This article is sponsored by Bob the BA
If you ever feel like management ignores all of your ideas and never has time to listen to you, then you could be taking the wrong approach to influencing them.
You don’t have to have seniority or a high position within the company to get your boss to notice your ideas and get buy-in from upper management. You just have to know how to sell your plans.
Here are 8 steps you can take today to improve your sales pitch so management will approve your project and give you the resources you need.
1. Craft a Better Elevator Pitch to Stay Top of Mind
Often, business analysts need to fight for their resources and constantly engage stakeholders with support. Even if you get approval once, you may have to sell other stakeholders or remind existing ones what your plans are.
“It’s a rare thing for a Business Analyst to actually have a project with stakeholders who can commit their full time to requirement elicitation and validation,” Duncan Cartledge writes at Dice Tech UK. Without Business Analysts constantly vying for resources for their projects, it’s easy for management to move time and money to a different project and forget about your pitch.
To solve this, Adriana Beal created a four-step process for breaking out your talking points in a way that can grab management’s attention and hold it until you get the resources you need. By following this process, you should be able to draft your pitch clearly and in a way that appeals to management.
- Create a quick overview (or elevator pitch) about the project along with clearly stated needs, solution constraints and stakeholder requirements.
- Summarize the research you performed to evaluate the project and your needs.
- Provide a solution to overcome hurdles and to get the resources you need based on your research.
- End with a proposed course of action.
- The key to success with this model is flexibility. If they want you to move ahead, you can skip the summary and even solution section and go to the call to action without losing your focus.
2. Adjust Your Pitch to Address Upper Management’s Concerns
“It’s hard to get senior management to pay attention to new ideas — not because the leaders are arrogant or overwhelmed, but because they are disciplined,” Liz Wiseman writes.
The executive team is constantly pitched new ideas and solutions, and they need to evaluate which ones will have the biggest impact. While 10 ideas might be good, they probably only have the resources for one or two, and need to identify the best ones.
As you’re crafting your elevator pitch, your primary focus needs to be on ROI. While supplemental information is certainly helpful, tracking the incremental value to a business investment can be one of the top analytical motivators in your arsenal.
“If we look at the ROI formula, there are really only two components that a BA can impact: value achieved through a solution and the cost of the solution,” Laura Brandenburg writes. “As business analysts, we can impact both of these variables.”
Basing your plan around how one or both of these factors will be significantly improved can turn your passion project into a financial opportunity for any stakeholder.
3. Encourage Managers to Pick Apart Your Ideas
The only way your pitch is going to gain approval across the company is if it’s bulletproof. In this case, naysayers and people who reject your plans can actually be an asset in the information-gathering phase.
“Contrarians often seem to be throwing up roadblocks to the important work,” Kevin Daum writes. “But these problem people see things others don’t. Think of them as protecting you from your blind spots.”
Daum recommends learning more about why these stakeholders are against your project. Even if your project is postponed or rejected this time, understanding how key managers think can help you use their logic to win them over in the future.
Jennifer Garvey Berger agrees. She has found that people tend to ask questions with specific end goals in mind. Instead of talking objectively, employees will try to narrow the scope and promote their cause.
Berger instead encourages managers and employees alike to try to ask open-ended questions and to be objective when talking about ideas. If this is impossible when advocating for your cause, find a co-worker mediator who can ask both parties the right questions to get all of the information on the table.
4. Gain Buy-In From Team Members on Your Level
Oz Alon, CEO at Honeybook, actually turns to two unconventional business elements to increase flexibility within his company: risk and disagreement. While many managers strive to reduce risk and prevent disagreements, he finds those two elements actually work together to move a company forward.
By encouraging employees to take risks, new ideas are constantly brought to the table. When employees disagree about the best solution, both sides are forced to defend their ideas and look for better implementation plans.
This can be applied whether you’re an entry-level analyst hoping to get noticed or a director eyeing the C-suite. Douglas A. Ready points to the success of Alan Mulally, who utilized lateral teamwork and turned around both Boeing and the Ford Motor Company, as an example.
Mulally broke down a culture of political infighting by pulling managers into a weekly meeting to assess problem and opportunities.
