Get your boss to say YES: getting stakeholder buy-in

You’ve got a great idea.

You’ve found a brilliant new tool, application, you’ve got an innovative new product, an out-of-this world concept for a marketing campaign. This could truly transform your business success: THIS is what your organization needs to grow and thrive.

The trouble is that most of the time, it isn’t up to you to make the call. While organizations are increasingly looking to place innovation on the agenda and to tap into employee ideas, those at grass-roots level don’t tend to be the ones holding the purse strings.

get your boss to say yes innovation

(Innovation is growing in strategic importance for organizations looking to get – and stay – ahead of the competition in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Source: pwc.)

When you’re looking to get a project off the ground, the first major hurdle is getting stakeholder buy-in for that all-important budget, resource and C-suite endorsement that will help propel your idea from a concept, into a living, breathing reality.

If you’re not lucky enough to sit at the top table or don’t have the opportunity to bend the ear of your CEO or MD on a regular basis, how do you get your idea in front of those with the casting vote?

And more importantly, how do you ensure you get the right answer when you do?

Stakeholders: the key to success

Before I delve into the how, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the why.

Yes, budget is the most essential ingredient to get almost any project off the ground. However, management support goes far beyond the financials.

A few scary stats for you: according to research presented in the Standish Report…

31.1% of software projects completely fail

83.8% of completed projects were over time and over budget

On average, projects only produce 83% of your predicted value

When you step up to deliver a project for your business – whether it’s implementing a new piece of software or rolling out any significant organizational change – the odds are arguably stacked against you. This doesn’t even begin to touch on other risks associated with project failure, such as employee resistance or low adoption, negative impact on business outcomes such as productivity, or complete redundancy of the project due to a lack of alignment with wider business strategy.

Your leadership team are the safety net to protect against these risks. With a top-down cascade and effective advocacy from management, you can motivate, excite, and effectively apply the necessary pressures required to get those long-term results you’re promising.

So, how do you secure those votes?

A 9-step plan to securing stakeholders for your project

A methodical process can help ensure you identify and tap into those all-important decision-makers.

Step 1: Identify and map out your stakeholders

It sounds obvious, but the first step is to actually identify and map our who your major stakeholders are. (It’s not always who you instinctively think.)

First, let’s step back and define what a ‘stakeholder’ is. According to Investopedia:

“A stakeholder is a party that has an interest in a company and can either affect or be affected by the business. The primary stakeholders in a typical corporation are its investors, employees, customers, and suppliers.”

In simple terms, this is going to be anyone who can affect – or be affected by – the project you’re proposing. However, not all stakeholders are equal in terms of their influence and importance. Those who have a stake will include top-level decision-makers with sign-off of budgetary approval, through to the end-users who will be rolling out, or adopting, the final result.

So, map them out in terms of their level of interest in the project, and their power to influence it.

get your boss to say yes stakeholders

(Mapping out stakeholders for your intranet project? This blog post explores how to identify and map out their needs in more detail.)

Step 2: Determine their business priorities

Each individual stakeholder will have their own agenda. Find out what makes them tick, and you have a game advantage to align those priorities to your own project pitch.

What are they most concerned about? What’s most important to their department or individual role? What are their objectives, targets, KPIs?

As an example, here are the most common objectives we tend to see for those in the C-suite:

get your boss to say yes kpi

This can give you an idea of where to focus your efforts.

Step 3: The ‘WIIFM’ factor

You know who your stakeholders are, who is a priority to focus on, and what they’re most concerned about. Next, it’s time to align those needs, challenges or objectives to your own project and the promised returns it can – will! – offer. Stakeholder groups are far more likely to engage if you address issues that affect them directly.

For example, the CHRO or HR stakeholders have recruitment, retention and engagement high on their priority list. How will your project help support those areas of focus? What tangible benefits or outcomes can be aligned to their interests?

Here, we give an overview of some of the common departmental objectives a collaboration platform, such as an intranet, can support.

get your boss to say yes departments

Step 4: Determine your MAIN objectives

As step 3 shows, you could end up with several different stakeholders and multiple benefits aligned to each. Bringing every single one of those forward to a pitch is likely to generate glazed eyes and a loss of interest: not what you’re looking for when striving to get buy-in.

So, prioritize.

Narrow your list to perhaps 4 or 5 key objectives by looking at the top-ranking stakeholders, and the biggest benefits your project will bring. Consider your overall business objectives or mission, and the objectives those at the top tend to use as the basis for decision making.

Step 5: Communicate the value

What’s the number one thing all stakeholders have in common? They want to know about that all-important ROI: the measurable gains, outcomes, the business impact.

