the two-step: gaining leadership buy-in at work

LOMO No. 13 , Lisa Barbero

LOMO No. 13, Lisa Barbero

Most of us work within organizations where bosses tend to hang out. When we have ideas, one of the first hurdles often is getting our boss to agree—agree to let us expend our own work time, engage other staff, use corporate resources, buy something, sell something, or speak up and out on an important issue.

This connection to our leadership is such a fundamental part of the employment pact that it’s not explicitly written down anywhere. We all just “get” that if you want to do something outside of your specific, immediate job responsibilities at work, you’re going to need to ask.

This is as true for entry level staff as it is for the most senior executives. We all have someone who represents a gate we have to pass through to gain buy-into our vision. This approval gate creates tension. In some cases this is a really positive, creative tension. In other cases, unfortunately, it can be a disappointing, frustrating, murky mess.





There are communication strategies we can use to improve our chances of gaining buy-in from the beginning.

  1. The start is finding common ground on what problem we’re trying to solve. Is there agreement that we have an issue? Is it solvable in their view? Is it important enough to rise above other priorities? If we’re already past this point, great. We can skip ahead to crafting the pitch describing the proposed solution.  If we’re unsure, our time is well-invested to describe the problem we see and make sure we hit multiple viewpoints—our staff, our client’s, other stakeholders, and lastly, our own. 
  2. Next, our leadership has to agree that some significant portion of the solution we’re proposing might just work. The trick here is including a sufficient number of interesting, compelling hooks but resisting the urge to come bearing an entirely baked solution. One general thing about leaders—and you can probably relate to this yourself—is that they like to put their own stamp on things. Any solution that is completed researched and documented doesn't leave a lot of room for input. So an alternative is presenting the framework of our solution, demonstrating what you know and what you've researched, and leaving a couple of questions that create room for further engagement.

In the end, the goal is to get leadership support not just approval.  We want to see their whole head (and heart, if we’re lucky) invested in the outcome. We want them to change at an emotional, molecular level and support us with every brain cell. Anything short of that isn't full buy-in.