Many of us have experienced difficulties in getting projects and even just good ideas not only approved and undertaken, but even just considered by our boss, senior management and in some cases external financiers (i.e. Angels investors and Venture capitalists). So what can you do to improve your odds of getting an opportunity to present and more importantly attract the support, approvals and resource commitments (financial, structural and personnel) required to successfully launch your project?
The excellent article, in the January-February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, entitled "Get the Boss to Buy In,” authors Susan J. Ashford and James Detert outline seven tactics to help you succeed. I propose three additional tactics to bring the total to ten.
In summary, Ashford and Detert’s seven tactics are:
1) Tailor your pitch - Just like selling to any customer, your project must address the “buyer’s” needs or issues.
2) Frame the issue - In a related manner, your project and its outcome(s) must fit with the overall strategy.
3) Manage emotions - As soon as people are involved, so are emotions. You need to show your passion, while minimizing their fears - fears of failure, of wasting resources and especially looking bad.
4) Get the timing right - We all know that there are good times and bad. Be patient and wait for a time, when you can expect the decision-makers to be most receptive. Reschedule if necessary.
5) Involve others - Getting others on board can both help strengthen your plans and pitch as well as provide some validation to the soundness of the project.
6) Adhere to norms - Basically, you must operate within the current culture. This is an area where more experienced supporters can provide valuable assistance.
7) Suggest solutions - No one wants to hear about problems, they want to be presented with one or preferably more than one well thought out solution that they can choose between.
I whole-heartedly agree with these tactics. In my time as a venture capitalist, I fully expected the entrepreneurs that called to be addressing and solving an important issue (#2, #7) while understand our needs and interests (#1), namely being able to show measurable progress on a 1-2 year, $500,000 investment. The entrepreneurs needed to have a good team (#5), one that at least initially we felt we could work with (#3), and one that understood the venture capital environment (#6) with it’s focus on returns.
The three additional tactics that I would add are:
8) Document the your project or idea fully - A detailed plan, along with the executive summary and slide deck, not only provides decision-makers with a memento for further consideration, it shows that you have thought through you project, and perhaps most importantly provides a baseline upon which the plans can be further developed and integrated into existing activities and strategies. See my blog: “To Draft a Business Plan or Not?"
9) Outline the project’s strategic next action - Describing the next step, especially when it is an experiment that can help confirm or disprove a key assumption, provides decision-makers a means to provide a practical, conditional approval instead forcing a go/no go ultimatum which often results in missed opportunities or wasted efforts. See my blog: “Improving New Product Development through Thoughtful Experimentation."
10) Build or sketch a prototype - Having a prototype and presenting it as part of the show and tell can help demonstrate the concept and functionality as well as your determination. The prototype can be a miniature 3-D model, a simple physical model made of wood to represent size and shape, sketches from different angles, a spreadsheet version of the algorithms, a mock-up of the packaging or product monogram, or screen shots representing the user interface and basic functions. It does not need to work completely. It does not need to be in final form. It just serves to assist you in conveying the concept.
While working in and with larger firms and their senior management including research intensive firms, the development of written, detailed project plans and the associated experiments to test ideas and assumptions was rare. This information is generally maintained more tacitly by those responsible. This reduces the time and effort required to document it, in addition to reducing unpleasant questions and accountability. Unfortunately, the tradeoffs include good projects and ideas never getting a chance to be tested, as well as important and high potential ongoing projects not receiving enough input and advice from other company employees, collaborators and consultants. An open company culture that encourages risk-taking and embraces the failures that come with innovating will be far more likely to be successful in growing the business. See my blog: “Effective Portfolio Management Depends on Your People."
© Duncan Jones Hexagon-Innovating (2015)