In this video interview, Business Consultant Steve Weissman overviews the secrets to getting executive buy-in for your business technology. Each clip overviews key topics including the number one rule to getting buy-in, how to measure your success and the top tips and tricks to getting “yes”.
You decide you need ECM, BPM, any sort of business technology? Now what? How do you get executive buy in for this new technology?
Steve Weissman: That’s a great question, because it’s hard to do much of any significance without that buy in. And just a quick aside, as I glanced down at my own image on the screen, I should explain to folks that the reason it looks like my wall cut itself shaving is because I’m doing some green screen video later and that’s the green screen. Which has nothing to do with anything except it’s kind of cool. The training videos I’m doing are coming out really fun.
Anyway, the whole notion of buy in is just so critical, but it’s also really hard. There are plenty of exceptions, OK?
I’m going to talk in broad strokes. I don’t want to suggest that every organization is impossible to deal with because plenty are fine. There are still some things that you need to do and bear in mind even in the most embracing of corporate cultures, but by and large it’s like pushing a large rock up a hill. It can be done, but it takes some considerate energy and some focused direction for that to happen.
I’m poking around in this area all the time anyway, and I found a really good article that I then discovered is actually on your site that Pam Baker wrote. I’m going to read the quote here because I thought it was so good.
She says, “Often top level management’s hesitation has nothing to do with the technology or your presentation to senior management.” I thought that was so cool because my own long standing ditty has been that it’s psychology and not technology.
I often use that in the context of user training and user adoption, but it certain is true working up the chain also because senior managers…It’s all about them. They’ve got to look good for the bosses.
All the data in the world you can put in front of them, but you can’t forget that ultimately they’re going to make a decision and they’re going to have to defend that decision right or wrong.
Often times what those decisions are, are a reflection of how they’re going to have to defend it later, and it may depart from the case that you’re trying to make. That’s a lot of words, but I’m psyched by the subject.
The 1st rule to getting buy-in
Well, I have rules. When I’m coaching youth baseball we have three rules, the first of which is have fun, of course. Just so you know. The second is no bleeding. That’s the safety thing. The third is don’t knock over the coach’s coffee.
In this context, and I alluded to it already. For me, rule number one is you have to make them look good. You have to help the senior managers essentially show off for their bosses upstream and maybe earn hugs from their employees downstream.
It sounds trite and superficial. Like I said, not every organization is quite so stark in this regard, but at the end of the day this is a big part of it. The validation that we all seek I think becomes particularly acute at the upper levels. The stakes are higher.
My favorite example isn’t so much related to solution selection but it’s the same principle. I had a client years ago that was bought by a major software company. I looked at this and I thought, “That’s really strange. The business models are really different.” Essentially a shrink wrap software provider bought a provider of workflow software, which is not a shrink wrapped sale.
I thought, “These are really different business models. I don’t know how this is going to go.” And, of course, it went badly. But it went on forever and ever. It occurred to me the reason it went on forever and ever was it came down to one guy, in a corner office somewhere at that large software company, making this purchase decision. He then had to defend it from that point forward, even to the point of irrationality.
It is personal. Tip O’Neill, famous name around these parts, he once said, “All politics is local.” I think all business is personal in much the same way. You try to make good decisions as a senior manager and you work hard for the benefit of the corporation and all that fun stuff, but at the end of the day you live and die by the decisions that you make.
Anything that we, as information professionals, can do to help that boss or those bosses look good and make sound decisions so that they can be heroes, that’s where it starts. Even if you couch it in different terms. Rule number one, make them look good.
The more the merrier, then? Should you get buy-in from as many people as possible?
Maybe, typical consultant answer. As I say, a lot of it depends on the corporate culture that you’re living with. We always talk about the need to get an executive sponsor, a higher up that can be the lightning rod if organizational issues accrue, somebody you can go to if there are issues and you want to bounce stuff off of. Obviously, the more support like that that you get across the top of the org chart the better, but then we start running into things that I think we may have talked about once. I can’t recall, but here at Holly Group we talk about politics, baggage, and religion. Non technical things to be dealt with, when you’re talking about information technology.
