Tips From Obama: Getting Others Behind Your Proposal

Last Updated Apr 21, 2009 4:52 PM EDT

If you are trying to get the go-ahead to implement changes at your company, you should avoid finger pointing, obtain a broad base of supporters, and change the tone of your pitch for different audiences. These are keys to victory, if President Barack Obama's successes and failures in passing the economic stimulus package are any indication.

Shortly after the $787 stimulus package passed, Dr. Neil Malhotra, Assistant Professor of Political Economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Dr. Yotam Margalit, Associate Professor at Columbia University, released a paper titled, "Marketing Obama's Stimulus Package: Insights from Social Experiments on Public Opinion." Here are a few tips to take away from the report:

1. Cross "party lines" in order to build support
Just as Obama invited Republicans to participate in the drafting of the economic stimulus package, it's important to look for allies in unlikely places. Your proposal will have more weight if people other than your usual cohorts get behind it.

2. Don't blame others
Often changes in an organization are necessary due to other's failures. When proposing new initiatives, avoid naming those failures -- or the people behind them -- directly. In Obama's case, only three moderate Republican senators voted for the package, despite the President's outreach efforts. Why? According to Malhotra, this was due to Obama repeatedly blaming former President Bush and the Republican party for the current financial crisis, thus alienating potential supporters.

3. Consider your audience and choose your words accordingly
Your proposal should avoid terms that have negative meaning for its recipients. In the case of the stimulus package, Republican lawmakers were less likely to throw their support behind the plan when it was attributed to "policy makers in the Democratic party." They were more receptive when presented with a plan written by "policy makers within the Federal government."

4. Focus on the negative
Yes, you read that one correctly. If your proposal is especially controversial or risky, then it's important to spend some of your efforts convincing people of the dire consequences that may come to pass if your plan isn't adopted. "People may be more likely to support policies such as the stimulus package that are seen as high-risk when they are framed as preventing catastrophic outcomes as opposed to promoting beneficial ones," according to the report.

President Obama image by Flickr user mstorz, CC 2.0

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.