To Get Executive Buy-in, Make them Feel the Pain

Kobi Simmat explores the ways in which you can sell solutions to problematic areas in an organisation to the executive team by getting them to feel the pain.



Best Practice as an organisation that is in the business of helping organisations improve and reach their full potential through quality management systems. The problem for many people out there that I’ve come in contact with who work as quality managers inside an organisation is that they struggle immensely with getting buy-in from the rest of the management and executive team.


Innovation and improvement are largely driven by investment in new areas of the organisation, and because of that key-word investment, many decision-makers can be a bit reluctant to sign the dotted line when they’re not exactly sure of the return on this investment.


Just yesterday, as I was presenting a webinar - which you can access here - I was asked a question from one of the live viewers on how to get more buy-in from the executive team, which is exactly why I’m penning up the article you’re reading now. The first, and I believe to be the most effective way to get a manager or leader in a business to buy-in with what you’re pitching is to get them to feel the pain. We’ll soon discuss that some leaders are more empathetic than others, and therefore you’ll need to tailor this pitch a little bit, but the basic principles remain the same: under-performing processes need to be replaced, and if a manager or leader is oblivious, they need to be made aware of the extent of the problem.


As Doug Tatum mentions in his book “No Man’s Land,” some leaders and CEOs in business aren’t necessarily the best decision makers in that organisation. Often, they’re bogged down with a raft of other concerns, and they tend to have a macro view of the organisation when in actuality, a micro view is necessary to effectively diagnose and treat a problem eating away at an organisation’s profits or productivity. Because of that, it’s often essential to schedule some time with that manager or leader to essentially pitch your position in the hope they will empathise and implement new ways of operating. Admittedly, yes, this does take some commitment on the part of the manager to empathise, and sometimes it can be out of your direct control in terms of how well they step into your shoes.


When it comes to making that executive feel your pain, you can take two approaches: hopefully, they’ll be responsive to the frustration that it is causing you in your role, but if they’re lacking in empathy skills, you can pivot your argument and drive home the pain of wasted time, resources or money that is being wasted by the status quo. High-functioning and effective organisations are quick to make these investments, which is at the very least part of the reason why they’re high-functioning and effective organisations: they can feel the pain of an under-performing or out-dated means of doing business.


What we’re talking about here is how well you can sell the issue, which was the topic of a recent Harvard Business Review article from Susan J. Ashford and James R. Detert which mentions an engineering manager, ‘Healy’, at an energy company who was attempting to sell his boss on a safer and more cost-effective gas-scrubbing technology. “Fortunately,” the article explains, “user reviews of the new technology had become available only in the past several months, which Healy tactfully mentioned in his presentation to the GM and other senior executives.”


“He also included a detailed comparison of the two systems, drawing on implementations at comparable plants; the data suggested that the new system would remove contaminants more efficiently and reduce costs by about $700,000 a year… the company made the investment and adopted the new system.” The tale of Healy emphasises that there’s several tacts to make this pitch, and you should consider how to make the move effective pitch to the leaders in your business with consideration as to what they’re most responsive to.

There’s also a few other strategies to consider in this space, like doing your research before you present the problem to that manager, considering what they’re most responsive to like wasted time or money, and whether or not they’re the type of leader that jumps at the opportunity to improve the organisation, or whether they’re the stuck-in-the-mud type. Regardless, that leader needs to be made aware of the fact you’ve identified an underperforming area that should be addressed. As we discussed earlier, they might be oblivious for a genuine reason, as the responsibilities and tasks of a manager or leader can cause you to become blind to obvious problems.


While there’s some bad leaders out there, I don’t think it’s too much of a generalisation to say that they have the best intentions for the business… sometimes they just need a bit of a prod to realise the extent of a problem. If you’re sitting on something that could transform your organisation’s fortunes, it would be unethical for you to keep it a secret- so go out there and get them to feel the pain, and hopefully you’ll see the changes that need to be made improving the productivity and profitability in your organisation.


Thanks for your time,

Kobi Simmat.

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