Do You Struggle Getting Stakeholders to Attend Requirements Workshops and Meetings?

I ran across a fascinating book titled “7 Secrets of Persuasion: Leading-Edge Neuromarketing Techniques to Influence Anyone” by James C. Crimmins, PhD. The book is a spell-binding report on the latest findings based on current scientific research into how people make decisions.

Now how will a book about marketing help Business Analysts and Product Owners get more butts in the chairs for critical product definition meetings? Turns out, there is a direct correlation between marketing and meetings.

What’s the Problem?

The common denominator in any analysis effort is to identify the Stakeholders whose input you need. You send out a meeting message with titles like “User Story Workshop for the XYZ Product” or “Workshop to Define Features of XYZ”.

About 90% of the recipients accept your invitations and about 60% of them show up for the meeting. As a result, you end up with missing User Stories, Business Requirements, Use Cases, or whatever you were planning to capture in the meeting. Your project or product is off to a bad start.

Where Have All the Stakeholders Gone?

Obvious answer: they decided to do something that was more important to them than attending your silly (in their perception) meeting. Solution: you need to sell them on the importance of attending your meetings or your product/project will suffer. Enter, Marketing.

So how do you persuade those Stakeholders to show up? Start by seeing it from their side. They have a limited amount of time at their disposal during the workday (don’t we all?). They have more on their schedule than they can possibly achieve (just like you). Ergo, they (like you) make up their mind as to which meetings to attend when conflicts exist.

We all like to think that “making up our mind” is a logical, reasoned process; the science says otherwise.

Making Choices Is Seldom Rational

Have you heard the phrase, “I’m of two minds”? That is more accurate than you might believe. When you are awake, your brain works in two simultaneous modes.

  • Your conscious (reasoning) mind is busy processing about 40 pieces of information per second and uses Logic, Evidence, and Reason to choose a course of action (you think you are thinking).
  • Your non-conscious (sensing) mind, meanwhile, processes about 11,000,000 pieces of information per second to keep you alive by monitoring your environment and your internal processes (you breathe, your heart beats, you see, and you sense without thinking – you are feeling).

Dr. Crimmins reports,

“We’ve learned that consciousness is not central to most of our decisions. It feels central, but scientific evidence shows that consciousness usually takes a back seat.”

Who Is Really in Charge?

According to the studies, about 80% of your decisions are made by your nonconscious mind. These decisions are made up to 7 seconds earlier than you become aware of them!

Your nonconscious mind makes the decisions and your conscious mind rationalizes why it is the right decision. (Maybe there is more to “truthiness” than Stephen Colbert ever imagined when he inserted that word into the English Language in 2005).

When a decision is not rational, rationale is unlikely to change it. That means the decision to NOT attend your important product/project definition meeting was not made consciously by the Stakeholders, but by their nonconscious mind. So, how can you leverage this knowledge to solve your lack of attendance problem?

Since the sensing mind is making the decision whether to honor your invitation or find something better to do, you must appeal to it in its language. Their nonconscious mind does not decide based on logic, so your job is to make them feel the importance of your meeting. Now, that’s simple, isn’t it? Or not.

Appealing to the Nonconscious Mind

To get more Stakeholders to attend your meetings, you need to make them feel a desire to attend. Achieve that goal by starting with Dale Carnegie’s recommendation in “How to Win Friends and Influence People”:

“The only way on earth to influence people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.” Your meeting message should focus on what is in it for the Stakeholder, not for you. The non-conscious mind wants to be rewarded by making you feel good.

You might appeal to their self-esteem, “Your Input Will Improve the XYZ Product”. Because the motivation for each individual Stakeholder is different, you might consider sending invitations with different wording to key Stakeholders.

The non-conscious mind prefers instant rewards. The promise of a bigger reward delivered later is not as motivating as a smaller reward delivered immediately.

If it is appropriate in your organization, you might take advantage of that by following up with a brief, motivating IM reminder shortly before the meeting. To remind them of the reward, write something like “Don’t forget, we need your contribution for the success of the XYZ project. See you there.”

If you learn to talk to the non-conscious, you will notice a significant increase in positive responses. Maybe there is something to all the marketing hype about the power of marketing after all. Knowing the secrets of persuasion could make you a much more effective business analyst.

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