Direct No Protect Yourself

When asked to do something illegal, unethical, or immoral, it's important to be clear and unequivocal in saying no. The Direct No organizational structure is the most appropriate approach. Kya, a high school guidance counselor, explained that one morning she walked into her office to be greeted by a fax from an overseas contact.

"I'd met him during a holiday trip some years earlier. His business was helping students of his country apply to American colleges and universities. The fax said that one of his clients had been rejected from his first-choice university and despite calling, E-mailing, and faxing, they couldn't get anyone from the admissions department to tell them why he'd been rejected. Their idea was to find out why the student had been rejected and fix the problem.

"Given they had been unable to get any information, he was writing to me in the hope that I'd arrange for someone to break into the admissions department to find and photocopy the student's records. Can you imagine?"

Kya went on to explain that she'd considered ignoring the fax but decided she had to respond. "You never know where letters like that will end up ten years later," she said. "So I felt I needed to do something. But I didn't know what.

"Given that I wanted to say no, I knew I should consider the four organizational structures that specifically deal with delivering bad news.

"It seemed obvious that I didn't want to say anything positive, so the Bookend No wouldn't work. I can tell you that I didn't feel like saying 'Thanks so much for thinking of me.' The No with an Alternative wouldn't work either. What was I going to say? Go see Big Eddy on the corner? The Diplomatic No wouldn't help; I didn't want to preserve the relationship. Given that I'd decided I couldn't just do nothing, I felt I had no choice—I had to be direct.

"I ended up sending him a two-line response. I told him that I was stunned and appalled that he would suggest such a thing. No, I wouldn't break into the university admissions department."

Note that Kya used the organizational structures as a checklist. By methodically thinking how each one would sound, her choice became straightforward and easy to make.

"I'm pleased to report," Kya added, "that I never heard from him again."

EXERCISE 5: Select an Organizational Structure

For each of the following projects, select an appropriate organizational structure. Remember that there's no right answer. Think about your likely objective, what action you want your target readers to take as a result of reading your material, and how formal your writing should be. After making your choices, read how other people thought through their decisions.

1. Upon your return from a three-day industry conference, your boss asks you to write a "quick summary" of what you accomplished. What format do you choose and which organizational structure do you use?

2. You've been asked to inform senior managers about your department's progress in reaching a business objective. What organizational structure would you select?

3. You want to invite your team to your house for a social event. What organizational structure would you use?

1. Upon your return from a three-day industry conference, your boss asks you to write a "quick summary" of what you accomplished. What format do you choose and which organizational structure do you use?

Elinor, an Internet strategist at a cosmetics company, was expected to produce a report after she attended a conference called Optimizing E-Commerce in the 21st Century. "The instruction to write a report seemed very vague," she explained. "I wasn't sure exactly why I was supposed to write a report, so I asked my boss and she said that the report would let everybody know what I did while I was in Chicago and stress that it was a good idea that I'd gone.

"I decided that my objective should be to have top management request a full proposal based on my recommendation.

"Using this system helped me realize that I could use the report to create momentum for my own agenda. I'd do what my boss said—let people know why attending the conference was a good idea—and at the same time focus on my ideas for the company. I thought it would make me look like a go-getter, not a drone reporting on an activity in a passive way.

"Next I considered the senior managers' personalities. My boss and her boss are pretty technically oriented. They are both Data Collectors, with a little bit of Producer in the mix. The CEO, on the other hand, is mostly an Accommodator, with a little of both Optimist and Producer in her personality.

"I wanted to focus on an idea I had to use a digital camera that would allow women standing at a cosmetics counter to have their photo immediately displayed on a monitor. They could see how different makeup options looked and make educated purchase decisions. We'd also E-mail the photo to them so they could play around with makeup options later—making decisions in the privacy of their own home or office, and on their own schedule.

"My strategy was to establish an E-mail relationship with our customers in a consultative way, and eventually convert their purchases to online transactions. What I was recommending was pretty aggressive strategically because I wanted to offer customers the opportunity to delay buying our products. But I was convinced it would ultimately create long-term, committed customers. For instance, a customer could E-mail us that she wanted a new look for her daughter's wedding, and just when she's at her busiest and most frantic, we could respond with a personalized, specific recommendation, and not just with words, but by adjusting her photo to show her how she'd look with different makeup options."

Elinor consulted the vocabulary chart (see Table 1.1 on page 9) and said, "I looked for words and phrases that spoke to both a Data Collector and an Accommodator. Then I added some to speak to a Producer. It became clear to me that I should focus on the benefits to the company of helping our customers make decisions in a low-key, nonpressured way.

