You Can’t Tell the Program Without The Players (Issue 846)

In which we are reminded to look beyond peoples’ titles and labels to understand  the dynamics of the individuals and organizations we want to influence or sell to.

“Some people are fanatics about baseball.  They follow a particular team or division. They know about the players and their performance and how they are working together as a team.”

I was driving with a friend toward Mary’s Lake in Estes Park, CO, looking forward to a walk around the lake and lunch after the walk. He was talking about his driving passion in life, the Supreme Court of the United States.

“Well, I could care less about baseball. I follow the Supreme Court. Just like in baseball or any other sport, where you can’t understand what’s going on without understanding the individual players and how they interact – the dynamics of the team, you can’t understand the Supreme Court unless you understand those things: Who’s on the Court? What are their personalities and points of view? How do their personal histories affect their application of law and precedent to particular cases? How do they work with and influence each other?”

The same is true when we’re seeking to influence or develop projects with any organization.

Yes, we should ask for information about organization and personal goals; review organization charts to understand “formal” relationships between individuals and groups; and understand who may be “economic buyers” or “user buyers” or “influencers”.  All of this is important and amounts to little more than applying labels like “Liberal” or “Conservative” to the Supreme Court Justices. Helpful but not reliably predictive.

In addition to the labels, it’s helpful to understand the key players’ histories, personalities, and points of view.  How do the key players’ personal histories inside and outside the organization affect their interpretation of organization strategy and objectives and their decisions?  How do they work with and influence each other?

We can begin with questions like, “Tell me about Mary’s role. What are her unit’s goals?  What resources does she manage?”

We might then ask questions like, “What is Mary’s history in the organization?   What experiences has she had?  How do those experiences influence her priorities and decisions?   How do she and Bob and Pat and Phil work together to make decisions or resolve differences?”

Answers to these questions are helpful AND more reliably predictive, thus helping us plan our influencing and selling strategies.

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