Communicating the tangible value can be the trickiest part of any project pitch, but it is also arguably the most powerful – and therefore worth putting time into in order to get it right.

The simplest way is to break down your main objectives into these five key questions:

  • How is it measured?
  • What is it now?
  • What would you like it to be?
  • What’s the value of the difference?
  • What’s the value over time?

As an example, we explore two objectives here; one, with ‘hard’ measures that are easily quantified as financial values, and another with ‘soft’ measures that are traditionally harder to quantify.

get your boss to say yes roi

(Looking for more in-depth support and practical tools to help you determine the potential return of your intranet project? Download our free Intranet Business Case Toolkit for practical tools and tips to get you going.)

Step 6: Get ahead of their objections

Pitching your project is essentially a sales process – you need to sell the idea to your stakeholders. And like any sales pitch, one of the major preparations to ensure success is objection handling.

For this step, you need to identify and prepare for the inevitable what’s, ifs and buts that will arise as your stakeholders voice their reservations. By being upfront and dealing with them face on, you’ll show you’ve done your homework – and have a contingency plan for any identified risks. This will instill confidence and help win them over.

An impact vs. probability graph is a great way to map these out.

get your boss to say yes impact

Transparency will ensure your pitch is realistic; if stakeholders feel you’re promising unicorns, they’ll be quick to close the door.

Step 7: Do your homework

Even if you’ve got plenty of experience behind you, the chances are, your stakeholders won’t be willing to just take you at your word when you step up to argue your case.

Add gravitas to your pitch by gathering data, information, and evidence to back your claims. Part of this falls under step 5 when communicating the value, but there’s also vast amounts of data residing within your business that could support your project bid. As they say, evidence sells.

Check out your internal reports, CRM, or analytics. Conduct focus groups or distribute surveys to gather objective data to support your arguments.

Consider looking to your competitors also; have they, or are they, doing something similar? No senior leader wants to fall behind the competition, and by tapping into the ‘FOMO’, or ‘fear of missing out’, you can ensure those all-important stakeholders sit up, and take notice.

Step 8: Gather support

Particularly if you’re lower down the organizational ladder, it may be tricky to secure an audience with those you’re looking to pitch to. What’s more, the chances are that delivering on what you promise will be more than a one-person job.

Gather support by tapping into your colleague network. If you can’t bend the ear of those in power, perhaps you know someone who can. Does your line manager have a seat at the top table? Perhaps you can identify someone who stands to benefit from your project who would be willing to step up as a champion for your cause?

A bottom-up approach may be beneficial: making smaller scale ‘pitches’ to those further down the ladder to secure their buy-in and support, before taking your proposal – and the internal network of support you’ve created – to the final decision-makers.

Step 9: Make your case

You’ve done the ground work: now it’s time to make your pitch.

Or is it? Don’t rush to the boardroom as soon as your case is compiled: one of the biggest – and most frequently overlooked – factors that will impact project sign-off is timing. Is your business approaching the end of its financial year, when budget availability may be sparse? Are there external factors that could make your proposal less likely to be considered, such as an acquisition, or a new product launch? Take the time to consider when is best to pitch.

How will you pitch? This may require you to produce a formal business case, deliver a presentation, or it may just be an informal chat. Remember that even for verbal or face-to-face presentations, putting together a written accompaniment as a take-away can help embed the message.

Finally, tailor your message and your language. Look to those departmental objectives of your stakeholders that you identified in Step 2. Does your CFO focus on ‘return on investment’, or ‘cost benefit analysis’ as a means of measuring success? Personalization is a powerful, yet subtle tool to tap into the psyche of those you’re trying to influence.

Getting stakeholders onboard: it’s not me, it’s you

Perhaps the most important piece of advice to follow throughout this process is to ensure you’re focusing on those you’re trying to win over.

The chances are, you already know and understand the value your project could bring – you’re motivated and excited by your plans, you understand the gains and you’re already daydreaming about how this will transform the way you work.

Your stakeholders haven’t done the same level of research. Focus on the needs, priorities and concerns of your decision makers and by explicit in your claims when pitching. Stating that “it will improve collaboration” may sound obvious to you, because you know how your project will achieve that goal: but when it comes to securing support, it’s safe to assume a level of ignorance on behalf of your audience, and spell it out clearly.

So, try instead: “It will improve collaboration by providing a centralized depository for all our business knowledge, making that information globally accessible, and connecting dispersed teams using team or project areas alongside a comprehensive people directory.”

With a clear and compelling case, your decision makers will find it hard to say no.

Like what you read? Our FREE eBook, ‘How to get the boss to say YES’ explores this in a handy take-away resource that can help you build a powerful pitch for that all-important stakeholder buy-in. Get your copy now.