"When I consulted the Formality Index, I realized that I knew them well and personally—sort of. I'd been in the job a little over a year, and I got along well with everyone there. But it wasn't a personal relationship. I scored it a 3.5. They're not below me in rank, and we're a pretty formal organization, so I scored it a 1. I gave the good news question a 5. I truly think this is an exciting project. Total of 9.5. Pretty standard business. Made sense.

"I was clearly in the persuasive box of the Matrix of Persuasion—they could do what I asked if I could convince them to be on my side. Convincing them meant I needed to write about benefits.

"In terms of organizational structure, I realized that I had many options. I could have used the chronology organizational structure: first, I walked throughout the exhibit hall; second, I narrowed my field of potential vendors; third, I scheduled interviews, etc. I could have used the category organizational structure: exhibitors I met, educational programs I attended, etc.

PAR would have worked as well: my original assignment, the problem I was to address, the stated reason that they sent me to the conference, was to ID alternative vendors; I met with eight; attached is a summary of my recommendations. Even Q&A would have worked well: Was attending the conference worthwhile? Yes, it was an efficient way to interview potential vendors. How many candidates did you consider? Out of fourteen potential candidates, I met with eight."After considering all the organizational structures, I went with PAR. It has a powerful bottom-line orientation that suited my objective."

Notice how Elinor used the model in a step-by-step manner. "It was quick," she said. "Quick and easy. And because I used the model, I felt confident about the outcome."

2. You've been asked to inform senior managers about your department's progress in reaching a business objective. What organizational structure would you select?

Vic, a salesman in the chemical industry, said, "I absolutely hate writing, but I like presentations. So I figured that I'd create a simple one-page document summarizing my key points and distribute it during my presentation. Here's how I thought it through.

"My objective was to receive immediate feedback and praise about my presentation and our department's progress.

"Personality wise, our senior managers are all business. They're Producers. The progress we've made in our department is good, but management is impatient. So in terms of vocabulary, I wanted to talk about our big-picture plans and accomplishments. No details. I needed to have the details ready to go in case they asked for specifics, but my handout needed to satisfy their desire for a bottom-line orientation.

"My sense was that I could be relatively informal. Working with the Formality Index, I determined that I know them well and personally, so I scored the first question a 5. I am below them in rank, but I'm climbing the corporate ladder pretty quickly, so I gave the next question a 3. Realistically, I have really good news, so I gave the last question a 4.5. That totals to a 12.5, so I confirmed that an informal approach was fine.

"I thought this would be a pretty easy writing assignment. In terms of the Matrix of Persuasion, they were on my side and they could do what I was asking. Sure enough—easy. Knowing that was very reassuring.

"Regarding the organizational structure, I started with a statement of PAR, then used a category organizational structure. It was very logical, and by integrating some chronology as well, I was able to show how we were progressing in a systematic way toward the goal. It worked well."

3. You want to invite your team to your house for a social event. What organizational structure would you use?

Richard, a team leader in the banking industry, explained that once a year, he likes to invite his entire team to his house. "I started a new job and wanted to invite everyone over for a barbecue. My objective was to get people to RSVP and attend.

"The feature I wanted to focus on was that the team's families were welcome to the barbecue, that I understood that their jobs were only part of their lives. I manage three bank branches and have more than twenty people on the team. All personalities are represented, so I planned to use various phrases to speak to each.

"Regarding formality, given I'd just started my job, I didn't know them well. I scored the first question a 1.5. They were below me in rank, so I scored that question a 2. And it was absolutely good news, so I scored it a 5. That totaled 8.5. Lower than I'd expected. It implied quite a formal invitation, a little bit of a surprise to me considering it was a barbecue.

"I decided that this was a persuading challenge using the Matrix of Persuasion. Asking people to give up their own time for a semibusiness event, even a pleasurable one, well, I thought I'd need to be somewhat persuasive.

"I went through the organizational structures one by one, and I almost went with the category approach. It would have allowed me to focus on games the kids could play, food I would serve, and so on. Ultimately though, I decided to use chronology. I detailed the games and competitions by blocks of time. It looked fuller that way.

"I'd been thinking I would simply E-mail everyone, but then I decided to use some fun type fonts and produce a hard-copy invitation. I hand-delivered them as I traveled to each branch.

"People expressed pleasurable surprise that I took the time to produce a document."

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