Organisations do not prosper unless managers in the middle ranks identify and promote the need for change. People at this level gain valuable intelligence from direct contact with customers, suppliers, and colleagues.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard Business Review examined what works in organisations. Apparently, middle managers are more likely to speak up when they:

1.     Identify with the organisation

2.     Have a positive relationship with their audience

3.     Feel psychologically safe in the organisation

4.     Think someone above them will take action

5.     Care enough about the issue to invest energy in selling it


Accomplished middle managers who speak up look for the best ways to voice their ideas and concerns, using rhetorical skill, political sensitivity, and interpersonal connections, to move the right leaders to action. In particular, they use the following seven strategies significantly more often than people who don’t succeed in gaining buy-in.

1: Tailor your pitch

Vital is to familiarise yourself with the audience’s goals, values, and knowledge.

2: Frame the issue

How you package the idea determines its importance and how much of a priority it is. Once people see how your initiative fits into the big picture, they will be more willing to devote resources to it.

3: Manage emotions on both sides

‘Issue’ selling is an interpersonal activity, which inevitably stirs emotions. Research by Wharton University’s Adam Grant shows that people who keep their emotions in check feel more comfortable raising issues and receive higher performance evaluations. It is equally important to understand and manage the decision maker’s emotions.

4: Get the timing right

It is critical to find the right moment to raise your ideas. The best ‘sellers’ notice when more and more people are beginning to care about a larger topic or trend that’s related to their issue, and they position their idea to “catch the wave.”

Be mindful of deadlines. When a deadline is far away and decision makers are still in exploration mode, open-ended inquiry can be more effective than proposing a specific solution.

5: Involve others

Building a coalition generates organisational buy-in more quickly and on a larger scale as more people contribute energy and resources. When building a coalition, reach out to experts in relevant areas to add to your credibility.

6: Adhere to norms

Those who roll out their ideas informally early on in order to gauge interest, and then switch to formal presentations generally see stronger, committed results.

7: Suggest solutions

Proposing a solution signals that the ‘seller’ has put thought into the issue and respects leaders’ time.

Overall, no set of instructions can remove the risks and disappointments of issue selling. But sellers who routinely and effectively use these tactics will enjoy greater success than those who don’t. Issue selling is not a discrete event; it is an ongoing process that requires groundwork, pacing, and patience. When done effectively, ideas get attention and make a real difference.


Seeking and giving advice are both competencies to be mastered. Getting it wrong can have detrimental consequences, with substantial costs to individuals and their businesses.


Here are the most common obstacles for when seeking or giving advice, along with practical guidelines for overcoming them, as discussed in a recent Harvard Business Review article.


What to avoid when you’re seeking advice:


Thinking you already have the answers

When people are deciding whether they need help, they often have difficulty assessing their own competence and place too much faith in their intuition. The result is overconfidence and a tendency to default to solo decision making based on prior knowledge and assumptions.


Choosing the wrong advisers

Sometimes decision makers stack the deck by turning to like-minded advisers.


In a study of CEOs, those at companies with poor financial performance were more likely to seek advice from executives in the same industry. The result was limited strategic change - less product-market and geographic diversification.


Furthermore, several studies confirm that advice seekers are more receptive to guidance from friends or family. Though nonthreatening personalities impart comfort and trust, they have no relation to the quality of the advice.


Defining the problem poorly

When communicating ineffectively, the seeker may tell a lengthy story that causes listeners to lose focus. Or they may omit details that reflect badly on them, or misdefine the problem by placing arbitrary boundaries around it, which skews the overall assessment.


Discounting advice

A strong, recurrent finding in organisational behaviour research is ‘egocentric bias’ which often clouds seekers’ vision - they may become so anchored in their preformed judgments they cannot adjust their thinking when they receive feedback.


Misjudging the quality of advice

Most seekers who accept advice have difficulty distinguishing the good from the bad. Research shows that they value advice more if it comes from a confident source.


What to avoid when you’re giving advice:


Overstepping boundaries

Though many people give unsolicited advice, it is usually considered intrusive. People who liberally offer unjustified advice lose credibility and influence in their organisations.


Misdiagnosing the problem

Advisers must gather intelligence to develop a clearer picture of the problem to be solved. Taking accounts at face value leads to inaccurate assessments and flawed advice.


Offering self-centred guidance

Advisers often frame their guidance as “how I would respond if I were in your shoes.” Advisers may also share personal stories that fail the “doability test” because they simply don’t fit with the seeker’s situational constraints.


Communicating advice poorly

Providing vague recommendations using jargon or inaccessible language makes them easily misconstrued. Do not overwhelm seekers with too many ideas: nothing causes paralysis like a list of options with no explicit guidance.


Mishandling the aftermath

Many advisers take offense when their guidance is not accepted. The reality is that recipients rarely take one person’s advice and go with it. More often they modify the advice, combine it with feedback from others, or reject it altogether - advisers must treat these responses as valuable input in an ongoing conversation.


