How Al Gore makes the business case

There are a few speakers whose oratory style is almost as impressive as what they’re talking about. Al Gore is one of those speakers.
I had the opportunity to meet the former U.S. vice-president last night and hear him address a room filled with senior business leaders at an event hosted by Allstream, which our firm helped sponsor. The theme will be no surprise: the impact of climate change on our environment, and what we should do about it. The reaction might also be expected by anyone who has watched An Inconvenient Truth or who has read Gore’s latest book, Our Choice. Deep, thoughtful silence followed by a rousing standing ovation.
Perhaps mindful of his audience, Gore mentioned IT more than once in his remarks, which he delivered without so much as looking at a note. It struck me that what he was doing – convincing a lazy, perhaps sceptical group of leaders to take some decisive action – is not that far removed from what many IT managers try to do. Whether it’s an upgrade of their ERP system to a more over-arching transformational project like implementing ITIL, making the business case is one of the toughest parts of the job. Keep in mind these Gore-isms the next time you face the senior executive ranks: 

Don’t start with alarm bells: Everyone knows Gore sees the environment as an urgent issue, but he didn’t immediately prophesize doom the moment he reached the podium. He started off by congratulating the work done by the governments of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec on green initiatives, as well as the outstanding efforts of the evening’s beneficiary, the David Suzuki Foundation. Pointing out strengths first can give your audience the confidence they need to take on the challenges you’ll present to them.

Provide the depth that’s necessary: Gore not only highlighted four key renewable resources that deserve more attention, he broke down their properties in the kind of detail you might find in an issue of Scientific American. Sometimes in IT managers’ quest to talk in terms the business understands they ignore the data that may be complex but critical to explaining a problem. Gore respected us enough that he treated us as real colleagues, smart enough to take it all in or at least give us enough to Google it afterwards.

Turn analogies into arguments: Gore showed off a thorough appreciation and understanding of Moore’s Law of microprocessors, noting how consistent it has been in forecasting the increased density of IT circuitry. “It wasn’t a law of physics. It wasn’t a law of nature. It was a law based on market expectations,” he said, suggesting that if the business community put the same resources into developing environmentally friendly alternatives to oil and carbon, we would be bound to see results. If you’re trying to drive change in IT, show how the right leadership drove change in other parts of the business.

Use history as a helper: Gore pointed out that environmental issues were key to leaders like Richard Nixon, until oil prices went south and complacency set in. “Panic turns into trance,” he said, urging the audience to keep the momentum going even if conditions temporarily change. IT projects aren’t always about completely new processes or results. In fact, they’re often about achieving objectives that have long fell by the wayside. Point out the long road the company has been walking, and they’ll will be more eager to complete the journey.

Manage expectations by setting them: Gore knows there’s a lot of factors that will help save the environment, but he left us with the most important one – the same one that will influence almost any major IT change in a company. “This is not a political issue, or a scientific issue or a psychological issue – it’s a moral issue. If anything it’s actually a spiritual issue,” he said. “In the future, our children may ask us one of two questions: how could you let this happen? Why didn’t you do anything about this when you saw the signs? . . . the other question they can ask is, how did you do it? How did you find the moral courage to make these changes? . . . we have the capabilities to solve these problems and I believe we will solve these problems. What we lack is political will, but political will, ladies and gentlemen, is a renewable resource. Good night.”

Good night to you too, Mr. Gore, and good luck.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Shane Schick
Shane Schick
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