Focus on what counts

How to Get Your Leadership Team to Buy Into Innovative Projects

November 28, 2017
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As excited as we all get about the latest trends in tech – iOT, blockchain, big data, cloud, etc. – not all leaders in the middle market share this enthusiasm when it comes to allocating investment. But forward-looking leaders not only to keep the business running – they also innovate; they demonstrate to the business and the marketplace ways of running a business, developing products, and providing insight they didn’t know were possible.

How can you influence these decisions to get the investment and influence you need to do things that will actually move the needle? There are three basic phases of getting buy-in:

  1. Build Credibility
  2. Build the Case
  3. Demonstrate Success

Build Credibility

Keep the business running smoothly and efficiently
For better or for worse, middle-market leaders are primary evaluated on how well they keep the business running efficiently and cost effectively. This may or may not be an accurate picture of your value to the business, but it’s important to acknowledge this is likely the viewpoint of at least some of the people you need as allies.

To build allies across the leadership team, you need to show them you’re invested in their priorities. Make sure your IT operations house is in order. For most companies this means committing to security, limiting downtime on critical revenue-focused systems, and keeping your user satisfaction rates reasonably high. If you already have some large projects running, be sure to maintain strong leadership and oversight at the top.

Get the Right Advice
Being able to provide an independent view of how the solution will provide value to the business and validate that your particular company is a good fit will be key. The right advisor will learn your business and work with you to define the benefits. They will also know how to frame it in the context of your competition and, ideally, other industries. They will support you as you strive to define how to create value with these new innovations, and bolster your expertise.

Build the Case

Advocate for developing a roadmap and a business case for high-value projects
Last month’s newsletter spoke to the importance of developing a roadmap for your business. Suffice it to say, the strategic roadmap can and should be your most powerful ally.

Some business cases strive to estimate the specific benefits and costs of a project and demonstrate definite monetary value. For some projects this is appropriate – especially those that require significant investment or seek to eliminate substantial costs – and for these, it is worth some time and money defining and communicating hard dollar benefits.

Not every project is a good candidate for a rigorous quantitative business case, but that doesn’t mean you should eliminate this step altogether. Qualitative business cases – a clear narrative description of expected benefits – can also be powerful. To make this effective, be specific about cause and effect. For example: “This tool will increase the effectiveness of our salespeople by enabling them to access all information on open leads from the field. This will be done with a set of applications that are as intuitive as those they use in their personal lives.” Defining the revenue upside to this type of benefit, while possible, would be largely guesswork for most companies, but detailing the benefits in enough detail will also build your project’s case.

Ultimately, businesses should track the benefits that are set forth as justification so be careful what you’re willing to assign dollar values to.

Highlight Benefits, but also Address Risk and How to Control It
If you were to use traditional sales tactics you would focus on all of the great things a new solution can offer and downplay any areas you were worried about. When selling internally, however, you need to treat the potential downsides with a great deal of respect. At least some of your decision makers are prioritizing risk management.

Openly addressing the risks will demonstrate that you don’t see the solution as a panacea, that you acknowledge and are prepared to work hard to avoid negative consequences, and that you value the perspective of your risk-focused peers.

Avoid the “Blackbox” explanation
There’s a lot of trendy technology out there – we all hear the benefits of “cloud,” “blockchain,” “the internet of things,” and the other latest trends in technology. The thought-sphere is full of stories about the transformational potential of these technologies and we quickly integrate their names into our every-day language.

The challenge for us is to not let our people, our vendors, or ourselves get too attached to the terminology and let the names themselves become the solutions. We’ve all done this - analytics will fix our understanding of customer purchasing behavior; cloud will help us avoid costly upgrades; blockchain will solve our security and audit issues. The reality is the name of the technology does not matter all that much and it risks painting the solutions as plug-and-play solutions. What matters is the problem you’re trying to solve, specifically, how a new tool will help solve it and how the business will need to support it.

Demonstrate Success

Test, Pilot, Iterate
Piloting new solutions is one of the best ways to obtain buy-in. While strong testing will generate important feedback it’s nearly impossible to account for every important use case prior to deploying the real solution. Whether or not you are implementing a technology-based solution, find a way to pilot it in a limited fashion: Choose an area of the business where you have strong allies, great executive buy-in, and ideally a flexible and adept user base, and pilot your solution for some time before rolling it out widely. Implement, iterate until it works, and then tell everyone about the success.

One of the best outcomes of pilots is it can get the rest of the organization excited about what’s coming. If nothing else though, it will build the solution’s credibility with the rest of the business, demonstrate a low tolerance for risk, and let you and your organization learn enough to be even more successful for subsequent rollouts.

Is it That Simple?

Well….sadly, no. Ultimately, success will breed success. If you deliver one or two projects that are seen as both innovative and successful it will be much easier to achieve buy-in on the next one. Following these tips will make getting the first one done easier, and it will credential you as someone who can take important strategic risks that provide real value for the company.