Here are the simplified five stages of advising:


Stage 1: Find the right fit

Stage 2: Develop a shared understanding

Stage 3: Craft alternatives

Stage 4: Converge on a decision

Stage 5: Put advice into action


Overall, the guidelines for both seekers and advisers demand a fundamental shift in approach. Although people typically focus on the content of advice, those who are most skilled concentrate as much on to how they advise as to what they advise. 

Twitter can be a powerful medium for a CEO, however, only 14% of the chief executives of the world’s largest listed companies are using the social media platform, notes a recent article in the Financial Times.


Some business leaders worry that Twitter might be a fleeting trend, one which may be superseded by another social media platform. But, with 284 million users each month, such concerns are becoming difficult to justify.


A further concern is that leaders will make a mistake, accidentally leak something about the company, or be misinterpreted and criticised. This is not unreasonable - many people have lost their jobs because of misguided words on Twitter and poorly worded tweets by leaders regularly provoke anger.


However, the power of being able to instantly communicate with potentially thousands of people outweighs most concerns. People are much more likely to trust a brand if the CEO is actively engaged on social media.


Furthermore, a Twitter presence can also be a valuable recruitment tool, particularly when hiring younger members of staff.


When young millennials are looking for jobs they tend to look at the company and the CEO on social media, and executives with a social media presence appear more forward thinking.


Accoring to Nafisa Nathani, a communications consultant and self-described ‘millennial’: “No #millennial wants to work for a faceless corporation. CEOs are the face of a company. Social media helps to connect.”


For the anxious tweeters, a safe place to start is to tweet about company events and interesting articles. If executives are concerned about compliance issues then company lawyer can approve tweets. Two of the most popular CEOs on Twitter to look at are Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors. Musk has the most followers, more than 1.51 million, but Cook gets more engagement.


Tweeting too much about your own company and products is a no-no. “If you are only talking about your own products or retweeting PR headlines, your Twitter followers will tune out,” says Bolg, head of marketing at Socialbro. It is also advisable, if possible, to write your own tweets, it has to be your own voice or customers will disengage.


Ultimately, CEOs can no longer ignore the influence of Twitter. Gaines-Ross notes: “It is from a low base, but it is not going away, it is growing and by 2020 it is going to be ubiquitous.”

The ability to argue well is a life skill. Get it right and it can be an art form, but get it wrong and you risk humiliation. Red-faced rages, shouting and tears are not respected in the office and undermine one’s sense of professionalism and self-worth.


According to a recent article, here are ten tips on how to argue with finesse and ensure you get your point across succinctly:


Be strategic and do your homework


"Before starting an argument think carefully about what it is you are arguing about and what it is you want," says Jonathan Herring, lawyer and author of How To Argue. This may sound obvious. But it is critically important. 


Listen up


Start by listening to what the other person has to say and make sure you acknowledge their point of view.


Be open-minded, or at least appear that way


"Becoming defensive is one of the worst ways to win an argument," says psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne. "If you appear to be giving the other side’s position a thoughtful review, then the solution you propose will seem more sensible. Furthermore, your opponent may come to your side without your having to do anything other than listen. By letting your opponent speak, you may allow the situation to naturally resolve itself."


Trust the other person's intent


Even if the person disagrees with you or you feel angry because they hurt your feelings, assume they did not intend to hurt you or make a mistake.


Get comfortable with awkward silences


Stephen Key, author of the One Simple Idea series says: "after I explicitly state what it is I want, I clam up. When we’re uncomfortable with an awkward silence, it’s tempting to fill it quickly, but if you do, you might end up saying something without thinking it through. Make your point, be confident and force yourself to wait for a response."


Don’t get emotional - take your time


Exploders might win arguments by sheer brute force but that doesn't last. Only logic lasts, and to be logical you need to be in control of your emotions.


Disagree clearly, using specific examples


Make your position known as soon as you reasonably can. Be simple, to the point, and specific about your concerns.


Attack the problem, not the person


Your points will be heard more clearly if you can depersonalise your comments and point only at the issue.


Bombard your opponent with questions


If you can ask the right questions you can stay in control of the discussion and make your opponent scramble for answers. A useful type of question is one that calmly provokes your opponent, 'what is about this that makes you so angry?'


Use body language to disarm your opponent


"Mirror your adversary," advises US-based communications expert Nick Morgan. Mirroring builds agreement; you can often head off potential trouble by establishing a strong basis of nonverbal agreement before the hard negotiating begins.


Try to adopt a similar seated or standing position to your party. This sends an unconscious message to the person that you are on an equal level and generally in agreement with them. They will then begin to trust you.

A study of more than 86,000 Facebook users has shown the ability of intelligent machines to predict an individual’s character based on what they have ‘liked’. David Stillwell of Cambridge, who developed the personality test, says: ‘we found that the computer can predict personality as accurately as the person’s spouse, better than a close friend or family member and a whole lot better than a work colleague’.

