Getting Started, Part Three
Here is a great starting question for you before you start writing: So what exactly is your purpose in doing the A3? Obviously you want to use the A3 to get acceptance and support for what you propose. The real question is: how are you going to use the A3 to get agreement to proceed? Are you going to use the A3 as a “business case” to “sell” your idea, or as the “story” of a problem situation and what might be done about it to “engage” others in thinking with you about the possible courses of action?
The distinction between selling and engaging is critical because it sets the tone for how you present information to your audience. Are you telling them what needs to be done or showing them what’s going on so they get reach their own conclusions about what would be best to do? The approach you take in your A3 will have a big influence on how they respond. If you tell them what needs to be done they are likely to push back with what they know and think. If you focus on showing them what’s going on and its implications they are more likely to share what they know that you don’t and join you in trying to figure out the best thing to do.
With that distinction in approaches in mind let’s move on another fundamental question I posed in the last column: Who is the audience for your A3 and what do you know about them?
Asking who is in your audience opens up two important considerations. First, what do you know about the people in your audience and what they know about the situation you want to address? And second, what exactly do you need from the people your communication needs to target?
Let’s begin with the second consideration since answering it will help you answer the first. The important thing is to recognize is that the people who will be reading your A3 don’t have an equal stake in the situation you describe. It is helpful to think of them in terms of three groups:
- Those who have to agree to or approve the changes you propose or you cannot proceed.
- Those who cannot stop but can resist your changes and thus need to accept them so you can proceed without interference.
- Those who just need to know what’s going on so they aren’t caught by surprise and raise concerns out of reflex.
The basic principle of effective communication here is simply this: it is essential that you have specific people in mind as you are creating your A3 and make sure you provide the information and address the concerns that are important to them to help you get their agreement and support. You can’t be effective talking to yourself in an A3.
Remembering that you will be speaking to specific people and not just a general audience leads to wanting to know two key things about those people: what do they know and believe about the situation and what is their stake in the situation and the way things are now?
If the people in your audience need to approve, accept or agree to the changes you propose that means they likely have both a perspective on it and a stake in it. (If you are advocating for countermeasures or improvements then you are proposing changes in the situation, not just suggesting “good” ideas.) They have their own information about the situation (a lot of which you don’t have) and their own ideas, beliefs and assumptions about the way things are and the way things need to be. If your grasp of the situation does not acknowledge their perspectives or if you challenge their beliefs about what needs to be done you are likely to provoke resistance and shut off their ability to hear to the logic of your story.
What is the path that will get least resistance? It is ultimately the path that says your grasp of the situation and story for change are not complete and you are open to information others have that you don’t and ideas and perspectives that you haven’t considered. It is the path that uses your A3 story to engage others in thinking with you rather than arguing for what you think needs to be done.
How do you avoid provoking others to protect what they know and value? You might ask and seek their help with a few basic questions:
- How does their view of the situation align, or not, with yours?
- What is their perspective based on what they know that you don’t?
- What are they responsible for in the situation that your changes or improvements will affect?
- What are they trying to get done and how does it align, or not, with what you are trying to achieve?
The fact that you are seeking their input with these questions can help reduce negative reaction to your proposal.
People don’t expect everything to go their way but they do like to be heard and considered. Preparing the ground for an A3 is a matter of seeking the path of least resistance. You cannot know where that path lies unless you are aware of what others in the situation know, think, value and want.