Has this ever happened to you? After a series of meetings with the big organization, suddenly there’s a new person in the room, they monopolize the meeting, and set the progress back to square one. “I’m not convinced we should do this!” they say and then spend the rest of the meeting trying to shoot down the proposal. Translation? They were unprepared for the meeting and are using this tactic as a smokescreen.
Or after a year’s worth of back and forth with the group you have been working with, you finally get to a new group who will be actually using your solution. Guess what? They are unprepared. They don’t even know who you are or why they are having the meeting. For them, it’s start-all-over-again time. They haven’t been thoroughly briefed by their bosses on the history, the reason, or the authorization to proceed. Or worse, they were briefed, but didn’t read it! Why? They are overloaded and projects can easily fall through the cracks. Communication tends to be minimal and last minute.
Entrepreneurs must be “hustlative.” They must be thoroughly briefed. They must keep a consistent and comprehensive view. And they must stay focused. Their income depends on it because their future is not guaranteed. Entrepreneurs must see the big picture to succeed. They need to know the whens and whys.
Many employees working for big organizations chose to do so for financial security. They are working under much less pressure so don’t expect the word “urgency” to be in their vocabulary. They get paid whether your project goes through or not. That is, unless they lose their job! So, is it any wonder that for them Job Security is Job #1? Any perceived threat must be attacked. Any implication that they are not performing must be squashed. Hence, politics! It’s just the nature of the beast.
Interestingly, there’s a big support group for this kind of thinking that starts with the division of labor and professional specialty associations and ends with inter-organizational comparative salaries.
Big organization employees often specialize in only one area of the job and may see everything myopically through that lens. Their big concern is, “Will this make my job easier?” and not necessarily, “How will this improve the bottom line of the company?” Specialty work tends to isolate and insulate employees from the sales process.
Also consider the fact that the employee may be just putting in their time at the big organization just to get the experience on their resume so they can move on with their career. Or the organization may suddenly move the employee to another position within the organization. And where does that leave you, the entrepreneur dependent on the big organization’s blessing? That’s right – start all over, even if you have already been at it for a year. There’s typically no urgency or continuity on the other guys’ part.
This same type of corporate blockage can occur in many guises, but the bottom line is that you, as the entrepreneurial outsider trying to get something done at the large organization, have to be proactive, even to the point of redundancy when it comes to background briefing. And you must do it in advance of every meeting.
While building a major brand, we constantly had to work with many large and lethargic organizations. Some were governmental and some were large corporations. There were too many times when we had to do the other guy’s job, being careful not to tick them off, thank them profusely, and then recommend them to their boss. Seem crazy? It’s all about getting the job done.
Here’s our prescription to help you get through corporate blockage:
- Once you have authority to pursue a solution and have been handed off to the first executive, confirm in writing that you have in fact been given permission to proceed. Explain again why you are presenting this solution, how it affects the bottom line, and the date certain that a decision must be reached to maximize the benefits for the organization. This will become important later when the executives play musical chairs.
- Once the executive hands you off to the division chief or manager, thoroughly brief them again in writing before any meetings. Be sure to add the higher-ups to the email string and make it clear that you are not coming in out of the blue. Keep it on the same email string or Google Doc.
- Right after you meet with the division chief, thank them, summarize the action items, and send everyone on the string the next steps and deadline dates.
- Before you meet with the division chief’s selected group, identify everyone who will be in the meeting. Yup, send them the string with the reasons, agenda, and prospective outcomes well in advance and again right before the meeting. At the meeting present the agenda again. Do you best to stay in control and make sure everyone knows why the meeting is being held, is thoroughly briefed, and understands the milestones. Don’t forget to introduce yourself and thank them. Don’t let the meeting be about why you are having the meeting or spend the whole time bringing someone up to date!
- Immediately after the meeting, summarize the meeting with all the action items, deadlines, and don’t forget to thank them again. They will see that their bosses are copied and see you as promoting their jobs, which is ultimately what you have to do to get anything done!
- Repeat steps 2 to 5!
You can throw up your hands and have a good laugh at the Scott Adams’ “Dilbert” comic strip, or you can do something productive to successfully navigate corporate blockage. Remember, you are the outsider. They can easily circle the wagons and stall or kill your project. You are at their mercy. The more you know about their motivations and the more you support them, the better. Show them how your solution will make their job easier (even if it will save their organization millions!). Start from scratch with each new face. Don’t assume that anyone has been adequately briefed. Document everything, stay on the same string, and pray! Corporate blockage (which we sometimes refer to as “corporate constipation” because nothing is moving) will eventually break down and, with persistence, due diligence, and remedial briefings, things can get moving again!
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.
Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at www.consumerbrandbuilders.com.
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