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Securing a Big Leap Buy-In

Product
Leadership

28 July, 2020

Fraser Carlisle, Vice President and Global Head of Digital Product of iShares at BlackRock, dissects how he got executives to buy-in into his ideas and how he managed to retain them through the whole process.

Problem

Over the last couple of years, I ran several initiatives that were delivering lots of incremental value. However, the time was ripe for our product to take a ‘big leap’, and getting board-level executives to buy in was of paramount importance. The key challenges were how to create ‘genuine buy-in’ versus ‘lip service buy-in’ and furthermore, how to sustain that buy-in all the way through to market launch by taking key stakeholders along on that journey.
 

Actions taken

Firstly, you should identify a genuine board-level sponsor -- either from a business or technology function -- who can bridge the gaps within the organization since big and interesting ideas across multiple functions and business areas. Once you have identified a committed sponsor, you expect them to be willing to veto or approve if required, provide funding to expand your team or clear roadmap space. In addition, and most importantly, they need to commit the time in their calendars to be involved. They do not need to be involved in the day-to-day but they should facilitate quick decision-making, unblock problems that cannot be solved by the working team, and provide working group delegates who can represent all key stakeholder groups. As you are getting closer to live, they should provide you with the right and go-to-market support, including PR support, earmarking marketing budget and ensuring that the sales channel is going to activate on it.
 

Secondly, finding the right sponsor implies being a product leader who has a clear understanding of the key drivers for different executives within your company. Our sponsor was a new regional lead for a particular business line and we had to understand their top priorities so we could demonstrate why they should sponsor our product initiative over something else another competing priority. In our case, we were trying to strategically position our financial products in terms of people’s aspirations and goals and we had to find a sponsor who had shared this common goal and would prioritize bringing this to life through our product. We had multiple ideas as to how we might do this and approached the sponsors with a couple of different ideas, and agreed on the idea that we thought is best aligned.
 

Thirdly, it is always helpful to have multiple ‘big leap’ bets or experiments running simultaneously that could be candidates for sponsorship. You should avoid over-investing in or becoming overly attached to these bets, as most won’t make it to market. Instead, create a discovery pipeline of many different ideas that you can keep warm should a customer or business priorities change-- often ideas that are not right for sponsorship today may be valuable in a different form in the future and having a rich and varied discovery pipeline will allow you to meet changing priorities. The same should apply to your customer research pipeline so that if the market changes or new opportunities arise, you are on the pulse of what people are looking for and can propose how your product may fit into this new context. This equally applies to sponsors who might change their priorities.
 

Lessons learned

  • No surprises. Over-communicating with your sponsor and their delegates throughout the whole process and recapping key decisions is critical. Ensure that you spend at least half an hour with them per quarter, or more if needed, especially ahead of meetings where you need them to make a key decision. If you have communicated effectively with your sponsor and their delegates, the decision should already have been made before the meeting. The meeting’s role should be to confirm everyone has the same understanding of the decision being made and agree on the next steps. These meetings should not resemble debate clubs.
  • Don’t forget about go-to-market. So much of the early focus was on creating alignment and excitement for the product itself that we were taken off guard when we got the ‘big leap’ buy-in’ that we were looking for and our sponsor wanted it to make a big splash on launch. This meant we had to scramble to arrange for marketing, PR and sales plans to promote the product through different channels. Get ready to promote it from the very moment you notice that your product is getting traction.

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