[Life Back West] September 2012 – “Hey!”

Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del...

Hey”, she said as we spotted each other at the fundraiser at the swanky house in Sea Cliff. “I heard you had the conversation.

She was a parent who had preceded me as a trustee on a kid-centric organization; now I served on a different board with her husband. We had never overlapped but her reputation as a wise person – and a great board member – lasted long after her departure.

“What conversation?” I asked.

The one about diversity,” she responded. “No one dared bring it up when I was on the board.”

While the subject of that conversation was diversity, it could have easily have been any number of topics that people on leadership teams, boards of directors, and even households like yours and mine tiptoe around and resist surfacing because land mines seem to wait: things like is it time to abandon a losing legacy business rather than pump more money into it, time to take an organization’s CEO out because they are long past effective, or even time to move a family member to an assisted care facility?

Dan Pink’s new book “To Sell is Human” has some great research on the need for all of us – not just sales people – to motivate, move, shape and pitch things ranging from funding to ideas to getting people to go from point A to point B. The work shows just how to approach it in ways that work for today’s world, not yesterday’s, when selling something was part of someone else’s job.

Pink’s short video-ettes6 Successors to the Elevator Pitch – give brief outline of approaches that work and why.

The conversation my fundraiser party friend alluded to was notable not just because it happened (though it had been ducked for years), but because it was framed by the change agents on the board in a way that moved the organization forward.

By asking the right question – Can we have diversity where the schedule and support programs are geared to families with a stay-at-home parent (or nanny) who can fill in the many gaps when the program is not in session? – was to make the choice simple and distinct. They could have the diversity it said it wanted – including families with two working parents and single parents – but programs, including some systems and structures would need to change.

No change meant no diversity.

The tough part was that some people really relished the status quo; the challenge in framing the question was to show that the status quo was at odds with aspirations.

Framing the issue, as Pink notes with his example of Ronald Reagan’s classic election campaign line “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” is a way to distill a clear choice that moves people if the “better” option is to make a change.

The kid-centric organization made those changes after a terse, heartfelt, and tough board conversation. Today by most measures – attractiveness judged by a long waiting list, level of fundraising, the increased diversity of families, and a extremely high acceptance rate of offers by applicants – the organization is stronger than ever.

Dan Pink is right that we’re all born to sell. Many times it just takes the right set of facts, a method to pique curiosity, or a way to properly frame the challenge.

Good luck selling!

 Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.

Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del Cielo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



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