Positioning your project as the next logical step, consistent with prior commitments is one of the surest ways to getting your project approved. People have a general desire to be (and more importantly, to appear to be) consistent in their behaviour. This is a well known psychological trigger from behavioural science. But how does consistency get projects approved? Let’s dig in.
######Commitment The first step in the Commitment & Consistency trigger is understanding commitment. Commitment is simply your audience having stated a position or declared their intentions. Getting an executive or a board to state a position isn’t hard. For the most part, they’re full of intentions. The trick, if you can pull it off, is to get whomever will be approving your project to write their position down.
The process of eliciting written commitment is really one of getting a person or group to do the work themselves. If you give them a statement and get them to agree, their inner psychology doesn’t see that as a commitment, but rather an agreement. They can always blame you if something you made them agree to turns out badly. Especially in a group situation, but even with individuals, getting them to write down their position or their intention is very powerful since the words and the commitment are their own.
######Language The other reason that it is important to get those words on paper is to capture the specific language your audience or approver uses to describe their intention. Mirroring back the specific language is key to ensuring, as Robert Cialdini says, the ‘click-whir’ of the consistency behaviour. In your business, “increase customer loyalty”, “member product alignment” or “greater walletshare” might all mean the same thing. But if those that will be approving your project say “greater walletshare” and you sell “increased customer loyalty”, you’ve already lost.
It is also important to listen for the difference between need and want. A project must address a need, but it should also address a want. Knowing the difference allows you to frame your project in such a way as to provide at least one of each. It also strengthens your negotiating position because you can always remove the want if you need to shave your budget.
######Action Spurring someone to action, though, is not just about parroting back their words. While you must understand the initial stated position or intention, and you must use the precise language your approver gave you, in order to get them to take action, what you’re asking for must be consitent with that intention.
Imagine you run a snack bar and one of your customers comes to you saying their New Year’s resolution is to eat more fruit. Asking them to buy a protein smoothy, even if it has 5 servings of fruit, probably won’t work because you’re using the wrong language. Asking them to buy carbonated fruit juice, even though it uses the word fruit won’t work either because it’s not consitent with the intention.
At the outset I promised a simple paragraph that get’s projects approved. In the end, this is about getting your audience nodding along with you long before you make your pitch. The paragraph is a simple one because it primarily uses your audience’s own words to justify your recommendation.
Based on [wherever they wrote down their intention], we understand this committee is accountable to deliver [a list of whatever they wrote down]. This is a [duration of the project] project that is specifically designed to deliver [the needs that they just told you was their intention]. In fact, it is designed to [one or two wants they just told you they wanted].
The key to this paragraph is drawing a straight line from the commitments the approver has made to your project and showing them how soon they can check that box off their “to do” list.
######The Pitch Of course, writing it down doesn’t make it so. You need to sell this proposal to them. We can use another physcological trigger to our advantage here too, Status Quo Bias. In general, we tend not to change an established behaviour (the status quo) unless their is a compelling reason to do so (the bias).
Consequently, in your pitch, the goal is to start with a review of the pre-existing commitments. This involves finding the place where the approver wrote down their commitments and getting them to verbally agree to each one. You do this in the context of a review to ensure that you understood the commitments and that they are still valid. As you go through the list, they get in the habbit of agreeing. It is helpful to do this in a public forum. As they review, they don’t want to be seen as inconsistent with their prior commitment, so they agree to each one. Once they have formed the habit of agreeing, you present The Paragraph which draws a direct line, and ask for one last agreement. Bam! Project approved.
######Extra Credit As an exercise for the reader, I ask you to think about how much work it can be to get the commitment and outcomes documented, in advance, every time you want to get something done. As an extra credit assignment, think about working with your approver without a project in front of them, to establish a well documented future state of success. As part of that future pacing, get them to write down their commitments and intentions, their needs and wants, and the timelines for each. As long as it’s consistent, this will give you an arsenal of material for any project that happens to pop up.