Support to communicate and implement improvements - an ongoing issue
Gaining support from the C-Suite and other influencers - to communicate client insights, implement improvements, and grow the business can be a challenge for some organisations. Buy-in can also be especially important when rolling out a new initiative, or following a change of senior management, or project team.
Research from Harvard Business Review
In January 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review “Get the Boss to Buy In”, the article by Susan Ashford and James Detert describes research done with over 100 managers, on what makes for success in achieving buy-in. The authors identify 7 tactics which were used significantly more by those who succeeded than by those who were unable to win support. These 7 tactics include some obvious ones, but it is using them all in combination which tends to make the difference - a 40% difference in success rates in this case.
7 most successful tactics to 'Get the boss to buy-in'
1. Tailor your pitch
(whether formal or informal) All our clients already do this, but does everyone research the needs of their firm’s decision-makers and influencers as thoroughly as they research clients’ needs and wants? Does your team routinely talk to other departments about their goals and concerns?
2. Show how your proposal supports a strategic goal of your firm.
The authors stress the benefits of illustrating the business benefits, showing why it is an organisational need, not just a want, and demonstrating why it is urgent. We would add “quantify the benefits if you possibly can” – and read “How to Measure Anything” or similar books, if you are stuck on how to measure the apparently unmeasurable.
3. Understand and manage the emotions on both sides.
Regulate your own emotions (don’t allow your passion for the subject to run away with you) – and recognise and help manage the audience’s emotions too. Avoid expressing negatives and focus on how action is possible and practical. If you can tie it to another idea that is going forward, so much the better.
4. Get the timing right.
The authors suggest asking yourself what is important to the organisation as well as to you, and deferring a pitch that isn’t timely, if you can. For our clients however, client feedback is critical for long-term success and implementing it cannot be delayed for long.
5. Involve others.
Building alliances and coalitions tends to generate organisational buy-in more quickly, say the authors, because allies bring information, expertise, energy, different contacts and influence, and resources. Involve allies in pitching, and if possible go with anyone pitching on your behalf – and either way, prepare them very well.
6. Stick to organisational norms
– the way we do things round here:
- What data and information do decision-makers and influencers prefer to have - and how do they prefer to get it?
- Can you test the water with them in informal one-to-one discussions before presenting it to Board meetings, or is that seen as developing a cabal?
If it is acceptable, this testing of the water does seem to help (influencers like to be asked), but formal presentations seemed to be preferred because they carried more weight and the peer pressure can be useful.
7. Suggest solutions
– “thoughtful fixes” – this was the most-used tactic amongst the successful. Including funding ideas for proposals, wherever possible, was also useful. If there was no clear solution, suggesting a process for finding one also was usually well-received.
Combine all 7 tactics to further increase success
The authors suggested that getting buy-in should be treated like a campaign, choosing your battles carefully (so as not to erode your social capital) and combining all 7 tactics. From our experience in helping clients with this, we would go further and would suggest that getting buy-in should be a process. It should start with actively researching your decision-makers’ and influencers’ needs – informally over a coffee with them or their team members on a regular basis, so that you always know what is on their minds if you need to plan and make a pitch or seek their involvement.
We would also suggest that you test what works in terms of getting buy-in in your organisation.
- Do you and your team members talk over a coffee to other people in different departments about how they have succeeded in getting buy-in, and learn from them?
- Do you build successful tactics into your Getting Buy-in process and test them?
- Do you train your team – and all new members - on the process of getting buy-in?
- Do you review as a team how pitches have gone – including successful ones – and build the learning into the process?
- Do you consciously practice getting buy-in, using the process, on issues within your own team?
The full article: Get the Boss to Buy In, Learn to sell your ideas up the chain of command. by Susan J. Ashford and James Detert, is available from www.hbr.org