Resource Allocation: Race or Rate?

I was recently in a review with a team that was asking for additional resources. I strongly agreed that this team needed more resources but when I listened the case they made, I was not convinced. I thought I would share with you the coaching that I gave them.

Successful communications is all about what is heard, not what is said.  In order for the message you want to send to be heard correctly, you need to speak into someone’s listening. That is to say, the conceptual model that people have in their head is what defines what they are able to hear. You need to understand someone’s conceptual model and craft your communication accordingly. If you make case for additional resources that does not fit an executives conceptual model, they won’t hear your argument and you won’t succeed.

How do executives think about resource allocation?

Good executives think about resource allocation as Race or Rate?.  For any project, you are either in a race or your are making progress at a rate.  In a race, there is typically a time period where at the end, there is a winner and a loser.  When an executive decides that they are in a race, they allocate whatever resources are required to win.  You encounter few true races.  Most projects fall into the rate category – you are working towards a set of objectives and making progress at a particular rate. For the vast majority of projects, the only question is whether the rate of progress is appropriate.

The project under review had done a good job year after year and now were asking for additional resources.  It was clear that this would not get funded because they were not in a race and they did not make the case for why the rate of progress needed to be accelerated.

Now that they understand how executives think about resource allocation (Race or Rate?), they are getting crisp about their argument. When I drilled into their case, what they were really saying was while the rate of progress has been good, the competition is getting better faster than we are. Success is not assured. They need to gather the data to support their hypothesis but they are now on the path to make an argument that executives will hear and understand.

If you want to have effective communications, understand the conceptual model of the person you are communicating with and craft your argument so that you speak into their listening.