It seems like every day there is a new regulation requiring you to update your program. New directives and legislation come into force, new sanctions are imposed, and new enforcement actions change expectations. When your program needs more resources, it is critical that you receive them. But in this cost-cutting, post-recession world, how do you effectively make your case to the Board of Directors or the C-suite? How do you ensure the best chance that the resources you need will be forthcoming?
In my former role as Chief Compliance Officer, I was responsible for making the case for the compliance department’s budget, and for asking for additional resources when I needed them. Here’s how to do it so you get a yes.
One: Be Explicit and Specific
It is obvious to you why you are requesting more resources – you need them! But in order to request more than you already have, you need to do two things. First, you need to ask with specificity for what you want. Second, you need to make the case as to why you need the resources.
When you ask for you what you want, you must make a solid business case. This can be done by (1) briefly explaining the cause of the change, such as a new law or a new market that has opened up and (2) using statistics, examples and specific metrics. Many times resources are not approved because people have not made a solid case for why they are needed. If you say, “there are new sanctions so I need more money,” that is unlikely to be effective. However, if you say, “the company is expanding throughout East Africa. As there were several previous governments in the region where sanctions have been imposed against former leaders and their associates, our department needs an additional $25,000 to neutralize the risk presented in this environment. The $25,000 will be used as follows…” The more specific you can be with your need, the more likely the resource is to be granted.
People have faith in people who come into the room confident and ready to make their presentation. Practice enables you to be confident in your presentation and to be ready for any follow up questions. If at all possible, use another member of your team to ask you every question he or she can come up with about your proposal to the Board. Practice the proposal and the question and answer session until you are comfortable with making your business case. The more specific you can be, the more prepared you will seem, and the more likely you are to get approval for your request.
Before I went into any Board meeting, I would ask my junior attorney to watch my presentation and to give me feedback. She’d sometimes see places where I’d made a leap in logic without explaining myself. When you’re an expert on the topic, it is easy to forget to explain the background in enough detail that a layman would understand it. By practicing out loud and getting unbiased feedback, I was able to make my presentation more effective.
Three: Use Stories
People have been using stories to educate and inspire others since the beginning of communication. You can use stories in a powerful way to obtain buy-in from the Board or C-suite. One of the most effective ways to use stories is to bring in cautionary tales from your industry. If another company in your industry or an adjunctive industry has recently had a compliance failure or import/export fine, use the story to put the Board or C-suite on notice.
Studies have shown that people relate most strongly to stories featuring people like themselves. If you can tell a true story using people from a competing company, or people from a company in the same industry, country, city or company size, you are more likely to have the Board members put themselves in the shoes of those that had a failure. You are much more likely to get what you need when the Board is emotionally affected by the possibility of a compliance failure. Stories create emotional reactions in people in a way unadulterated facts and figures do not. Use the power of storytelling to your advantage.
For example, let’s say you work in the technology sector and you want to implement a Know Your Customer protocol. You could tell the Board members about the recent multi-million penalty against a competitor for selling products to Iran and Sudan, and to sanctioned parties in Syria. Using an example within your industry can be particularly effective, as leaders within an industry frequently know each other socially from industry meetings and networking events. When you make the case that the new program will cost $100,000, versus the risk of a $1.5 million fine and the accompanying reputational damage, it is much easier to have your request approved.
Another way to use stories is to paint a picture of how the business would be more efficient, more effective or better served by the granting of the resource request. Tell the story of how the company will work after implementation focusing on the results of the investment. It is unlikely the Board or members of the C-suite are interested in the details of how your new computer system or employee resources will work. Instead, tell the story of how much better off the company will be after the resources have been implemented. A good story is worth more than 1000 spreadsheets.
Putting it Together
Asking for resources can be a daunting experience, but the more practiced you are, and the better you’ve prepared with a strong business case, the more likely you are to receive what you need.