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How to Get Business Leaders to Support Your Development Agenda

When I asked my first CEO to invest in Tanzania’s entry-level human capital supply development, he gave me a straight and honest answer, “I am sorry Modesta, my job is to deliver on shareholders’ targets, it is not to invest in the country’s human capital development.”

The head of one of the largest multinationals in Tanzania at the time, still felt my ask was a tall order that he and the company could not fulfill.

It seemed not to matter that the company was also one of the largest employers with a nationwide presence, and therefore stood to gain immensely from a higher caliber academic and vocational labor pool.

The problem I sought to address as a Recruitment Manager was that I turned away at least 70% of graduate applicants and struggled to find the mid-management talent pipeline to drive our ambitious expansion strategy because of the largely poor quality of labor the educational system supplied.

Looking back I wonder whether his reluctance was a reflection of the company’s global policy rigidity on emerging market investment, a real budgetary restriction, or my ineffective approach to soliciting a private sector partner for Tanzania’s development agenda.

Given the strong, innovative, and far-reaching alliances I had seen the company engage in elsewhere, I came to learn that the reason he immediately dismissed my request, was the latter.

Whether an Executive seeking Board buy-in, a business trying to influence competitor behavior, or a private sector organization lobbying government or legislature on behalf of its members, here is a 7-step approach to persuade an inward-looking business group to also look out for, and even champion your development interests:

1.Seek first to know their interests, issues, and positions so that you can couch your ask in terms that satisfy their needs.

2. Know your own interests, issues, and positions so that you can stay on track during negotiations, knowing when to push, when to relent, and when to walk away.

3. Know all parties' limits so that you don’t waste your time and especially theirs, tabling issues that are not within either of your power to grant.

4. Identify yourself, and approach them as an ally in their in-group seeking to further their agenda, rather than an outsider trying to get them to stop what they are doing to advance yours.

5. Build a coalition of collaborators across the ecosystem and invite them to the table so that they can feel a part of a significant, concerted, and systemic effort by invested parties, rather than fear that you are asking them to take on the full responsibility for fulfilling your request.

6. Make it easy for them to connect to, collaborate with, and concede to your request, rather than making them jump through hoops to accomplish something that was never their idea and is already out of their way to pursue.

7. Support them from ideation to managing implementation, giving regular updates, evaluations, and recommendations so that they are on top of developments and can always take action to safeguard their interests.

What has been your experience securing buy-in from reluctant and powerful decision-makers?

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