At some level, all of us are looking to get a favorable decision on ideas we put forth. Whether it’s being able to hire someone new, launch a new project, make a sale, or get approval for an acquisition. Too often, though, we overlook an important and time-saving point – does what we’re proposing “change the answer?” If it doesn’t, we’re wasting time and energy because nothing will ever come of all our hard work.
Let me explain with a couple of examples. I was lobbying for an acquisition. I built the financial models and my recommendation was to do the deal. Another individual in the approval chain was reviewing the economic model and started pushing on some of the costs in the pro forma future P&L. He believed they were too low (and therefore we were overstating the benefits of doing the deal).
He and I went back and forth for about an hour on whether a particular ratio was 10.2% (my estimate) or 10.5% (his estimate). On another item in the model we argued over whether it should be $37,500 or $42,000 (my and his estimates respectively). We spent a lot of time in the conversation (we were talking by phone). Eventually, I got tired of the argument. I put him on speakerphone, muted my end and let him babble for a while (he wasn’t listening to me anyway). After a while I got bored listening to the diatribe and started messing with the model. I looked at the cells we were arguing about and simply popped 50% and $80,000 into the model just to humor myself. That’s when the light bulb went off – even with those numbers in the model, the deal still made good economic sense. I took my end off mute and quickly said “okay, I’ll use your numbers.” He was surprised with how easily and suddenly I rolled over.
“Great but why the sudden change?”
“Because it doesn’t change the answer. Even if I double or quadruple your estimates, the deal still makes sense. The returns are still great. I want to stop wasting time with an argument that doesn’t change the answer.” We ended up doing the deal and saving a lot of time on analysis that held no value because it “didn’t change the answer.” He was recommending we kill the deal based on his focus on those expense numbers. I had to say “no” to his recommendation because his argument didn’t change the answer (which was to do the deal).
As a second example, I recently spoke with a vendor who has some extremely cool technology. He pitched me on the system’s capabilities and all the things I could do with it if I went with their solution. I was tempted to buy. Then I asked myself the question “does this change the answer?” Said differently, I asked myself if I went with this solution, would it change the way I plan to do business? Would I change business processes or realize substantial value if I went with the cool new technology? The answer was “no.” My business processes would remain the same. Given that, I had to say “no” to the investment – it wasn’t going to change the answer for me.
Of course, there are plenty of cases where the solution being proposed does change the answer. You might be arguing to add incremental resources to your team. Being able to clearly state “if I add this person, here’s all the incremental work we can get done and the incremental value they can deliver” will bolster your argument. That is a much stronger argument than “well, I have the headcount included in the budget and the slot is open.”
Understand the critical levers in your recommendations and be clear on what changes as a result of your analysis or your decision. If nothing changes, the answer should be “no” to whatever you’re evaluating. If it does change the answer, you have found the core of a compelling argument to get what you’re after.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC