Approval or denial of proposals or requests can have impact beyond the disposition of the issue at hand. It also has political impact. It can make or break a career, render other projects moot, or doom or create whole lines of business. Since so much can be at stake, approval seekers have an incentive to use all manner of techniques to enhance approval rates. Sometimes these techniques become habitual — they use them whether the stakes are high or low.
Approvers and recommenders would do well to recognize these techniques. When they do, they can be more alert to them, and better maintain objectivity. In a politically healthy culture, recommendations of the sophisticated approver are more likely to be based on the merits; in an unhealthy culture, sophisticated approvers are less likely to commit political blunders.
Here are some of the tactics of approval seekers.
- Misrepresenting an approval deadline or the narrowness of a "window of opportunity"
- When done to create a sense of urgency, this tactic helps them jump the priority queue. But it's also a way to claim resources before other projects are considered, or to reduce the time available for judicious consideration.
- Hiding among sheep
- Grouping the request with non-controversial requests might make it look more innocent or less risky than it actually is.
- Using misleading competitive intelligence
- Exaggerating the validity or content of competitive intelligence is especially effective when the approver is fearful about the competitive position of the organization.
- Appeals to personal interest
- Appealing to the approver's personal interest often helps, despite the obvious implications about the approver's corruptibility. These appeals include implying that the proposal was the approver's idea, or that it was motivated by the approver's vision, or suggesting that it will help accomplish a political goal of the approver.
- Overvaluing contributions to or synergy with other pet projects
- This is another form of appeal to personal interest, but it enables the seeker to appeal (unreasonably) to the personal interest of political allies of the approver. Analogous attributes of alternative investments might also be misrepresented negatively.
- Competitive champion character assassination
- Underestimation and
probably the leading
causes of budget
and schedule overruns
- When the integrity or performance of the champion of a competitive investment opportunity is suddenly called into question, it's indeed possible that misdeeds are afoot. However, the misdeeds might not be those alleged by the approval seeker; rather, in an ironic twist, they might be the allegations of the approval seeker.
- Misrepresenting costs or time required
- Underestimation and misrepresentation are probably the leading causes of budget and schedule overruns. Comments about costs and time required for alternative investments might also be misrepresentations. Subject all claims and estimates to close scrutiny.
- Misrepresenting risks
- Risks of the proposed effort, when misrepresented, are usually underestimated or omitted. But when the proposal includes analysis of alternative investments, risks of those alternatives can be exaggerated.
Sometimes I fear that articles like this serve as handbooks for people with dark motives. But I hope that shining light in dark corners makes the world a brighter place. My hopes conquer my fears. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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