Emotions and impact: Make it close. Make it real. Make it easy to care.

Many arrows pointing in different directions with one arrow showing main direction over blue background, solution, strategy, plan or success concept, 3D illustration

Annoyed with not getting heard at senior level? Find out how Phil Wilcox approached it!

Fed up with feeling like a lone voice?

Tired of having your budget slashed?

Considered an afterthought for change projects or programmes?

Yeah, I felt that way too. It was all I had known for so long. What felt like safety, reassurance, belief and confidence all evaporated when times got tough and money got tight. It felt like lip service.

I still get that now. Just a few weeks ago, a contract we expected to run for a further six months ended early. Completely against the story we had been told relating to the impact we were having and the value being added. By gathering evidence which was close, real and made it easy to care we felt prepared to challenge the decision in a way which engaged our client.

Did it change the outcome?


Do we have a client who regrets stopping early and is keen to restart as soon as financially possible?


What made the difference?

We made it close, we made it real and we made it easy to care.

Are you ready to do the same?

Senior level communication

For over a decade I have heard L&D folk (and yes this includes me for a while) whine on about ‘getting a seat at the table’ or ‘lack of support from the top’ or ‘I am expected to report on attendance and completion rates’.

I realised what was getting in the way. I looked across what my team and I were doing, the data we were reporting and the impact we were having. What did I realise? Nobody cared.

As I write this now, I think that the above statement is probably a little unfair. The people directly engaging with the things we did cared. They really cared. Our challenge, however, was that the people who cared were not involved in the decision to protect the budget, to amplify our voice, to make us central to the organisation’s success. So, when the time came for someone to go on record and show that they care about what we do, the impact we have and our future and sustained involvement or investment, there was no one who cared enough.

Often we L&D folk are tempted to focus on data or outcomes which are near to the work we do; a prime example being attendance or completion data. Another example being when we receive the feedback and gathered quotes such as: “this is the best learning or development I have ever done”. Both of these things are lovely and give us all the warm fuzzies. Yet, once again, no one else cares.

So how do you make it easy for the people who make the decisions on your/the future to care?

Make it close.

Doing the homework

People care about things, people, situations, and decisions which are close to them. If it feels removed it is easier to cut or ignore. If I want to be heard, amplified and invested in then I need to be cared about.
What I did was listen and read. I read the reports going to the board. I listened to the topics and contents of the senior leadership discussions. I read the trade press for our industry so I knew what was happening now and the trends for the future. I listened to the videos and talks from our competitors and partners to know what was close for them. I was also able to get one-to-one time with the people who make the decisions on my future and asked questions like:

  • What feels really important at the moment?
  • How are we getting in our own way?
  • Where are we slowing down?
  • What are we holding tight?

Doing your homework to fully understand what feels close to people makes a massive difference in understanding what feels close for people.

So, we started looking at how our work was impacting the things close to those who had control and had a say in the decision-making.

Make it close and you make it easy to care.

So how else do you make it easy for the people who make the decisions on your/the future to care?

Make it real.

What’s in it for them?

If something seems intangible, unclear or abstract, it makes it harder to care about it. One of my favourite presentations ever was one I helped write and did not deliver. It was the end of a leadership development programme, and we were presenting to the senior stakeholders. Yes, the people who make the decisions on your/the future! I wanted to make it real and so none of the facilitation team, coaches or suppliers were involved. It was just the people from the cohort.

To be clear, I helped write the presentation, helped them tell the story, did the rehearsals and I was sat to the side when the moment came. Why? Because I am detached from the reality. In reality, this programme was about the leaders and the communities they served. If I could have, I would have got people from those communities in too. Because that makes it REAL.

The stories, experiences, impact and benefit these individual leaders realised because of this initiative were brilliantly brought to life by the people who can make it real for the people who make the decisions on your/the future. Sure enough, the investment for the next cohort on the programme was agreed as people cared about what happened, the impact felt and the results delivered.

Make it real and you make it easy to care.

In closing, my gifts of goodness to you are these:

  • Tell the stories to your audience which they feel keenly and closely.
  • Tell the stories to your audience that feel real.
  • Tell the stories to your audience that they care about.

Do this and if gives you a fighting chance to protect your budget, get your voice amplified and be central to success.

Phil Willcox is Founder of Emotion at Work and the UK affiliate for Kirkpatrick Partners

Phil Wilcox

Learn More →