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Breakthrough Process 8 – Presenting Action Recommendations to Decision-Makers

Step eight in the Breakthrough Process involves presenting action recommendations to decision makers, a pivotal moment that can make or break a change initiative. The process is designed to ensure that the decision makers receive and embrace the recommendations effectively. Several assumptions and potential challenges are addressed. Decision makers often feel defensive or unsure about unconventional ideas from lower-level employees, while presenters may be nervous about addressing senior management. The options available to decision makers include full approval, partial approval with adjustments, rejection with reasons, conditional approval, or delegation to higher authorities. The meeting involves a fishbowl design, where breakthrough team members sit in a circle outside the senior leadership team. Presenters engage in a conversation with one member of the senior team to ensure understanding and alignment. A flip chart and handouts may be used to support the presentation. This unique approach minimizes resistance and maximizes the receptivity of decision makers to breakthrough ideas.


Step eight: Presenting Action Recommendations to Decision Makers. This is one of my absolute favorite parts of this process, and it’s actually a pivot point that really determines the success or failure of a change initiative. So here’s how we’ll set it up. I’m assuming that you’ve gone through these first two phases of preparing, diagnosing the situation. You’ve prepared the decision makers again for this. Now we’re at the point where the teams are going to come in. The breakthrough teams are going to come in and make their recommendations to decision makers. This is the point where the decision makers get not just information, but they have a gut feeling above and below the waterline, as we say, whether to go forward or not with a particular recommendation. So this is my process for doing this. I haven’t seen anybody else do it. I’m sure somebody has done it, but I’m really proud of this.

In this whole sequence, these are my assumptions, and they probably apply in your case: that teams have been working on creating breakthrough recommendations that they’re prepared to present to decision makers, that the decision makers are prepared to receive and be a little more open to significant change. And there’s no time for going back and forth; you really need to have decisions made quickly in this process. These are some potential challenges at this point that really, really need to be understood, and I’d like to go over these with the decision makers as well so they are conscious that this is happening.

First of all, there’s a very strong tendency for decision makers to be defensive because managers and leaders are supposed to know everything. And here come these people from the bottom of the organization coming up with these amazing ideas. It’s really hard for them not to feel a bit territorial. Presenters are also nervous about talking to these people. Sometimes, in my experience, there will be someone from three or four levels down in an organization who maybe just sits in a cubbyhole somewhere eight, nine, ten hours a day, and they may have seen some of these senior people walking down the hall, but they’ve never spoken to them, for Pete’s sake. And now they’re in a meeting where they’re presenting really significantly important things. It’s really scary. So it’s another thing to build in. In fact, the better the recommendations, the greater the risk of the managers looking bad and nodding and not supporting what’s coming forward. So there’s an irony built in here. I’d like to go over these with the managers, and what the breakthrough teams don’t realize is that managers are also nervous because they realize that they’re being assessed by the frontline people now.

Here are the options available to decision makers when something is presented to them. The first one is great, love it, let’s go for it. The second one is we kind of like this; we’re not too sure about that. So we say yes to this part; we need to work on the other part. They can say there’s absolutely no way, and here’s why. And that rarely happens because of all the checks, as you’ve seen up to now, in the process where things are being leaked to the decision makers; they’re getting briefings on a regular basis. This one’s very, very unusual in my experience. Another one is we love the idea; we might want to take action, but for these reasons, we shouldn’t do it. Now, maybe there’s a strategic thing coming that nobody knew about or some organizational change or something else happening. Another one is let’s give it a try and see what happens. Let’s give it a try up until a certain time. And then finally, you can say, you know what? This one really, we’re in a matrix, and we are not in a position. We can certainly recommend it, but the decision is going to be made by somebody off in some other country or some other part of the world now.

