Winning Executive Buy-in: A Case Study

Here’s a question I received from an executive with responsibility for her organization’s communications endeavors. As the result of longstanding efforts to capture the attention her C-suite executives, she finally got them to commit to a day-long meeting to hammer out their communications goals.

She was seeking advice on how to structure the day in order to win buy-in for her plans. The format would begin with a thorough review of the organization’s current communications undertakings, its available resources, and what similar organizations were doing on the communications front.

This immediately raised some red flags in my mind. First, the entire focus seemed to be on talking as opposed to listening. Gaining acceptance from any crowd involves a dialogue, yet her plans hinted at a monologue.

Second, senior executives tend to have low tolerance for lectures. A lengthy sermon, complete with slides may be fine for some audiences (though experience tells me that this type of audience is dwindling given today’s era of rapid communications).

Group dynamics

For this group of C-levels, it’s best to keep an eye on actively involving them in a genuine way right from the start. Beginning with a comprehensive review could well lead them to walk out or, at best, tune out. This interactivity must quickly and meaningfully go to the heart of the communications plan. That is, none of those cutesy and uber-annoying “icebreaking” exercises.

Third, these are pretty smart people or they would not have attained their senior positions. So make use of their expertise and their strong personalities. The more you can make them think your ideas are their ideas, the more support you will win. Her goal should be not to make them suffer through a windy review, but to find ways to transform them into advocates for the desired communications goals and budget.

Fourth, consider the session’s facilitator. She (or another internal team member) is not the best candidate. An external consultant is able to guide the conversation with a firmer hand and in her chosen direction.

The bottom line: Get C-suite executives involved as active participants in the decision-making process if you hope to increase the odds of gaining their support and turning them into advocates for your communications goals.

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