“At every meeting, managers were asked: what have we learned by airing concerns, making course corrections, and especially, fixing problems together?” Ready writes.
This communal focus on learning and making tough calls made the managers more engaged in the decision-making process and in each other’s departmental objectives.
5. Incorporate Feedback Across the Company
Before you’re ready to make your pitch, make sure your plan will work at the lower levels of the company, where people will have to adapt to the changes on the front lines.
H. James Dallas has seen countless initiatives fail because a room full of executives only listened to each other instead of actually asking what the front-line employees wanted or needed to succeed. By listening to lower-level employees, companies are more likely to create a funnel for new ideas to improve the company and the customer experience.
Simply asking the opinions of lower-level employees can actually increase morale and buy-in for your plan.
“When employees are asked for their feedback and ideas, they take more ownership in the problem,” writes Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. “They’re more devoted to the cause, and they’re more motivated to help.”
She explains that many leaders worry they appear weak or incompetent when they ask employees for their assistance in a crisis. However, the opposite is true. Not only does this open up the pool of ideas — increasing the odds of landing on the right solution — but it also builds loyalty and team cohesion for your plan.
6. Strategically Plan When You Make Your Pitch
Once you completely have your pitch crafted, it’s time to strategically plan how you will approach management for maximum impact.
“It might seem most important to deliver your pitch as soon as possible, but your boss likely has a pretty packed schedule,” Brad Jones writes. “If they’re not adequately prepared to listen to your idea, it will fall flat.”
Caroline Dowd Higgins agrees. By trying to tie in your pitch to another meeting or during a busy time, your ideas aren’t likely to have the impact you expect. The best case scenario is that you’re ignored or asked to present on a later date. In the worst case scenario, you’re flat out rejected.
The scope of this advice isn’t limited to the company’s daily schedule. Pitching at the end of the year or after your budgets are already approved can decrease your chances of getting approval. By keeping an eye on company performance and your fiscal calendar, you can plan the best time for management to say “yes.”
7. Evaluate How Much Your Audience Knows About the Project
As you start to make your case across the company, evaluate how much jargon and technical knowledge is required to fully understand the project. You may have to tailor your pitch in a way that educates stakeholders and employees while persuading them. This is referred to as persuasive management.
“Persuasive management is most effective when used in situations where you know far more about the subject matter than the team you’re leading,” Simon Griffin writes at Cpl Jobs. “As you are an expert in a complex field, there would be little benefit in seeking the input of those who are not. But team members are still able to perform individual tasks or execute certain parts of the plan.”
This leadership concept applies when talking to upper management. As an analyst or mid-tier employee, you’re deeper in the weeds than most leaders. While they might have an idea about the technology, you know what’s best for it. This is why you end up taking on the role of educator as well as advocate for additional resources.
Lolly Daskal admits that it can be frustrating when you know more than your boss. Many corporate structures have management operating on a high level, and leaders aren’t aware of problems until their employees present them. She recommends working with your boss as much as you can and be respectful when communicating issues. You may face an uphill education battle, but those lessons could pay off in the long run.
8. Learn How to Persuade Instead of Demand
Co-worker and employee buy-in will also help when it’s time to execute your approved ideas. By the time management signs off on a plan, you will have a top-notch team already familiar with your goals ready to offer their help.
“You should be cultivating the kind of attitudes that people find attractive and lead them to want to follow you,” Mike Clayton writes. “While people respect calm detachment and a realistic assessment of the situation, they are drawn to optimism.”
Conversely, if you lack the ability to persuade your co-workers on your ideas, you could face backlash when your manager starts implementing it.
“No one likes to be ordered around, compelled or told what to do,” the team at Business Analyst Learnings writes. “You are more likely to win stakeholders to your side if you lead them to believe in your vision instead of relying on their bosses or those more powerful than them to dictate to them. If power changes hands and the tables turn, it could very well spell the death of your initiative.”
Co-worker buy-in also helps through periods of change, as the team will work to push your initiative even if management is pausing or cutting certain plans.
There are dozens of factors working against your pitch, from co-workers who also need resources to corporate timing and budgets. However, by following this process, you can work to reduce barriers while motivating more people to lobby for your ideas.