons of each.
Maybe you think things boil down to one simple yes or no question. It’s still not a good idea to present things that way. It makes people feel boxed in and it doesn’t show enough of your thinking.
Finally, present your choice
It’s time to make your recommendations. Given the history that you just summarized and the range of options you just presented, what do you think is the best choice?
You understand the goal. You know the choices. This is your selection. Make a good case and back it up.
This is the most helpful part for others because it is your thoughtful professional opinion.
Putting it all together
Your document may end up being 3 pages or 23 pages. That’s ok. The most important thing is to have a complete scenario presented along with a clear path forward.
As you build this document, it will require you to think things through very carefully. You will achieve a deeper understanding of everything at play.
But you won’t be able to do it on your own.
One of the best parts of this exercise is that it gives you a great opportunity to collect input and advice from others.
Taking a stand isn’t about standing alone. It’s about taking a leadership attitude and helping to develop a shared understanding and way forward.
This little exercise gives you the perfect excuse to solicit feedback on different drafts along the way. As you share each draft with different people, you will help to socialize the issue, the options, and the potential solutions.
People will give you insight into different areas. They will challenge you with new information and a variety of questions. And they will help you to learn a lot of what you need to know.
All of this will help you to build a stronger document and to garner support for your position.
And it will help some decisions to get made.
Your little manifesto
Your little manifesto can help decisions to get made by helping you and others to get a clearer picture of things.
Doing this is harder than simple discussions or meetings. It’s a deeper dive than putting together a slide deck, no matter how fancy looking such a deck may be.
Because writing this document in this way ensures that you really understand things. You need to develop a narrative that explains the background well. To do this, you need to get really clear on that background yourself. Glossing over bullet points doesn’t do the trick.
You will need to develop a narrative that outlines the various options available, their pros and cons, and which one you think is best. Again, the narrative form forces a more complete thought process.
But more than writing a paper, this exercise will force you to discuss all of the issues and options with a variety of stakeholders. That will help you to gain valuable insights. And it will help you to start lots of useful conversations. People will have input and they will start to think things through in more detail, long before your paper is finished.
And to do all of this you will need to adopt a leadership mindset. That’s a good exercise to help you grow as a professional and to shine in your current job.