The Power Of Persuasive Communication
Leading Tax Advice
Call Nicholas Kilpatrick
He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks
-Sun Tzu’s 3rd essential for victory
Corporate North America is careful when implementing strategies and projects to again establish previous levels of market share, profitability, share price, and future prospects, both domestically and around the world. The road back to economic recovery for businesses continues to require adherence to budgets and a fortified resistance to unnecessary corporate spending.
Those marshaling the resolve are company executives charged with guiding the corporations under their direction back to previous levels of growth and prosperity, and in their wakes tow North America back to economic prominence. Whether or not we agree that global economic influence is a status currently unoccupied and available, the actions of North America’s political and corporate leaders validate their belief that it most definitely is and was never theirs to relinquish
It’s not surprising to surmise, then, that, when firmly established at the executive suite level, top level managers must not only undertake steps to win market share and increase overall profitability now, but they must also (as the artist first constructs the underlying foundation upon which to paint his masterpiece) assemble a productivity template, or self-generating machine that sustains new ideas and inventions, new ways of providing in-demand services, and new products and/or services which can benefit their customers. In effect – to use a sports metaphor – the CEO is coaching an ongoing dynasty, yet here the intent is to tack and jibe strategically and positionally to continuously maintain corporate advantage.
In effect, they need to simultaneously maximize present profitability levels while ascertain corporate requirements to sustain that profitability 5 to possibly 10 years down the road. Such a task is not easy to do. Corporate leaders are responsible for championing future strategic imperatives to ensure that the corporation and its stakeholders are consistently able to at least maintain and preferably advance its position in its respective industry.
The skill sets of successful CEO’s include ratios of intelligence, diplomacy, patience, and risk aversion all at the same time, with the ability to compensate for changes in the ratio on any given day given prevalent circumstances.
History shows us, however, that talent, great ideas, and market opportunity alone don’t result in sustainable success over long periods of time. Although operating at peak efficiency levels across functional areas such as marketing, R&D, production, and IT can be a strong predictor of corporate success, corporations that enjoy sustainable industry-leading profitability and market-share levels seem to have an overriding element that propels them above the competitive cloud of their counterparts.
As though a cohesive gel that mobilizes and galvanizes all resources of the company towards an effective implementation of the strategic agenda, those that Jim Collins describes in his book “Built To Last” as Visionary Companies are recognized as award-winning enterprises, where top North American and International talent consistently strive to secure employment and exercise their intellect and skills.
In so doing, as these top-tier corporations align their talent pools with carefully-planned and future-oriented strategic plans, their leaders then coagulate the component parts with the secret sauce that ultimately produces the market-leading, profit-generating and sustainable enterprise that attracted the talent there in the first place. All this serves to facilitate the self-generating machine that the Visionary CEO first saw in his/her mind. The production of this machine – or template - is what greater leaders are known for.
What is the glue that binds the best to produce corporate results superior to the rest in the industry? Collins and Jay A. Conger, currently the Henry R. Kravis Research Chair in Leadership Studies at Claremont McKenna College in California and a visiting professor at London Business School, point to the art of the Mission and to Persuasion of their leaders as the defining element that elevates corporations to success. True corporate leadership demands priority to these characteristics because time and time again the practice of them predicates above average growth and success, whereas inattentiveness can lead to obscurity.
The Components of Effective Persuasion
As we know, leaders must be effective communicators. This talent is especially required during times of uncertainty; the good times require a disciplined approach to maintaining a successful strategy or gradually maneuvering to a scalable, previously planned one that facilitates newly won economies of scale. However, at no point is there more need for solid, persuasive leadership than during uncertain times.
- Implementing A Vision
To be true persuaders in this corporate era, we believe leaders need to have a vision that complements an altruistic ethic. Followers usually want to be led by someone who consistently does the right and equitable thing. Generally (though not exhaustibly true) they themselves may not consistently practice these commendable traits, but they recognize and appreciate being the recipients of admirable leadership.
In presenting the ethos, or fundamental culture, that William Hewlett and David Packard strived to build their company on, Collins describes a meeting of HP management prospects that Packard spoke at on March 8, 1960 to kick off the company’s internal management program – itself a pursuit to develop highly competent, homegrown managerial talent:
“I want to discuss why [emphasis his] a company exists in the first place. In other words, why are we here? I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being. As we investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that a group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately – they make a contribution to society.
You can look around [in the general business world] and still see people who are interested in money and nothing else, but the underlying drives come largely from a desire to do something else – to make a product – to give a service – generally to do something of value. So with that in mind, let us discuss why the Hewlett-Packard Company exists… The real reason for our existence is that we provide something which is unique, and that makes a contribution.”