Here are the people that are in the room in my design for this meeting. You have the breakthrough team members as many as possible. It’s a fishbowl design, as you’ll see. You have the senior leadership team and any other key decision makers, especially the decision maker. One of the biggest failures I had in this was not because of the failure of the process; it was my failure to make sure that the key decision maker at the last minute just said, “I can’t be there. I’m being called off to headquarters.” In hindsight, we should have canceled the meeting. But all the people said, “No, no, no, we’re all ready.” So we went ahead with the meeting. The key decision maker was not there. He came back later, not having had this experience, and then asked several of the recommendations. That’s one of two or three failures I’ve had. My fault. My bad.

And then, of course, the breakthrough teams, if they have sponsors, like, for instance, if someone from IT is not represented on the senior leadership team, you want them in the room and so forth, and then any expert resources like, hopefully, you are invited as well. External consultants. Now how do you set up the room? This is very important. First of all, there’s a table. I like a square table, as you’ll see. I like to put the senior leadership team members at this end of the table, with the boss sitting at the head of the table. The breakthrough team members sit around in a circle outside. There’s something called the hot seat, which you’ll see in a second.

And these two are the two breakthrough team members who are going to present. Now, the key to this, which I think is really cool, is that instead of one person on the breakthrough team standing up and making a presentation to the entire leadership team, which can be daunting, even daunting for me, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years. Instead of that, two members of the breakthrough team sit down, and they have a conversation with one member of the senior team that they have chosen. So, for instance, let’s say this is something to do with IT. They’ve chosen not the IT manager, but someone other than IT to sit in the hot seat and listen on behalf of the management team. So their focus is simply the three of us having a conversation, the rest of the team. I hope you guys get it, but our job is just to make sure that this person understands. I usually sit at the end of the table here just to help facilitate this particular aspect of the conversation. That’s my zone there. Actually. That’s the whole focus of the room is on these three people here. And then I like to have a flip chart up here. And then if there are any handouts or something, they’re managed by the breakthrough pair. Like they might say, “Here are the handouts,” or they might say, “We’ll give it out to you later.” But that’s their job to manage that. This is an absolutely extraordinary process. It reduces the risk. It means that communication is taking place. The main thing here that what I’m working on is I’m asking the leader, the receiver, to paraphrase, what do you hear them saying? This is all about understanding. It’s not about arguing. It’s not about explaining or defending. It’s just, do you understand their recommendation? Now remember they’ve used the stripes process in the conversation. So this person has heard the situation: the target, the reasons we’re not there, the issues, the polarities, and so forth. And just every step along the way, I’m just making sure that this person understands. Now, what if somebody has a comment that they just can’t sit on, the boss or somebody? I’m the gatekeeper, and I’ve coached the senior team ahead of time. I may stop; you will definitely get your question in, but let me be responsible for the timing of these things. They always say yes. So that’s how the process works. It is magical. I’ve had a 90% acceptance rate whenever this process is used. It’s really quite extraordinary. Now here’s the process. The boss opens the meeting, welcomes everybody, and then there’s a kind of a check-in. We always have our clients check in. How are you doing today? What are you bringing? And so forth. If it’s a large fishbowl, sometimes you can’t afford to have a large check-in. Then the breakthrough team leader describes the process. I don’t describe the process, but the people that we’ve been training from the OE team usually stand up and they kind of explain the process. Then presenter team number one sits down, and they speak with the hot seat manager, and then all I’m doing is making sure that there’s 110% presence. Paraphrasing, very, very lightly facilitated conversation to clarify questions from managers. That’s okay for them to ask and to if there’s any comments that need to come in from the outside circle. Sometimes the presenters would say, “You know, Tom, you were the guy that did the most work on this from the outer circle. Could you, could you say something about that?” So it’s like everybody is invited, but it’s very carefully kind of monitored and sort of gatekeeping. And then finally, when the presenters are satisfied, I’ll turn to the two presenters, and I’ll say, “Do you think she got it? Do you think he got it?” And as soon as they say yes, then the boss thanks the group and usually takes a short break, 5 or 10 minutes, and then the next presenter team comes up, does the same thing. After this, implementation teams are formed. They go forward to take these yeses or these maybes further to the next step. And that’s where we go in step nine.


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