The politics of whose budget is it, who’s vying for their promotion, all of that stuff that falls under the category of psychology…The more people you involve in your activity, the more of that you’re likely to encounter.
On the one hand, it’s a great idea because the broader the support that you have, the more likely it is that obstacles will be knocked down for you. But the flip side is if you’re trying to keep all of these different people happy and they have competing corporate interests, it can really make your life a lot harder.
Having talked all that through, I think in general you’re possibly best off finding one and let that one run interference for you, so that you can concentrate on doing the deeds that you’re trying to accomplish, without spending all of your time running with interference with all that other stuff.
Tips and Tricks:
Excessive flattery is always good. No. Well, maybe yes. Again, like you said, not every organization’s going to have the same degree of difficulty. Some may be quite cooperative. In some cases, senior managers have the idea and they say, “Help me get this done,” which is ideal. But even in those cases there are still some things to do. The first is you have your homework.
Essentially, especially in a more political environment, you’ve got one shot at this so you really have to make it count. I mean that in a couple of different directions. First is the numbers. You’ve got to do your ROI analysis. You have to look at total cost of ownership. Hopefully, you take a page from our book. It talks about how to get maximum total value out of what you’re trying to do, which goes beyond those concepts. The quantification is critical. They find one math mistake and you’re done.
The other side of it, though, has to do with practical evidence. Have you built little demos for yourself to demonstrate the concept? Have you tried some things? Are there real world experiences that you can point to, to say, “Look, I didn’t just make all this up. We’ve been trying these things and here are some improvements we’ve been able to make.” That’s where the quantification comes in again. Time saved or whatever it happens to be.
My proposal is, boss, that we try to do this on a larger scale, whether through the department or the corporation or whatever the circumstance has to be. I’ve been noodling on some numbers and here’s what I think.
You can demonstrate some practical reality and add to the numbers and really make a strong case for what and why. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is almost an extension of the first, which is this data, has to be airtight. Use outside sources. Look for best practices. The training materials that I present have a lot of that stuff in it. The web is full of this kind of stuff. There are case studies to be gleaned. You have to translate it all into your own context, but you want to lock it down as tightly as possible.
I go back to especially the notion of maximum total value, not just return on investment, because you want to talk more strategically, also. Not just operationally.
A classic example is in an invoicing system, the operational desire is to be able to process them faster but from a strategic standpoint, yes, it’s that but it’s about being able to collect the money sooner because that has an impact on cash flow. It’s a bit of a more strategic perspective than just helping the invoice processing people work better.
I think that longer term view is also important and may become more important the higher up the chain that you’re working.
I guess the last thing, as I continue my little soliloquy here, is that you have to be truthful and realistic. Always positive, because theoretically if you can’t be positive about it then you shouldn’t be doing it, I guess. But at the same time you don’t want to sugarcoat. None of this is easy. You want to be sure that you’re presenting the challenges in a constructive way with workarounds or solutions as part of your presentation but you don’t want to just make stuff up because now you’re afraid for your own job.
That’s a human tendency. That’s the same tendency that your boss has with his boss, back to making him look good. Your credibility, like your boss’s, is everything. Once that credibility is damaged it’s really hard to get back and you can pretty well take the initiative idea that you have out back and just bury it, because nobody’s going to believe you.
Again, broad strokes but philosophically it’s all about credibility and it’s all about steady progress. You want to show that yeah, this is hard and yeah, we’ve got some obstacles but we’re overcoming them. Because of that longer view, that strategic view, this is all worth it.
What happens if, when going through the buy in process, you realize can’t convince yourself?
Don’t do it. That’s not a hard one. It’s interesting that you ask me that because I’ve been around organizations and in some over the span of my career, which is amazing because I’m only 20. I remember saying to a boss once, “You know, we’re not killing enough projects. There are lots of good ideas. The ideas are not the problem, but we can’t invest in all of them, at least not equally.