86,220 volunteers on Facebook completed a 100 item personality questionnaire and allowed their likes to be accessed for the Cambridge study. Machine-learning software analysed the ‘likes’ based on the five main traits usually used in psychological assessments: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The more ‘likes’ the computer could include in its assessment, the more accurate it became in forming a prediction of a person’s overall character and personality.

Wu Youyou, the lead author of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes: ‘in the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally-intelligent and socially-skilled machines. People may choose to augment their own intuitions and judgements with this kind of data analysis when making important life decisions such as choosing activities, career paths or even romantic partners’.

However, this could raise ethical questions about how and when it would be applied. Stillwell says: ‘the results of such data analysis can be very useful in aiding people when making decisions but people need to be aware of it, and companies need to tell us when they are using it’.

Researchers also share the concerns of those fearing a dystopian future, where our traits and habits become an ‘open book’ for computers to read. Dr Michal Kosinski, another member of the team, says: ‘we hope that consumers, technology developers, and policymakers will tackle those challenges by supporting privacy-protecting laws and technologies, and giving the users full control over their digital footprints.’

The new wave of online gurus and social media influencers are helping marketers gain ‘word of mouth at scale’. Many now have more followers than the circulation of papers and magazines. A recent article in the FT shows how this trend represents a paradigm shift in how marketers reach consumers today.


Although influencer marketing has not yet become its own category, Forrester Research estimates the US social media marketing spend will be over double in the next few years: from $8.2bn last year to $18.7bn in 2019.


Marco Hansell, chief executive of Speakr, an agency that connects social influencers with brands, says companies want to ‘piggyback’ on the relationships such influencers build with their followers. ‘A movie studio doesn’t have a personality, per se. I don’t have a relationship with Universal Studios. But I do with this guy on YouTube and when he lends his name to something, or says this is awesome, or creates content around it, I have a whole different level of interaction.’


Part of the authenticity is that brands allow influencers to create their own content, instead of handing them an advertisement to broadcast to their followers. This helps marketers reduce their budgets with the huge number of campaigns they are expected to run on social media.


The two biggest challenges are gauging influencers’ impact and deciding what they disclose about what a brand is paying for the promotion.


Eric Dahan from Instabrand works with influencers. He says it is a ‘new frontier in traditional ad buying and selling’, where metrics such as impressions, clicks and key performance indicators that brands are used to buying against do not work on Vine, Snapchat and Instagram. These social media platforms, unlike Facebook and Twitter, are in the early stages of working out their paid advertising model. They do not provide detailed data on who sees each image, so marketers have to rely on how many followers an account has.


Laundry Service, an American social media marketing agency, has created Cycle: a business managing more than 1,000 top Instagram photographers with large followings. Cycle’s photographers are paid to share photos with their followers, as well as to create photos for brands that are used across other social networks. They must disclose any sponsored campaign they work on. Jason Stein, Laundry Service president, says brands that use Instagram photos in their email and Facebook campaigns see higher click through rates, engagement rates and conversions. Cycle now accounts for 15 per cent of Laundry Service’s revenue.


Another issue is when influencers include brands in their posts without stating they have been paid to promote them. Recently, the advertising watchdog criticised popular YouTube stars for promoting Oreos without disclosing they had struck a deal with Mondelez, the global snack group that owns the biscuit brand. Not disclosing paid promotion is detrimental to the brand.


A few examples of social media influencers who work with brands:


Sam Ciurdar - Photographer

Ciurdar’s Instagram is full of pictures of his adventures. On a trip to Canada, the professional freelance photographer took some pictures that led to him becoming a social media influencer for Tim Horton’s coffee.

Horton saw that Ciurdar’s snaps of the Canadian coffee were popular with his 35,000 followers so signed a deal with him to promote them officially.

Ciurdar thinks brands are smart in the way they approach influencers, asking them to be creative in a way that matches their other posts on a given platform.


Michael Platco - Snapchat artist

Platco has created a business out of being a specialist in Snapchat, the disappearing messaging app that has soared in popularity with teenagers. He has his own account but often takes over the accounts of brands such as Disney to send out amusing snaps, which he enlivens with colourful sketches.

So far, Snapchat has not made it easy for influencers and marketers. It is hard to measure who a ‘snap’ has reached and they are almost impossible for a recipient to send on.

‘Snapchat in every way is different than Instagram and YouTube and Vine’, he says. ‘It is such a different platform that it calls for a whole different playbook.’ He adds he is cautious with brands he chooses to represent. ‘I need to be cool with that brand. I’ve turned down a good amount of work because I thought anything I did with this brand would be spammy’, he says.


Brent Rivera - Teen vlogger

Rivera, created a series of posts for the teen-focused retailer Hollister. The teenager made his first brand deal last year and devotes hours a day to his social media presence. He entrusts the deal making to his manager. ‘[My manager] is really good with social media, he knows CPM [cost per mille, an advertising measure] and what other people are charging for an Instagram post or tweet and for which companies’, he explains. ‘It depends on engagement, so I have pretty high engagement, which means I get a lot of likes.’