Getting Leadership Buy-In & Initiative Support


How many times have you presented an idea to leadership, and you didn’t get the action that you were looking for?   It’s a common problem that I and many others have encountered, and I’d like to share some keys for how to overcome this challenge and gain leadership buy-in. 

Know your audience

Whoever is the decision-maker; your director, vice president, or department head, know that they are busy.  Your area is typically a piece of their overall responsibility and they have only so much time and energy to focus on you.  Additionally, you need to know that they aren’t looking to solve your problem. They will help if absolutely needed but back to the previous point, they don’t have the time. 

What your decision maker is typically looking for is to be able to say yes to an ask.  Shocking I know, and that aligns perfectly with what you’re trying to get from them.   Just one three-letter word, “yes.” 

How do you get to yes?

Getting to yes is based on three things. 

  1. They understand what the goal and problem are. 
  2. They understand and have confidence in your proposal. 
  3. They understand what action needs to be taken. 

When you present these three things to your decision maker you don’t need a 30-page deck for leadership buy-in.  You can get it all done in one simple page.  That I’m going to share with you now.   

Leadership buy-in

Download the PowerPoint template

This one-page document serves multiple purposes.  It outlines all the key items above and serves as a single page that they can carry with them and be their “elevator pitch.”  If you’re not familiar with the term “elevator pitch,” it is a 30-60 second way to get across key information to someone.  It is as much time as you would spend waiting and riding an elevator. 

What’s in the one-pager for leadership buy-in?

What is our Goal or Mission? 

This is simply, “Why they should care.”  This is the most important item.  To get the audience’s attention it must matter to them.  Is this part of your organization’s strategic plan?  Is this a commitment that the organization has made to its customers or stakeholders?  It could be part of your company values.  Whatever “it” is it must be part of what your decision-maker is responsible for.  

Additionally, this should be a well-known and understood goal by your decision-maker.  If it isn’t you either haven’t aligned well with them in advance that you’re working on the right thing, or this is someone else’s mission in which case you need to get in front of a different decision-maker.  

What is the problem?   

What is getting in the way of achieving the goal or mission? Keep it simple but make sure you’ve gotten to the root cause of the problem.  One way to achieve this is to use the 5 Whys technique that was developed by Toyota Motor Corporation.  Each time you think you have the root cause of the problem ask “why did that happen?”  If you follow this path, you’ll get to the root of the problem.  For example: 

PROBLEM | A machine in a factory has stopped working. 

  1. Why did the machine stop working?
    Because there was a power outage in the factory. 
  2. Why was there a power outage in the factory?
    Because a transformer blew up. 
  3. Why did the transformer blow up?
    Because it was overloaded. 
  4. Why was the transformer overloaded?
    Because the circuit breaker failed to trip. 
  5. Why did the circuit breaker fail to trip?
    Because it was not maintained properly and had become faulty. 

Had the person in this example stopped at the first question they likely would have brought in a redundant power supply to the factory that would not have been maintained properly and thus failed like the primary.   

Asking the 5 Whys will also help build knowledge that will allow you to handle the next two sections with ease.  If you can’t get to the root of the problem your solution will likely only be a short-term solution or will be masking the underlying issue. 

What’s the solution? 

State the solution in the simplest terms in one to two sentences.  No need to get into the execution details of the solution here but be prepared to answer questions or show an appendix slide to back up your plan. 

What are the key items that lead to this solution? 

There are many ways to solve any problem and your audience may be solving the problem in their head as you’ve been talking through the slide.  Now is your time to explain a few of the key data points that you collected that helped you arrive at this solution.  Data and facts are the ideal way to go here but, if you don’t have accurate data, explain the assumptions that were made.  Be prepared to be corrected in your assumptions and potentially have to refine your proposal. 

What is your ask for leadership buy-in? 

Your decision-maker needs to know what exactly is needed from them.   This should also be very straightforward and black and white.  Do you need funding or additional time, do you need them to do something, or just give you permission?  Give them something that they have the authority to say yes to.   

What are you going to do next? 

Here describe what you’re going to do next as soon as they say yes.  This puts the action in your decision-maker’s hands.  All they need to do is say yes and you’ll start the next phase towards solving the problem and the decision maker can get back to their other work.  This is again a confidence demonstrator.  You are essentially ready to go, you know what needs to be done next, you’re just waiting on them their leadership buy-in.   

There you go, and hopefully, this template gives you a clear outline of how to get a “yes” from your leadership and action on your next initiative. 

Download the Leadership Buy-In Template

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About The Author

Rob Phillips is UDig's Vice President, Software Engineering.