5 Ways Credibility Comes with Communication
Every consultant has heard it: “But, I have told them exactly the same thing you did and they never did anything about it.” It is so common that I often warn my clients what will happen before we even meet with decision-makers. There are two reasons for this phenomenon. The first you can do nothing about. The second, done well, may work so well that it precludes the need for the first.
The first reason that stakeholders listen to consultants is simple. They are paying money for the answer. This means the answer should have enough value to keep their attention. This is true anytime you pay someone for advice, guidance or expertise. Free carries limited value and garners attention only if it is truly compelling. Expensive means some people may listen when they otherwise wouldn’t.
The second reason can be so effective that it can make the first unnecessary. Credibility is a direct result of communication. In this case, who, what and when are nice, but not that important. The critical questions that must be answered for compensation credulity are HOW and WHY. If you proactively answer these well enough, consultants will often be a “nice to have”, rather than a “must have.”
What compensation professionals do is both dangerously simple and deceptively complex. To the untrained eye it can look like a lot of busy works, followed by a load of hooey. Matching to market data generally seems either random or restrictive, depending on the communicator. Pay levels seem amazingly specific and scientific may be thrown out the window when challenged. Incentive plans seldom have back-testing to show the actual impact of past programs. Incentive plans also suffer from compensation professionals following “best practices” without knowing fully how and why the practices are “best.” Often, they aren’t best, they are just what everyone else does.
What can you do to increase credibility?
1. Make sure you understand the how and why and explain them before people ask. It may be as simple as a footnote on a slide, or a statement at the beginning of your presentation.
2. Be confident enough to admit what you don’t know. It’s going to be found out anyway. If you had to invent a number, say so. If you need someone in finance or sales to explain something, ask quickly and with no embarrassment. It’s better to look uninformed for a minute than forever.
3. Do not be hyperbolic. Very few things in our industry are business-ending. Very few programs can, by themselves, turn around a department or company. You will not be “unable to hire anyone” if you don’t get a bigger budget.
4. Avoid saying “the fact is” or “in all honesty”. You are simply implying that everything else you said may not have been facts or honest.
5. Provide an appendix, or even offer a training, explaining the process you used to come to your conclusions. This is often the biggest piece of a consultant’s recommendation. Playing offense with this is critical in coming across as the expert on a topic.
One of the most frustrating aspects of any job is feeling like people aren’t listening. Few industries rely more heavily on outside consultants to explain things that internal experts already know. Just a slight change in your communication can transform you into the consultant your leaders have always been looking for. (Then ask for that consultant budget to be used for a staff party and make some coworkers happy.)