What many who have studied Hewlett and Packard’s leadership traits come to realize is that, in all that they did while building their company, they endeavored to institutionalize the view that people came together for a purpose which would galvanize their talents for a common good, of which they could all be collectively proud. Packard knew that a byproduct of this culture would be money, as his words to John Young (HP chief executive from 1976 to 1992) attest:
“If we provide real satisfaction to real customers – we will be profitable”
To emphasize the benefits galvanizing and implementing a vision has on a company, Collins compares the culture of HP to that of Texas Instruments, where research revealed that there was no statement or document that could be used to argue that Texas Instruments existed for reasons beyond making money. TI appeared to define itself exclusively in terms of size, growth, and profitability. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, co-executives Mark Shepard and Fred Bucy instituted a top-down autocratic approach that obliterated TI’s entrepreneurial culture through fear and intimidation, leading to many future years of mediocre profits and reduced market share, while HP continued to be widely admired and highly profitable.
Rather than the old days of command-and-control, persuasion in today’s corporate environment has a collaborative and communal focus. According to Conger, effective persuasion is a negotiating and learning process through which a persuader leads colleagues to a problem’s shared solution. It involves careful preparation, the proper framing of arguments, and the sincere presentation and application of on-going support.
Persuasion is a difficult and time-consuming proposition; the leader needs to establish credibility, champion the benefits of a line of action, and rally members of the team to realize the end result – consistently through actions, tone and demeanor.
If the integral components of the art of successful persuasion include utilizing phases of discovery, preparation and dialogue with employees of the organization, then the intended results of that collaboration are a team that is informed, allied with, and proactively engaged towards the implementation of corporate goals and the benefits derived from the realization of them.
Lawrence Bossidy, CEO of AlliedSignal Corporation (later Honeywell Corporation) from 1991-1999, was once quoted as saying:
“…Today you have to appeal to them (employees) by helping them see how they can get from here to there, by establishing some credibility, and by giving them some reason to help you get there. Do all those things, and they’ll knock down doors”
Ethics and Consistency
The power of applying ethics in the leadership role and being seen as consistent while carrying out that role is usually regarded synonymously with expertise in that role. Robert B. Cialdini explains in his essay, Harnessing the Science of Persuasion” that, invariably, people defer to experts. Research has shown that a single expert-opinion news story in the New York Times is associated with a 2% shift in public opinion across America.
Subject matter alone, however, does not make an expert - history is littered with stories confirming this. A knowledge base in a certain area, if to be harnessed for the greater good in a corporate context, needs to be accompanied by a desire to leverage it to establish a culture similar to that championed by Hewlett and Packard.
Only then will the expert traits of the leader positively mix with his/her ethic and credibility to assemble in the minds of the employees a desire to follow his/her lead.
- Praise And Support
Whoever dismisses as cliché the message that people appreciate praise for their work and the opportunity to openly discuss their likes and dislikes with the leader in a sincere manner to make things better has never led people and been responsible for getting them to march to the same drum to reach a goal. People naturally repay in kind – in a corporate world where advancement for many is pursued with disregard to ethics and void of respect for others, people – even those who may practice the prevailing “me first” attitude – invariably straighten up and take notice of acts and events of kindness. To those upon whom you bestow kindness yet who cease to take note, continuing on their selfish pursuits – their day will come!
People who receive gifts from you, and know that the intent in giving was sincere, naturally work harder for you and aspire to reciprocate your kindness. These people – the ones who reciprocate – are indicative of the types of employees who best are able to help realize corporate goals.
Just as important is how the actions of praise, support, ethics and consistency are naturally symptomatic of the leadership style espoused by Hewlett and Packard. Leaders aspiring to growth rates and approval ratings similar to that of Hewlett and Packard, who desire to cultivate their employees and create an incredible organization that preaches a message of making a contribution, are those who consistently practice the art of persuasion in the context of guiding their people to a common purpose and goal.
Nicholas Kilpatrick is a partner at the accounting firm of Burgess Kilpatrick. He leads the firm’s consulting and strategy practice and works with companies to enhance their Analytics, Forecasting , and Data Optimization functions. The practice’s focus includes quantitative forecasting, corporate and unit strategy and planning. Please visit our website at www.burgesskilpatrick.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Burgess Kilpatrick for more information on our firm.
 Collins, Jim and Porras, Jerry I., Built To Last – Successful Habits Of Visionary Companies, HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, pp. XVff
 Ibid, p56.
 Ibid, p57.
 Ibid, p57.
 Conger, Jay A., The Necessary Art Of Persuasion, Harvard Business Review, Harvard University Press, May 1998, p.68ff
 Cialdidi, Robert B., Harnessing the Science Of Persuasion, Harvard Business Review, Harvard University Press, September 2001, pp. 36-37