The key to growth is change and the introduction of new ideas.
From a department perspective, your team needs to grow if you’re going to hit your goals for the year and keep the company moving.
From a professional perspective, you need to grow within the company by leading new ideas and projects.
All of this growth can easily be stopped by one group of people: management. Executives and managers hold the keys to unlocking new ideas through additional budget and resources. In order to get those resources, you need to get their buy-in.
Here’s how you can successfully pitch upper management and get them to say yes to your ideas, projects and changes so you can continue to grow the company while improving yourself professionally.
Understand Where Management is Coming From
In the same way that sales teams research prospective clients before making a call, you need to understand where management is coming from in order to successfully tailor your pitch.
“It is an executive’s duty to define and defend a strategic agenda — a small set of initiatives that will keep the organization competitive and relevant,” Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts, writes at Forbes. “So if you want support for a new idea, instead of trying to add your stuff onto the the agenda of an executive, show how your ideas will further their already-set agenda. In other words, to get buy in, you have to make the tie-in.”
Listen to town hall meetings and take note of what needs to be improved this quarter, or what your management team keeps talking about. Using these buzzwords in your presentation turns your idea from additional work that adds to their burden to a solution to help them achieve company goals more efficiently.
“Presenting to a C-suite executive or senior manager, especially when you’re entry-level or somewhere in the middle, requires a different set of skills compared to run-of-the-mill speaking presentations,” Jo Miller writes at The Muse. “Because the roles of these high-level staff are quite different than the mid-level managers you may be used to working with, their objectives, communication styles, and decision-making methods are going to be distinct as well.”
Take note of how they voice their concerns and how they listen to others. This will allow you to mimic how they want to be addressed so you can use verbiage that makes sense to them.
Remember, while you’re up against people who hear ideas throughout the day, their job isn’t to say no. It’s to decide how to achieve their goals in the best way possible.
“By their nature, CEOs are typically entrepreneurs with an appetite for disrupting the current state of a given industry,” Ben Plomion writes at Chief Marketer. “This enthusiasm for the novel and new is tempered by the CEO’s interest in marketing ideas that align with their specific vision of the company. … Pro tip: You’ll know you’ve succeeded when a CEO claims your idea as their own, without attribution or irony.”
Beta Test Your Idea Before Making the Pitch
A few days before you make your pitch, start training to go into battle. Grab a few co-workers and run through the process with them. You might even want to talk with middle managers and people in other departments to get their perspectives.
“You’re likely surrounded by a great resource to prepare for an interrogation of your idea,” Brad Jones writes at MakeUseOf. “If you’re pitching at work, who better to call upon for insight than your co-workers? They have the experience to clue you into any failings of your pitch, thus tapping that knowledge is in your best interests.”
Make sure your peers aren’t holding back. After all, these are all questions you’re going to face in front of the C-suite, so you can use the practice fielding them in front of well-meaning co-workers.
“Embrace the naysayers,” Amanda Berlin writes at Inc. “If your idea isn’t an immediate winner among your colleagues, don’t just write them off as dream-stompers who fear change. Listen to their perspectives, and use their objections to strengthen your idea. Their reservations may point to holes in your plan.”
The more they’re able to tear apart your plan, the more you’re able to tweak it until you create something that will work. Eventually, you will have an answer (and solution) for almost anything.
Furthermore, even if your CEO accepts the idea, you might want to invite opponents of your idea to your meeting, if only to show that you’ve thought of everything.
“Your pitch to them needs to reflect their own nature, level of risk aversion, and their trust in you based on past relationships,” Kairos CEO Brian Brackeen explains. “Make certain that you have invited every relevant stakeholder to your presentation. This includes anybody who you know will clearly argue against your innovation. If they make a drama, it is more likely to get your idea noticed, and you hopefully will be able to provide counter-arguments to their attacks.”
Another benefit of bringing in these parties is that your CEO can give the final word and prevent future pushback. If he or she is on board, then co-workers who are against the plan aren’t easily able to go against it.
Assemble a Team to Help Your Cause
Along with the executive suite and your detractors, who else should be in your pitch meeting? Before you enter the room, you should have a crack team of supporters willing to add their pull and contribute to the project’s execution.
“If your idea is interesting and possibly beneficial, it shouldn’t be hard to get a co-worker or two to also want to try the new thing,” Scott Berkun writes. “Provided the boss respects their opinion, their interest in participating helps support your arguments. In some cases it might even be better if someone other than you makes the pitch.”
