Knocking on Door_VerticalIn my last blog post, I introduced the problem statement framework as a way to help your business partners better understand their business problems and to help you pivot from business analyst as order taker to business analyst as trusted advisor. During a recent class, my students and I had a very animated discussion on an all too familiar challenge for business analysts who use this technique to hone in on the real problem facing your stakeholders. What happens if the stakeholder doesn’t agree with your assessment of the problem?

That is a huge challenge for any consultant and being able to address it is a key ability for a trusted advisor. And it isn’t limited to just your problem analysis. As an advisor, a trusted advisor, you need to be able to stand up to someone and tell them something that he or she doesn’t want to hear.

In some circles this is called speaking truth to power…and it is not an easy thing to do. It isn’t something that I can teach you in a few short paragraphs. But I can provide you with some guidelines to keep in mind when you need to tell your key stakeholder or your executive sponsor that they are wrong.

1. A business analyst should remember about this whole idea of speaking truth to power is that it’s not about you; it’s about your responsibility to your stakeholders to ensure the success of your project or their business. It’s about the facts (and it can be about ideas), but it isn’t about you or about your ideas. Check your ego at the door.

2. “Truth” in this context — in a business context — is a complicated business. We aren’t talking morality or ethics or philosophy here. We are talking about:

  • the facts that you know or evidence that you can provide;
  • your analysis of those facts;
  • the lessons that you’ve learned from your experience;
  • your best judgement as to the the right answer in light of those facts, your analysis and your experience.

Make sure that you have the facts, your analysis and your conclusions at your fingertips. There is no harm in writing them down and bringing the supporting document with you. You can even leave it to support your argument.

3. You need to remember is that there is a time and a place to speak up. Any organization has a structure and a set of morals regarding who can and should approach whom. You need to understand your place in that structure and make sure that you are talking to the appropriate person. Rely on the relationships that you already have and garner support where you can. You might not be able to make your case to the senior leader who has to make the decision but if you can convince the people who respect and trust you then you can rely on their support to make your case.

4. You need to know how to speak up. That means both verbally and in writing. Moving into the role of trusted advisor requires you to develop your skills in giving tough advice and it also requires you to develop your skills in communicating. Remember to focus on the facts and to keep your ego out of it. Be simple and clear. Drop the business jargon in favor of short declarative sentences. The facts support your conclusions and you don’t need to gloss over them.

5. You need to be able to recognize when the argument is over. Once you’ve taken the opportunity to be heard you need to live with the decision that is made. If you keep on fighting, overtly or otherwise, then you will damage your own credibility and make people less likely to ask for your input in the future.

The ability to tell those in leadership roles what they don’t want to hear — to speak truth to power — is a critical skill for anyone who wants to become a trusted business advisor to those leaders. They need to know that you can, and will, tell them when you think they are wrong and that you can support your conclusions. Do it well and they will respect you for it. They will also grow to trust your advice and to trust you.

James Szuch

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