How to Recruit an Internal Ally
When you’re collecting information for a proposal, the person with the power to approve the project is generally not yet in the picture. At this early stage, taking the time to forge solid relationships with the non-decision-makers will pay off handsomely later in the game.
In the commercial setting, for example, you’ll probably do the initial building walk-through with the chief engineer. You want this chief engineer to step into the role of internal champion when it comes time to present your proposal to the ultimate decision-maker. So how do you recruit this non-decision-maker to join your team? Help him out. Make him look good in front of his boss.
At my previous company, we did hundreds of large building audits. The first thing our energy engineer did was go to the chief engineer of the building and have a heart-to-heart chat.
“Listen, you live in this building. We’re here for one day. We’re going to rely heavily on your expertise about how this building could be made to run better. If you have any projects that you have proposed that have not been taken seriously by management, we can be your voice to get those initiatives taken more seriously. If you share with us every proposal you’ve made that’s been summarily dismissed, and any other things that you think that this building could do to improve its operational efficiency, we promise to evaluate your input carefully and feature it prominently in our report as appropriate.”
Keeping our promise, on the first page of the report we would say, “We would first like to thank our colleague, Bill Johnson for spending the time to share with us measures 5, 6, and 17…etc.”
People dedicate their books to their kids and dogs. There’s no reason not to dedicate a report to the chief engineer who walked you through the building for a day and told you where all the skeletons were buried, which ultimately allowed you to craft a more impactful proposal.
When you do this with sincerity and grace, you’ll make a friend. That chief engineer will look great if a highly praised consultant from out of town tells his boss that he was right all along. He now has a vested interest in making you look good. If he doesn’t, he’s essentially devaluing the opinion of the person who just praised him!
Protect the ego of the professional who runs the building, and he will in turn protect you and help your proposal cross the finish line.
There is one important caveat to using this approach. If it becomes apparent that the chief is incompetent, considered the “village idiot” by others in his organization, or worse yet both, aligning yourself with his interests would not be a good idea.
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