Getting Buy-In from Senior Executives
7 May, 2021
I was leading an effort to build out a platform for an organization within our company. The new platform was meant to help client-facing parts of our business with how they were providing services by managing workflow and documentation. Though it was being built for everyone to use, there was some resistance among executive stakeholders to embrace it. They were bringing in significant revenue and didn’t want to change anything that would impact the familiar method. I had to find a way to get them on board and get their buy-in if I wanted to continue with our project.
We held separate introductory meetings with various stakeholders first and only then had a joint meeting with the two most influential stakeholders. We tried to explain to them what we were building and what problems our tool was trying to solve in greater detail. After completing our presentation, we paused to allow them to provide their feedback. We received some rather generic feedback, which made me propose putting our tool aside and discussing problems they were facing in their leadership roles.
Both of them highlighted that they were spending a lot of time verifying their team’s work. As they were required to sign their team’s work off, they would have to look through all the data and use our heuristic to compare specific types of information and identify outliers. The discussion became quite interactive and engaging, and we are able to show them on the spot, using a whiteboard, how we could make it easier for them. We would be able to automatically generate dynamic visualizations with up-to-date information so they could avoid a laborious process of cross-checking various types of information. We showcased how we could integrate it as a visualization integrated from the moment they logged into the system.
The senior executives immediately liked the idea because they immediately saw how the new platform was not just assisting their teams, but also helping the leaders more directly and free up some of their time to focus on other pressing matters.
More importantly, they would be able to spend more time thinking about the implications of the analysis their teams were doing for clients. For us, adding a couple of dashboard visualizations was relatively easy. By adding it, we created something of value for executives that got them on board and ensured their support for the whole project.
- Listen carefully and respectfully probe. When you meet resistance from stakeholders at any level, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have a valid reason. Listen to them and try to understand their point of view. If their arguments don’t sound valid, assume that what they are saying is true, and see if you can address their problems. Sometimes, one has to probe slightly and ask more than just a few questions (what would you like to do, for example). When they tell you that they like/dislike something, probe beyond that and go through several layers of Why. I like applying the Five Whys method to get to the root cause of a problem and extract the kernel of truth.
- If stakeholders are not from the same business unit, try to understand how their business unit’s commitments align with yours. Make sure that whatever you are delivering ties to their goals and helps them with their commitments for their business unit. They have a responsibility to deliver results in specific areas and if you can illustrate how the effort you are leading will align with their focus areas and assist them in their goals, you will get their active support and assistance. In the end you will benefit even more if they actively evangelize your efforts within their own organization, and with their peers who lead other organizations.
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