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Do your homework with presentations

Managers at Work:
Do your homework with presentations

Well, you’re caught up in a typical middle-management dilemma. On one hand, you want to reward the staffers who have taken the initiative to come up with a creative solution to a long-term problem. But on the other, you know it will be tough to sell.
But does tough mean impossible? Probably not, says Glenn MacDonald, professor of economics and management at University of Rochester’s William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration. Too many managers are inclined “to throw up their hands” instead of putting their computers to work and doing the quantitative research it takes to put together a compelling proposal. “We find that managers don’t do a very good job bringing to bear all their experience to construct a believable case,” he says.
As you build your proposal, you will need to conduct a thorough analysis of the problem and your proposed solution, he says. Take a hard look at the costs on both sides. Can you quantify how much the problem is costing the company and your department? Would this solution only apply to this customer? What are the benefits to other customers?
And you can’t ignore the big picture. Make sure your proposal will really increase value, MacDonald says. If all it does is increase your department’s contribution to the company, that won’t be enough to convince senior management.
MacDonald suggests asking yourself, “All things considered, is the company better off by doing this? And if other parties in the company will be adversely affected by this solution, how are they going to be compensated?”
In your presentation, the logic should be “worked out well,” the numbers should be relevant and the strategy clear. “You need to boil it down to its essentials, show a believable, fact-based quantification and go from there,” MacDonald says.
Your analysis also should include a proper evaluation and quantification of the risks. If your new customer-service strategy does not meet your expectations, what’s the worst possible scenario? And then, what’s the best? And what’s the most plausible scenario?
Researching and quantifying every piece of your proposal might help boost your team’s confidence level in selling this to senior management. In a situation where an investment of capital is required, senior management has to be convinced that the rate of return on that investment will be “suitably high,” MacDonald says. “If senior management doesn’t buy in, that probably means that you haven’t produced a good enough case.”
Whether senior management ultimately approves the proposal or not, you will help your employees cope with the outcome if you’re honest with them, says Paul Kazmierski, an industrial psychologist who works with Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and other companies. “Don’t keep things under the table. Honesty wins trust,” he says.
That means being honest with your feedback on their work in drafting the proposal and doing your best to convince the senior managers about its merits, even if you still have a few doubts about whether they will accept it.
You will have an advantage in all this if you have already clarified your role with senior management. Those who do the best in middle management, Kazmierski says, are able to balance the needs of subordinates and upper management. In an ideal situation, you would be able to present this proposal as a spokes- person for your team and, at the same time, present senior management’s concerns to the team.
In many companies, however, middle managers don’t work on a two-way street. Sometimes they are not rewarded for representing the interests of the workers, Kazmierski says. That results in lots of stress for middle managers.
It is important for middle managers to clarify these expectations up front and, if possible, on an annual basis as part of a strategic-planning process, he adds. It helps if you consider all the details.
Says Kazmierski: “How information is presented and received should be laid out ahead of time.”
(Managers at Work is a bimonthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at 249-9242 or by e-mail at kadriscoll@aol.com.)

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