Three Practical Approaches to Leadership Buy-In (Part 2)

When you want to drive change, getting buy-in from senior leaders is a must. But figuring out where to start can be tricky when they don’t yet “get it,” and when their focus is on delivering in the current and next quarters. This is normal, so don’t despair; you just have to find ways to grab their attention. Here are three approaches I honed in my work driving the adoption of Lean Startup and design thinking methodologies at Intuit and PayPal, and continue to apply today as a coach and consultant.

Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be. The Lean Startup, and innovation in general, are often thought of as ways of creating new products and businesses. But that’s a limited way of thinking. The mindset, principles and techniques are just as effective at helping an organization operate its core business(es) and internal processes. So find an important problem they care about right now, and solve it to show them immediate results. For PayPal, its online Checkout products for merchants has been its bread and butter core business. We applied a blend of Lean Startup and design thinking methods to drive incremental optimizations in the key business metrics for Guest Checkout; these are optimizations that translate into millions of dollars in revenue. We also applied the same methods to solve a checkout conversion problem on merchant websites in France: PayPal customers were choosing it at checkout only 50 percent of the time. This time the team’s effort to solve a core business problem resulted in the creation of a new feature that enhances the PayPal value proposition, called Free Return Shipping. FRS was released in France within two months. After three months in market, 300K French customers were using it, and their transaction volume was up over 30 percent! Again, that amounts to millions of dollars in revenue. Impressed by these results, senior leaders prioritized scaling FRS globally.

Get them to experience it first-hand in a high-impact way, with minimal effort invested. Hardly anything is more effective in shifting mindsets than a transformative first-hand experience. But the challenge with having senior leaders try something new themselves is that their time is extremely limited. So be on the lookout for opportunities to get them to do something eye-opening on a challenge they care about now (again, meet them where they are), but that requires a minimal time investment from them. When I arrived at PayPal, the number one priority at the company was a project that was consuming a significant portion of its resources: a partnership with The Home Depot (THD) that was PayPal’s first foray into in-store payments. I was the new guy asking questions and challenging assumptions. But how was I to have an effective conversation with the Product Management leadership team when they hardly knew me, and when they were laser-focused on making a looming launch deadline? I found my opportunity when I discovered they were debating amongst themselves what to name a feature that enabled people to pay at THD checkout register with just their phone number and a PIN. I invited the team of VPs out to “lunch,” rented a van and took them to the nearest THD. On the way I had each of them write down the top few brand names they had been debating for the new feature. I told them they will get 30 minutes at THD to intercept shoppers in the aisles, describe the feature and get their feedback on the names. They were excited to do this! But what they heard was humbling; none of their favorite names resonated with shoppers, and reservations about the feature itself were raised. The ride back was fun (for me). This was a learning moment. At the next quarterly Global Product all-hands meeting, the Head of Product introduced me to play a short video of his team’s experience at THD and to speak about the customer-centric methodology I planned on instilling into the company’s culture.

Get buy-in from their most trusted employees. We sometimes associate influence with seniority. But most leaders have a few people further down on their teams whom they respect, trust and seek out for advice — even more so than their peers and direct reports. Engaging with employees who have clout to get their buy-in enables you to leverage them in influencing executive leaders more quickly; and I found it also helps you to refine your message to make it more compelling and resonant within the organization.

This was Part 2 of a two-part series. You can find Part 1: Beyond Grassroots: Securing Leadership Buy-In HERE.


Thanks to Lean Startup Co. Faculty member Hisham Ibrahim for contributing this piece. If you want to bring the entrepreneurial spirit to your large organization, Lean Startup Co.’s Education Program can help. We empower you to solve your own problems using entrepreneurial management, no matter your industry, size company, or sector of the economy. Email us. We’re here to help.

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