The secret to providing good advice

I love new ideas. The problem can be convincing other people.

Many people working in government, business or charity – experts in their own fields – provide advice to decision-makers on a regular basis.

It can be frustrating when that advice seems to be ignored but if you’ve done your prep, there’s a better chance your advice will stick.

Before developing your ideas in too much detail, use the list below to set the framework for your advice.

1. Context – understand the decision-making environment. Put yourself in the shoes of the decision-maker and consider what they need to achieve in their role. Give some thought to the powers, restrictions and constraints they operate under. For example, a CEO would be operating within certain laws and may require Board approval. A government minister would need to consider the impact on the community and whether the issue is important enough to change or create a new policy or law.

2. Facts – provide clear and concise evidence to support your advice. Use reliable sources that support your argument. Identify gaps in the available evidence and explain how more information will be gathered or where consultation may be needed. Don’t forget to include a note of where facts and opinions diverge – this will be essential to the decision-maker being able to act on your advice.

3. Figures – know the human, environmental and financial cost. Provide your best estimates including the cost of taking your advice, the cost of doing nothing, the cost to the organisation and cost to clients/customers. Don’t forget the statistics on the number of people who will be better off, or worse off. It’s not all about profit or savings.

4. Opinions – test your ideas – market research is essential. Talk to as many people as practical about possible problems or solutions – managers and staff, your partners, people delivering the services or selling the goods, your clients and customers. Don’t forget to get the opinions of the “casual observer” because the views of those not involved in your industry can often be the most thought-provoking. A good example of this is in government where sometimes the opinions of all voters matter, not just the views of a select group or those directly involved.

5. Timing – gauge the internal and external business climate. Delivering your advice at the right time ensures the best results. Good decision-makers are human too and there are times they will not be receptive to advice, so hold back if it seems there are many others giving an opinion or the situation is stressed and time-constrained. In this case, it may work better for you to plant the seed of an idea and deliver more comprehensive advice at a later stage.

6. Agility – build in the ability to test, alter and improve on your suggestion. By acknowledging and accommodating the need for change in your original design, you can evaluate success from the perspective of your stakeholders. If you identify any unintended consequences, provide quick advice so they can be fixed quickly.

Whether providing advice to peers, someone more senior than yourself or a potential partner, you need to be sure your idea can stand their test and appeal to their needs before you can expect to reel them in.

Vicky Darling

Posted in Engagement, Leadership, Understanding government.