Project Management

Why 'What's In It For Me?' Works in Projects

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Categories: Stakeholder


Have you ever wondered why many executives don't turn up for your steering committee meeting and those who do are usually on their smartphones?

Chances are that the only information the executives received about your meeting was the agenda and the briefing notes, which focus on the project's status and technical performance. This is abstract data that takes time to read and understand. As a consequence, it becomes paperwork that is put aside to read later, buried under other paperwork and eventually forgotten.

To be successful in attracting the attention of busy executives, focus on a 30-second 'wake-up call' that will cut through the thousands of other messages circulating in your organization and get the executives attention. You cannot communicate unless you get the other person's attention first; so your 'call' must persuade each member of the committee to be both physically and mentally present for your meeting. Only then will your more complex messages be heard and possibly acted upon.

The solution is 'What's In It For Me' (WIFM).

WIFM appeals directly to the attention and decision-making functions of the human brain. The amygdala, a part of the brain, rules much of our actions and behavior.

The amygdala determines in a fraction of a second what we pay attention to. It will pay no attention at all unless it can immediately see WIFM. To cut through each executive's communication overload, your 30-second 'wake-up call' needs to be direct and simple and appeal to the person's emotions. Pleasure and fear are equally effective emotions, so the call should worry the executive--or make him or her feel good. It should not focus on a third party, such as you or your project.

The amygdala is expert at screening everything that doesn't directly interest it, including things that are abstract, complex or about someone else. Uninteresting or confusing messages are rejected in the blink of an eye, before the rational and analytical areas of the brain have a chance to begin the thinking process.

Only after you have gained the executive's attention can you engage with the person and deal with the substance of the meeting. Strong messages start this process, but the real work of the meeting will require the use of more highly crafted forms of communication built around the concept of effectively 'advising upwards.'

Ask yourself: 'Are we getting the attention of those most important to us?' If you are getting attention, are you keeping it and building it? And if you don't know, what can you do to find out?
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: September 27, 2012 12:04 PM | Permalink

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