Why Working Backward is the Key to Getting to Yes

House with Sold Sign in Front Yard

It’s a terrible feeling to put a ton of effort into crafting a recommendation only to have it shot down in front of all your coworkers. If you want your idea approved, you should try doing things backward instead.

Think about how you craft a recommendation. Typically it goes something like this:

Identify problem.

Gather data.

Do analysis.

Get an idea.

Do more analysis.

Figure out how to implement idea.

Do more analysis.

Write a big presentation that includes all the data.

Share the idea.

Get shot down.



It doesn’t work folks. It just doesn’t work. Notice nowhere in there is there an identification of true stakeholder needs. No confirmation of the issue itself. No understanding of what the narrative should be and what stakeholders or decision makers will find exciting. Notice how much analysis is conducted – 80% of which will never see the light of day. Does this sound familiar?

I encourage you to try something different. Start with the end in mind. Be hypothesis driven. Before you gather and analyze data, take an initial guess at what an answer could be. Once you have that idea, start involving stakeholders. Yes, involve stakeholders before you gather data? Why? It’s simple.

It saves time. Your stakeholder will clue you in on what they find important and compelling. They’ll let you know what kind of data they need to make a decision. If you were planning on running a bunch of numbers related to customer retention because your idea would help retention, you would be pretty frustrated to learn your stakeholder is more interested in cost reduction these days because they’re facing budget pressures. The more you understand what’s of concern to the stakeholder, the better you can target your recommendation at meeting their needs. While it may be great to improve retention, they won’t give you resources for your project because they’d rather invest in cost reduction opportunities.

Work from the stakeholder backward. Figure out what their concerns are first and then identify solutions to their problems. Position those solutions in a way that they see clear benefits in terms of improvements to metrics they actually care about. Once you make that connection, persuading them to support your idea gets a lot easier.

Good salespeople understand this approach. They identify what’s called the “dominant buying motive” which is the primary reason the buyer is going to pay for a solution. Think about a realtor. If I go to them to buy a house and they start showing me massive new houses in shiny new neighborhoods with tons of people in the wonderfully social homeowner’s association, they could be making a huge mistake. Why? They don’t understand why I’m interested in a new home. Perhaps if they knew I was moving out of a giant house in a shiny neighborhood with very social homeowners because I wanted a smaller place since my kids went to college, there’s a problem. Another problem is they’re pushing me into a crowded neighborhood with pesky “social” neighbors. What I really want is a quiet neighborhood where I’m not bothered because I’m a curmudgeonly blogger who wants peace and quiet.

Contrast that scenario with the realtor who says “Hey Mike, before we look at houses, why don’t you tell me what’s most important to you in a new home. Why are you moving? What are the characteristics of your dream home?” Those few minutes they spend getting to know my end point help put them on the right path to help me reach my desired destination.

Think of your recommendations the same way. Start with the end in mind. Talk with your stakeholder about their key concerns. Get their definition of success to include the metrics they’d like to improve. When you start with the end in mind, you’ll save a lot of time by avoiding irrelevant analysis and not gathering irrelevant data. The result should be your recommendation gets approved on the first shot rather than wasting everyone’s time with multiple approval meetings where nothing gets approved.

This is a learnable skill. In the interest of helping you learn it, I’m partnering with Midwest GeoSciences on a series of webinars. The first one is in less than a week on March 6th. The topic is Getting Your Recommendations Approved. CLICK HERE to learn more about it and register. Since you’re a friend of mine, I secured a nifty discount code that’ll save you a bunch of money when you register. Use the code TLWEB-SPECIAL when you check out (it’s case sensitive) to save some cash. I hope to see you on the webinar!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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