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.

5 thoughts on “Resource Allocation: Race or Rate?

  1. Thanks for posting this. It’s great to learn more about that mindset. I could imagine my competitive nature taking over and actually wanting to race. In learning about the conceptual model for executives you work with, do you think that if they perceive it as a race they’re more likely to approve the extra resources?

    I noticed that when you mentioned “the competition is getting better faster…” and to me that gets me into a “let’s race!” mindset.

    Do you think it’s easy to stay in a “rate” paradigm or do you find yourself switching into “race” mode in this situation?

  2. > do you think that if they perceive it as a race they’re more likely to approve the extra resources?

    > Do you think it’s easy to stay in a “rate” paradigm or do you find yourself switching into “race” mode in this situation?
    In a large established corporation, most things are managed under the “rate” model.


  3. Must you understand the person well before applying this logic? Or is there a practical model based on the individuals role? If so, are there exceptions?

  4. The heart of it is understanding your audience and crafting your message accordingly.
    What I often find is that someone’s hair is on fire about some particular issue. If what you are talking to them about does not look like a bucket of water, then they are not going to hear it. So you want to find out what matters to someone and then speak to how your topic can help them with their issue.

  5. Hello Jeffery,

    Great to see another post from you after a while and love how you described the communication gap.

    What people often try not only in business world but also life is pushing their own “stuffs” raw and expect the receiving end to process and then react. It’s much less efficient in driving behavior change and decision making using this model. (Imagine what Gordon Ramsay would say about raw. 🙂 )

    By understanding the receiving end and crafting proper message, one is actually helping the receiving side pre-process the facts and thus increasing the possibility of the message being post-processed and then reacted with the desired result.

    I highly recommend reading Guiguzi. The book discusses philosophies and techniques of human interaction based in Daoist thinking which is still practical in today’s world.



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