The greatest barrier to enter- ing the inner circle is created because most advisors, early on, tend to give advice in the context of their staff function or personal area of expertise. Typically, staff thinking and ecision making are quite dif- ferent from operational thinking and decision making. To suc- ceed as a trusted strategic advi- sor to operating executives, you will need to align your thinking patterns and decision-making habits with theirs. A better way is to practice a methodology that helps you think and communi- cate using a more structured and process-driven format. When you use such a format, execu- tives are able to understand your
recommendations and see how they relate to ultimate goals and
objectives, without their having to do a lot of translating.
How information is structured when presented to management
is very important. Whether the solution proposed is bold, obvious
common sense, absolutely applicable, or brilliant and creative,
managers will absorb advice better if it fits into their processing approach, builds on their intuitive skills and experience, and
allows them to assimilate.
The chances of your advice being recognized and utilized
increase if you structure it using the same template managers
use to make their decisions. The elements of this template are
situation, analysis, goals, options, recommendations, and justifications. For decisions that matter, all six template elements will
come into play. Omitting or skipping a template element subtracts
from the value and completeness of the advice given. In fact,
when I learned this approach, it was referred to as the Concept
of Completed Action; the source of this name has completely
eluded me, but the value of the structured thinking and presentation approach has been a crucial ingredient in my own success.
In addition to respecting the boss’s time, brevity is important
because concentrated, well-structured information presented verbally or in writing is powerful and more likely to be assimilated
and owned by others. Information provided in tabbed manuals
and called a “plan” is likely to be ignored. Executives base most
of their critical decisions on experience and intuition in conjunction with facts and information recently harvested through verbal
interaction with colleagues and advisors, usually in a very short
span of time.
The Three-Minute Drill
The Three-Minute Drill is a time-sensitive, highly disciplined
approach for presenting recommendations. If your strategic recommendations fail to fit this timed structure, go back and rethink,
make repairs, and rehearse again. The drill is structured in six
steps that impose a useful, sensible management decision-making
Step 1 Situation ( 60 words)
Describe the nature of the issue, problem, or situation that
requires decision, action, or study. This is the factual or perceptual basis for “What we know now,” “Why we need to take the
boss’s time, now, to discuss this,” or “This is a new and important
topic that we need to talk about, now.”
Step 2 Analysis and Assumptions ( 60 words)
Describe what the situation means, its implications, and per-
Step 3 The Goal ( 60 words)
haps how it threatens, or represents, opportunities. Include one or
two key assumptions that validate your analysis. “Here’s why it
Managers always need to know the “why” but not in great
detail. They are also interested in the intelligence you possess or
have gathered that supports your analysis and assumptions.
State the task to be accomplished (sometimes the reason or
Step 4 Options (150 words)
purpose for accomplishing it) or the goal or destination to be
reached and why. “This is where we are headed.”
Goals provide focus. Useful goals are understandable, achiev-
able, brief, positive, and time and deadline sensitive.
Provide at least three response options to address the situation
as presented and analyzed. Option one is to do nothing (the 0
percent solution); option two is to do something (the 100 percent
solution); and option three is to do something more (the 125 percent solution). Providing multiple options is what will keep you at
the table and avoids the high-risk strategy of making a single recommendation, which can be torpedoed by a single question. We’ll
discuss the nature of these options just a bit later in this chapter.
Step 5 Recommendation ( 60 words)
Be prepared to make a specific choice among the options you
presented. You will usually make your recommendation on the
basis of which option will cause the fewest unintended negative
consequences. This is where you earn your paycheck.
Many times I have heard advisors offer reasonable options, but
when the boss ultimately asks the question — “What is the first
thing I should do?” “What are the next steps?” or “Of the three
recommendations, which would you choose and why?” — far too
often the response from the proposer is, “Gee, boss, that’s a good
question, and I need to think about that,” putting an end to the
advisor’s usefulness in the discussion, at least in this round, and
undercutting other advice as well.
Being ready with a recommendation and supporting information every time is your passport to the inner circle.
Step 6 Justification ( 60 words)
Every management decision or action has intended and unintended consequences that can be forecast. Inadequate provision for
consequences is what can sometimes sabotage an otherwise useful
strategy. As I mentioned in step 5, when I think of consequences
and strategies, I generally try to identify the solution option with
the fewest negative intended or unintended consequences.