Keys to Writing Powerful Recommendations
By Michael Wilkinson
Whether you are an internal or external consultant, a manager or an individual contributor, most of us have ideas that we would like the client or our superiors to implement. However, all too often our ideas fall on deaf ears.
“Thanks for the input. We will make sure we considerate it.”
When your client or boss makes a statement like this, you can faintly hear the crumbling sound as you imagine the paper on which your idea is written being balled up and tossed into the waste basket! This is not the statement made by someone who understands the full brilliance of your idea and the key benefits it can bring forth. What you are looking for is something closer to the following.
“Wow! What a great idea. This can really make a difference. Let me see how we can get this implemented right away.”
When you get that kind of reaction to your idea, you get that inner glow of affirmation that finally someone around here is getting it. So what’s your role in making sure they “get it”? How do you create recommendations that more often than not yield the second response rather the first?
In our course, The Facilitative Consultant, we propose a recommendation format that we believe increases buy-in. Take a look at the example that follows.
Format for Recommendations from The Effective Consultant
Our quarterly advertising expenditures averaged $30,000. Yet, over 50% of the positions advertised in the paper were filled by in-house people.
The policy requiring that positions be posted in-house and advertised in the newspaper simultaneously is resulting in wasted dollars.
Change the policy to require outside advertising only if the position is not filled within 45 days by a qualified in-house person. This recommendation requires 4 internal hours of research and policy development and 0 out-of-pocket costs.
Based on data from the past six months, changing this policy should result in a 30-35% reduction in advertising, a savings of approximately $9,000 per quarter.
For positions in which there are no qualified in-house applicants, the recommendation could increase time to hire if in-house posting is first chosen.
Each component of this recommendation format serves a specific purpose.
- Finding: FACT-BASED observation about the environment
- Conclusion: IMPACT of the observation on the organization
- Recommendation: Specific ACTIVITY to address the impact, with anticipated internal and external costs
- Benefit: QUANTIFIED advantage to the organization of implementing the recommendation
- Risk: The POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE to the recommendation
We find that recommendations in this format provide a winning formula that increases your chances of acceptance. Why? Because the format forces you as the recommender to explain what you want to do (recommendation), why it needs to happen based on factual information (finding and conclusion), the impact of implementing the recommendation (benefit) and the downside risk associated with it (risk).
By the way, the order in which you give these five components is important based on your audience.
- For example, for executive audiences it is typically best to start with the recommendation. They want you to get straight to the point.
- For engineering, scientist and others into the details, starting with the finding is often better. It helps them create the basis for your recommendation.
- For those who prefer talking things through, which is frequently the case with sales and marketing organizations, you will likely want to keep the details to the minimum. Consider starting with the conclusion or focusing on the benefit to be achieved.
You can learn more powerful consulting approaches through our course, The Facilitative Consultant.
Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company and author of The Secrets of Facilitation and The Secrets to Masterful Meetings. He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a much sought after leadership trainer and facilitator.