The keys to influencing your clients’ choices
Strategy in organisations is about making choices about what to do and what not to do. CPL have developed some easy to read guiding principles that may help you to bridge the gap between strategic choices and actual impact. We understand that the art of making the right strategic choices and the hard work of transforming the choices into real business impact are often unsuccessful endeavours. Product and service quality and your reputation matter – that goes, in a way, without saying. How about when your service or product matches the client’s needs and wants, and they also trust you as deliverer? What are the things that influence further decisions once those fundamentals are in place?
At the heart of this complicated topic it may come as little surprise that it’s all about people – strategies in themselves do not accomplish anything. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved. People are motivated by seeing and feeling a meaningful purpose, feeling confident about how to succeed, and being able to personally influence what they do. Top-down-managed strategic changes prone with uncertainties therefore are losing out in order to protect the status quo.
In order to bridge strategic intent with real business impact, we need to put the people and individual “sense-making” at the centre of choosing and implementing strategy. We need to rethink broken implementation models that put systems before people. We must acknowledge that connecting the thinking and the doing is a far more demanding journey than a strategy off- site away day.
The five guiding principles we outline below can serve as a strong starting point for many service and product providers to clients. Try and see the five guiding principles as played out together to aim for best impact.
1: Clarify strategy – Make complex strategic problems into as simple solutions as possible. Create focus on key value drivers for your client – sharpen your thoughts on what will really connect with them. The ability to sharpen their choices enables the creation of a simple and effective strategy. This can cut through complexity to answer the fundamental question: “Why are we doing it?” rather than just “What should we do?” or “How should we do it?”
(Note: Harvard Business School found that only 7% of employees fully understand their company’s business strategies and what is expected of them).
Top tip: Clarify major strategic issues and choices and craft a few”must-win” goals to focus efforts on client key drivers.
2: Unify and identify with the clients leaders and managers
Making strategy is separated from executing strategy in many organisations so we can end up facing severe challenges in terms of understanding a client’s strategy that has been “sold” to employees and stakeholders via persuasive power talks that “beg” the rest of the leadership team, middle management and employees get motivated and “bought in.”
In higher functioning client organisations the agreement about strategic choices needs to be rooted deeply in the extended management team. Empowering leaders to challenge each other and aligning views about the desired direction is one of the strongest tools for creating unity and making strategic choices work. Gaining access and building relationships in management teams that are based on mutual trust is much more effective where they exhibit a mutual commitment to “walking the talk”, which is hard in practice.
Present a realistic “cost-benefit” analysis of your ideas-don’t just outline the benefits. Every organisation has limited resources, time, and energy. The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea.
3: Build engagement with the client
Many public sector clients need to demonstrate involvement of partners in strategy formulation – so look for ways help co-create, contribute, and communicate realistic solutions. Build solid, regular contact that will demonstrate you can help the client make sense of what they are aiming to do and you can build capabilities for new ways of working together. A key part of the influencing process involves the education of decision-makers. The effective influencer needs to be a very good listener .
You can help clients communicate on many different levels ranging from feasibility studies to vivid and crisp strategic solutions that are quickly understood through to more detailed road maps that support them in implementation. Peer-to-peer dialogues can be embedded in communication channels and can lead to stimulating thinking about making good strategic choices in different situations.
Where a strategic choice involves a change of strategic direction this can call for building entirely new capabilities – and you may be able to help here. Help your client evoke a feeling of confidence by assisting in partnerships founded on well-crafted capability building programmes. Changes in strategy will only come to life when employees and leaders alike are deeply engaged and motivated, because they find the strategic journey involving, exciting, important and personally challenging.
Top tip: Look for ways to help clients co-create solutions via exploiting your combined collective intelligence and past experience and communicate in an authentic and appreciative way with your peers within your clients’ organisations.
4: Closely align your commitments
You can help influence client choices through showing how you can successfully implement projects through aligned commitments. Commitments come in many shapes and forms. Clarifying and cascading strategic choices, presenting solutions, co -joined capacity building and engagement programmes and can all be viewed as steps towards mutual alignment of commitments.
Your clients’ management systems need to coordinate vertically within, but more importantly, they must enhance collaboration horizontally across units and with outside partners such as yours. The latter proves to be one of the more difficult aspects of implementation – aim to help them with this to realise mutual benefits. Effective deliverers relate to the needs of their clients as purchasers, not to their own needs.
Strategic choice needs to balance a sense of firmness with openness to change at all times, requiring ongoing attention from the senior management rather than a ritualistic yearly process. How can you demonstrate ongoing value creation and capturing of insights and learning that can be shared with the client? Have you considered how you can help them make their resource allocation work in practice including across capital, assets, talent and time resources?
Top Tip: Design commitments and engagement structures that support ongoing alignment to, collaboration with, and adaptation to your clients strategic choices
5: Accelerate value delivery
Most clients’ simply do not have the right capabilities in place to realise the benefits anticipated by their strategy. Perhaps their strategic choices were high quality but never implemented because the vehicle for “accelerating value” in delivery is broken. The key is that you simply cannot separate strategy and implementation again if you are a delivery organisation you can help here – work with your client to demonstrate what is possible to accomplish in practice.
Project management capabilities must be built in the organisation to ensure a consistent approach to value delivery. Be careful that “best practice” truly is best practice. For example, for construction projects best practice means being able to select the appropriate development model to fit with the challenge use tools like prototyping, user insights and exchanges, and a range of change management techniques. It sounds easy just to launch a range of projects to accelerate value delivery. In practice, it is hard – use all the talent available across all organisations involved.
Top tip: constantly seeking out new ways of accelerating value delivery and make sure you jointly evaluate progress on the road towards implementing goals. Make this high on the agenda in both projects and daily operations of you and your client.
Bringing the principles together
The five guiding principles are based on our approach that there is no such thing as “silver bullet” impacting on clients choices as it involves a great deal of diligent, hard work. The principles are drawn from well-known management practices
The key is to consider the interdependencies across the issues collaboratively with your client and together design an integrated approach to strategic implementation. Last but not least, we must always remember to that people should be at the centre of making and implementing strategy choices.
Our hope is that by making a small investment in increasing your learning in relation to influencing people, you can make a large, positive difference for the future of your clients.