Getting Executive Buy-In and Support

gearIn 22 years, there are two times where I feel Entelechy missed the mark in creating customized training programs for clients. The first was back in 1996 when we didn’t do our typical business-based needs assessment with a client and used only his perception of the issue to develop the training. He – the VP of Sales – thought his sales professionals were discounting too easily and at too high an amount and thought negotiation training would address the issue. Come to find out IN THE TRAINING that reps believed they had no (nada, zero) competitive advantages. It’s tough to negotiate when you don’t have any advantages! A simple focus group meeting with reps would have easily identified this issue and we could have come up with a solution that actually worked.

The second time we missed the mark was more recent. The client for our leadership training was new in his role as HR VP and was super-enthusiastic about the impact the program would have in the organization. Unfortunately – as we found out months into the customization and implementation – the CEO never bought into the need for such a program in spite of the obvious morale and engagement issues right under his nose. We had relied too heavily on the HR VP and not enough on the CEO.

We backtracked and performed a number of focus group meetings with senior executives (eating the cost of the effort), which pointed out the need for leadership training at all levels of the company. Presenting these findings to the CEO helped her understand the issues and become a proponent of the training, albeit not a proponent with the enthusiasm we’d hoped for.

Getting executive support and buy-in is perhaps the most critical element making a training program stick – gaining traction and having a significant organizational impact. But how do you get that support and buy-in?

First, try to identify an evangelist – someone who’s jacked up about the topic. While having the VP of Customer Service sponsor your customer service training or the CEO sponsor your management development program is great, often the support can just as effectively come from someone else. In one of our best implementations of Unleash Your Leadership Potential program, the sponsor we identified was the CFO. He knew the value of effective leadership and was a student of the subject. He LOVED learning about leadership and saw this as an opportunity to pass his passion for the subject on to others. As the saying goes, “One person with passion can accomplish more than 99 with mere enthusiasm.” Find that senior person with passion to be your evangelist.

Second, gather data. Senior people (usually) don’t get to their positions without a healthy dose of skepticism. They need proof. They need data. Conducting focus group sessions and interviews is a great way to gather the information that executives need to put their support behind an initiative. AND the information will help you develop a more targeted and relevant training experience for participants.

Buy-in and support is nothing, however, if it isn’t visible. Leverage the buy-in and support by helping the evangelist and/or sponsor (they could be different people!) communicate the value of the program. Emails, articles in the company newsletter, presentations, blogs, etc. Public support creates a groundswell of enthusiasm and support, which in turn creates acceptance and adoption, which in turn can change the organizational culture!

Read more valuable leadership and management-related articles in this month’s Unleash Your Leadership Potential newsletter…

July 2014

Author: STEP Consulting