sticking with it

I overheard crumbs of a conversation between two people at Starbucks the other day. I was waiting in line. I wasn't trying to be nosy, really. They were within two feet of me. Living in and around DC, however, you never know what juicy bit you might hear so I didn't make any attempts to distract myself either.

Anyway, the gist of the conversation was one person pitching the other on creating a business partnership. The closing comment was, “Hey, this was great.  Thanks for your persistence on this.  I’m glad we finally got together.”  I suspect that all of the seated twosomes around the shop were having conversations that we’re basically the same at their core. Call it networking or catching up or getting-to-know-you or whatever, a lot of things start this way over a latte.

“Thanks for your persistence on this,” stuck with me. It’s not something you hear said out loud often but it struck me as a compliment. I can think of dozens of things I've bought or bought into and now love—products or services or experiences or job offers—that took someone more than one try to sell me. When approaching someone new with something new, we give up too easily. We all do. 

But what happens when we approach someone with whom we have an established relationship—our leadership or boss—with something new?

I scanned the recent experiences of friends and colleagues and, of course, my own that came to mind. I thought of my friend and neighbor who doggedly pursued recognition for a key client over about a five month period. In the end, her persistence paid off and she ensured that the client won an important industry award given out by her organization. I thought of a colleague with deep reservations about the risks in a prospective scope of work who pushed for a half dozen rounds edits with the account lead and client to get it to a place she felt more comfortable supporting the assignment. And I thought of a former boss and mentor who fearlessly (and like a charming goofball) works every room, everywhere she goes turning over stones looking for fresh opportunities.

After just this quick mental search, I decided that it’s impossible to know whether we’re more persistent with those we know than those we don’t. I suspect that we’re a little better when we know the mind of the recipient and have a much more open door to reach them. I also suspect that because we know them we filter the kinds of ideas we approach our leadership with in advance. We assume a “no” so we don’t even ask.

For those issues you have raised and ideas submitted...

  • Where did they go?
  • Are the concepts working way through a review and consideration process or are they lingering?
  • How important is it?
  • Is it worth following up (perhaps again?) today?

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.