The resources we have are finite. Not only the money resources but the people resources.” Depending again on the culture of the organization that you live in, maybe you’re able to try a bunch of different things. Some of them won’t work as well as others or the payoff or the payback will be longer term. Being able to look realistically at what those things are and how to prioritize them, and, obviously, if you have some things that just aren’t working at all, kill them. Stop doing them. It doesn’t make sense to continue.
Most of the time, you’ll learn something, though, in that process. That particular thing that you tried may not be it but it may suggest some things that are. Keeping an open mind and being a little creative about it is also really important.
Then we come back to the “don’t sugarcoat it” piece. A good boss will appreciate someone who’s trying things in a systematic, controlled way. Recognizing a dead end and saying, “That’s enough. It doesn’t make sense to keep investing in this.”
Any final considerations?
I do. It appeals to the cynic in me. There’s a writer who writes about future trends, not just technological. His name is Eric Garland and I’m looking down to read you exactly the quote that I found, because I thought it was just so brilliant. I had referenced this software company executive early on who made a decision and then has to stick with it, come hell or high water. Eric Garland writes, “The reality of the situation is that most managers see intelligence as a way to justify a decision that’s already made, not to learn something new.” I read that and I loved it because the software executive example popped immediately into my mind.
Then I thought, “Well, if this is true, and it’s a little stark. I think there are organizations that fit that mold. Maybe you want to do a lot more little things rather than trying a few big ones because maybe the manager that you want to gain buy in from, is one level up from you instead of two or three.”
Clearly your own manager has to be part of what you’re doing. I actually should have said this earlier. I’ve, of course, been thinking about the senior team, perhaps not just your boss or even his boss because that’s the kind of executive buy in that you really want, high up, if you really want to affect change.
If you’ve got a senior team that is really just looking to justify stuff they’ve already done, but you see a real opportunity to make things better for you and your colleagues, I would say, to the degree that you can, go ahead and try but aim lower.
Maybe you can do a lot of little things instead of one or two really big ones. Get some things moving. Again, we’re back to all business is personal. If what you do really has an impact and your boss’ bosses start seeing the performance of his group or her group and how it’s improving, hopefully they would be smart enough to say, “What are you doing?” Because you know if it was going badly they would say, “What are you doing?”
It cuts both ways. I like the quote because sometimes it really is true. They’re looking for information just to justify what they’ve done. If you can’t do a lot of little things instead of a big one and you’re really the kind of person who wants to do and not just, ya know, the difference between a job and a career, maybe you look for a new job.
A lot of the iDatix implementations start small-in one department-but then quickly spread across the enterprise as other managers and departments see the advantages.
Even starting small can spark big changes.
Right, no that is an excellent point. Ironically, good best practice for making these changes and rolling out these solutions calls for starting small anyway. I like to talk about rigging things for success. Everything is a process, baby steps. There are lots of different words to put on it. The context is different, but it also still is a good idea. The big difference is, I guess, in the two scenarios is do you already have the senior buy in or are you working to get it? The net effect is the same. You look for stuff where you can make an immediate positive difference.
If you already have the senior buy in, you’ve given him or her something to take and run with and make themselves a hero with. It brings us back to where we started. We want to set them up to succeed. We want to make them look good.
It may be a longer process if you don’t already have the buy in, because you want to try to build a little fire, get something going, and then show it off and have them essentially take credit for it, which can be really frustrating. And so, again, we’re back to cultural differences.
At the end of the day, if you have an organization that is of any kind of size, you’re going to have managers of both kinds. You spend some time trying to figure out how to navigate that. Again, back to where we started. It’s psychology, not technology.
Nobody starts with a blank page. I always say the technology is challenging but, to me, it’s not the hardest part in terms of really transforming an organization and the way that it works. The hardest part is the people. That won’t change. Stay tuned.
Thank you for joining us today! Next time we will be talking about Change Management.
Indeed, and questions? You know where to find me and I’m sure Sam will funnel those along as need be for people who can’t find me. But yeah, it’s all about helping people work better and work better together. It starts with the guys at the very top. So yeah, we’ll talk more. Thank you. Bye, guys.