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Overcoming the Three Big Objections

By Patrick Lencioni - April 2017

If you’re a consultant, an internal practitioner, or even a CEO, helping an organization become healthy is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the people working there. Of course, the first step is convincing the people who must take part in the process that it’s a worthwhile endeavor. In our work with leaders we’ve found that executives have three primary objections that have to be overcome: 1) I don’t have the time for this; 2) I might look foolish in the eyes of the team for making them do it; 3) It will cost too much. Let’s go over each of these in the reverse order of their frequency and difficulty.

Objection #3: It Will Cost Too Much

Many consultants wrongly assume this is the biggest concern of a potential client, but we’ve found that it’s a distant third. Still, it almost always comes up at some point in the process, and it’s worth addressing. The fact is, achieving organizational health (OH) is relatively inexpensive in terms of financial investment, especially compared to endeavors around technology, marketing and strategy. It comes down to courage and persistence much more than money. However, the best way to dispense of any financial concerns around OH is to focus on the benefits rather than the cost.

Having said that, if an executive wants a specific ROI for an OH project, it’s critical not to take that bait. That’s because there is no way to accurately assess the impact that OH has on the bottom line of a company. Why? Because it affects just about everything. After all, it is the context for making decisions around everything from strategy and operations to marketing and technology. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t compelling examples of how OH affects a company financially. Healthy organizations retain their best employees, from the top to the bottom, much more consistently than unhealthy ones. Most leaders we meet with believe that this alone justifies the cost of an OH project. Healthy organizations also earn the trust and loyalty of their customers more than their unhealthy competitors, and recover from setbacks or mistakes much more quickly.

The majority of leaders understand the financial impact of these benefits, even if they can’t quantify it precisely. Again, getting over the “how much will it cost?” objection is not as difficult as it sounds, and it is certainly nowhere near the top of the list.

Objection #2: It Will Make Me Look Foolish

You can’t really blame a leader from hesitating to take a leap of faith when it comes to launching an OH effort, especially when it all begins with a two-day off-site (that’s almost always the best way to start the process). After all, they’ve probably attended more than their fair share of touchy-feely experiential events where they were embarrassed to spend valuable time hugging, climbing trees or catching each other falling off of a chair. The financial cost of those episodes is miniscule compared to the loss of credibility they feel in the minds and hearts of their direct reports.

Most leaders won’t articulate this objection plainly (e.g. “Please tell me you won’t make me look like an idiot for agreeing to do this.”), but trust us, they’re thinking exactly that. Which is why it is critical to assure them that OH is immensely practical, and that everything you will be doing, during the initial off-site and beyond, will be directly linked to the real work of the company. No case studies or overly theoretical conversations. And no hugging.

Convincing a leader that the OH process won’t be an embarrassment to them is not difficult, but it must be done. By demonstrating to them that you understand their fears, they’ll relax and have confidence in what you’re about to help them accomplish.

Objection #1: I Don’t Have Time For This

This is the biggest concern of all. You might assume that if the prior questions are answered, this one shouldn’t matter much. But it does.

More than anything else, the biggest challenge leaders face is the limitation of time. They are overscheduled, tired, and often feel guilty for what they aren’t doing at work and at home. And even with compelling evidence about the general merits of OH, they will balk at the idea of taking two days out of the office, overwhelmed by the thought of having to “catch up.”

And that’s why they need to understand that two days focused on making the team stronger, and getting clarity around the most critical questions facing the company will not be a net loss of time, but a massive, serious net gain. Let them know that the discussions during that initial off-site meeting will revolve around actual work, solving the real business issues facing the company right now. We even tell clients that at the end of the two days, their team will admit, without provocation, that they accomplished more during that session than they would have if they had been in the office. Of course, the only reason we can make that statement is because it is something we’ve heard time and time again from even the most skeptical executives.

Aside from the relief that leaders will feel when they realize that those initial two days will be productive, they will marvel at how much time they save over the longer term by getting everyone aligned, rowing in the same direction. This cannot be ignored or over-stated. A healthy organization gets much, much more done in far less time than an unhealthy one that is mired in politics, confusion, dysfunction and bureaucracy. This becomes apparent very soon into the OH effort as CEOs, and their teams, watch silos come crashing down and awkward conversations become productive ones.

To overcome these objections, a practitioner has to be confident and competent. He or she has to assure clients that their money, reputation and time will be preciously guarded, and that no slow, peripheral or unnecessary activities will find their way into the OH project. And then he or she has to deliver on that promise. Fortunately, OH is, by its nature, practical. And most important of all, it works. Good luck as you work with clients whose companies, jobs and lives will be changed by seeing their organizations become healthy.