You cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach when presenting a proposal to management because every manager is different. “Persuasion works best when it’s tailored to five distinct decision-making styles.”
In their article, “Change the Way You Persuade” (Harvard Business Review, May 2002), Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller detail the five decision-making styles they uncovered in their research. Williams and Miller conducted a two-year study of the decision-making styles of over 1,600 executives across a variety of industries. They found that managers can be categorized into one of five types of decision-makers:
Williams and Miller recommend specific techniques for presenting your proposal to each of these decision-makers.
At first, charismatics can be enthusiastic about a proposal, but they don’t make decisions based only on their emotions; they make decisions based on a balanced presentation of information. So, resist joining in their enthusiasm. Instead, focus on results, make simple and straightforward arguments, and use visual aids.
Thinkers can be the most difficult type of manager to persuade. They can contradict themselves, leaving you unsure of what they think of your proposal. They like to examine all of the options before making a decision, and they don’t like to take risks. Support your arguments with a lot of information, including market research, customer surveys, case studies, cost-benefit analyses, and so on. Offer your perspectives and explain how you went through the decision-making process. Present any risks up front and give them plenty of time to make a decision.
Skeptics are very apprehensive of information that doesn’t fit with what they already know and believe. They make decisions based on their instincts. They can be seen as aggressive, take-charge people. They like to make groundbreaking decisions, and they make decisions quickly. Make sure you gain credibility with them. If you haven’t already earned their trust, have someone they do trust present the proposal with you.
Followers make decisions based on how they or someone else that they trust has made decisions in the past. They don’t like to take risks. They can make decisions quickly when they see that the proposal can be successful with minimal risk. In your presentation, focus on what others have done before. Provide references and testimonials.
Because controllers don’t like uncertainty, they will focus solely on the facts of a proposal. They want to be able to take ownership of the idea. Make your arguments structured and credible. Offer expert opinions. Don’t be too aggressive in your presentation. Just give them the information they need, and let them make the decision on their own.