How do you achieve almost impossible goals when the conditions are geared for failure?

By Mary T.O’Sullivan, MSOL

 “Find the Prophet. This is the person whom you will influence to make your vision a reality.”- Lawrence of Arabia

Way back in the early 2000s, a new manager was assigned a major ($1.8M) renovation of a specialized facility; the company wanted to build a new Business Development Center. She had experience, domain expertise and had crafted the vision;  the company had never seen anything like it. However, by their particular standard, the vision was too expensive, too advanced, and not likely to happen, as many others before her had tried and failed multiple times to manifest the concept.  Moreover, the once promised money trail had mysteriously gone cold. The manager had just enough funding to commission an architect ($85K) to develop a comprehensive set of detailed drawings based on the new design concept.

 Once the plans were completed, she took the huge roll of drawings under her arm and one by one “up-sold” the company leadership, while not widely advertising the plans to the pessimists and skeptics.  The leadership team, comprised of about 8-10 senior engineering and management types, was very influential and could make or break any project, but particularly one of this size and scope.  Additionally, this group was so diverse; she had to appeal to a variety of leadership styles.  No doubt, this was a tough group to sell. She resolutely made the rounds at every opportunity, meeting with the leaders both formally and informally, one on one and in small groups, equipped with her roll of drawings, explaining all the detailed architectural views and elevations face to face. She also prepared a predictive usage chart, which projected the use of the facility out 18 months. She included photos taken from a facility of similar design so they could grasp the visual perspective of a completed facility. She also had to be prepared to clarify their understanding of the features and benefits of such a major undertaking. Almost two years went by with no action, and no promise of the facility becoming reality any time soon. She continued her presentations and talks, always face-to-face, always prepared with her large, (by now fraying) roll of architectural renderings, and her photos, staff loading charts and well-rehearsed mini speeches.

While among the leadership team, there were many supporters in word, one stood out as her “Prophet”. One day, after months of positive feedback, and no concrete action, she was summoned to the VP’s office to again discuss funding for the facility. She pessimistically sat among the other stakeholders, in disheartened disbelief, denying that any money could be forthcoming. Her “Prophet” tried to reassure her a few times by repeating, “Marcy, we have the money”, to which she just shook her head in response, exasperated. After a few more denials, her “Prophet” opened his briefcase and took out a chart depicting detailed funding allocations for the remainder of the year. He pointed to the longest bar on the chart and said “Marcy, there’s the money. You’ve got the money”.  The “Prophet” had made her vision a reality. The facility was completed within three months and was the most unique facility of its kind in the entire company.   

It was interesting that this major campaign was almost completely personal, hands on and face-to-face. With such a tough group to sell to, no other method would have worked. This manager realized that the leadership team was not “buying” the facility; they were “buying” her. She had to be personally credible first.

Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, PCC, SHRM-SCP

[email protected], 401-742-1965

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach (ICF-PCC), Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner, and a Certified EQi-2.0 and EQ360 Practitioner.

Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years’ experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area. Today, Mary dedicates herself to helping good leaders get even better through positive behavior change.