In fact, if you’re new to the company, or pitching an idea that requires the participation of other departments or levels, you should consider inviting a more senior member of the team to collaborate with you. They have more pull and might be received better.
“C-Suites always check out your reputation,” Michele Wierzgac writes. “If you have a reputation for being a rebel, your ideas may never be heard or implemented. If your ideas are always being rejected, you may want to examine your reputation. If you have said or done something that has damaged your reputation within the organization, you may want to consider moving on and starting over.”
Remember, you’re not just getting buy-in from your CEO, but also your co-workers in other departments. If you can make them excited to get involved in the projects (instead of just approving of it), then you increase your odds of approval.
“We may get compliance but we won’t get the kind of buy-in that motivates others to deeply support our ideas,” Kristi Hedges writes at Forbes. “Real buy-in involves at least some element of co-creation. It invites discussion, debate, and allows everyone to feel even more vested in the outcome.”
However your pitch is received, take time at the end to solicit feedback. This proves that the project is a team effort and will only succeed with the whole team’s input.
“One of the best strategies you can use when you walk into the lion’s den and have this honest conversation with your stakeholder is to ask for advice and feedback,” Susanne Madsen writes at the PM Perspectives Blog. “This is a very disarming move, which instantly builds trust and opens up the relationship because you show that you care and that you are humble enough to ask for their opinion.”
Mitigate the Risk and Cost to the Company
One universal tactic for getting your management team to say yes is by lowering the potential risk to the organization. Remember, “risk” applies to lost time, money, resources, and reputation, so even a relatively affordable venture could be viewed as risky if it takes up significant chunks of employee hours.
“The whole time you’re talking, they’re adding up the risks of your proposal on one side of the scale and weighing them against potential rewards on the other side,” John Reed writes at PitchMaps, where he’s shared a 10-point checklist for pitching to senior executives. “You have to prove one thing: that the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of implementing your recommendation.”
To mitigate risk, suggest a pilot program on a smaller scale to determine preliminary results and benefits.
“Ideas that can be tried on a small scale are often more likely to be adopted,” Sarah Schmidt writes at MarketResearch.com. “If your idea requires a huge upfront investment and significant effort and coordination among different teams, people may be less open to the risks involved. … Find ways to experiment with your idea on a smaller scale before committing to wholesale changes.”
Then, if the program is accepted, you will be able to execute it on a large scale with ideas for improvement and better planning.
Flesh Out As Many Details as Possible
While co-worker buy-in is a big part of pitching ideas, you also need to prove that you know your stuff. Don’t waste your CEO’s time with a half-baked idea that lacks detail, evidence and goals.
“You must have a clear and detailed understanding on the project and its sequential stages in order to be able to communicate what each of the affected business areas needs to support the project,” writes the team at PM-Partners Group. “Each of the areas will need to know the cost and time impacts on each of them during the commissioning, implementation and ongoing support of the new initiative.”
In all likelihood, your idea will affect other departments and increase their workloads. By understanding the scope and your needs from them, you can phrase this ask in an informed manner.
“The first thing you will want to assure your boss of is that it won’t distract from all of the work already on your plate,” (or on the plates of others) Sara McCord writes at The Muse. “Phrasing this actually takes a more delicate balance than you may imagine. Seem too busy, and your boss may suggest you hold off on a new initiative, but make it seem like you have all the time in the world, and your supervisor may wonder what’s taken you so long to suggest additional tasks.”
Again, this is where listening comes in. What is your C-suite concerned with when starting a new project. Is it incremental revenue? Is it exposure? One of the easiest ways to win them over is with hard facts.
“Illustrating benefits is similar to making it relevant, but clearly show how this change or idea will positively impact the organization,” Erika Goldwater writes at Annuitas. “Speak the language of your boss; use numbers, statistics, revenues or savings percentage to help quantify the value of the proposed change.”
Finally, end your pitch with a timeline and implementation plan (with your pilot program and eventual goals). Create a specific ask regarding the budget and resources so your CEO isn’t just agreeing to an abstract concept that’s forgotten.
“Contrary to popular belief, ideas in and of themselves are not particularly valuable,” Trent Ricker writes at Pursuant. “Thousands of great ideas are born every day but very few ever come to life. Why? Implementation, that’s the hard part. It’s what separates an idea from an innovation.”
Your management team is surrounded by people trying to push their ideas and agendas all day. By making a prepared and informed case, you’re setting yourself up to successfully stand out and receive one of the few instances of “yes.”