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Whether it’s a flawless plan to support a flexible work culture or an idea to increase employee engagement that you learned at a recent conference, you have confidence that your new initiative will benefit your employees and your organization. But before you start congratulating yourself on this brilliant idea, you have one last obstacle before you can implement it: the approval of the c-suite.

Unless you can get a “yes” from executives, there’s little chance your great idea will ever see the light of day. These are the steps you can take to win over your toughest critics and get naysayers on board when trying to show the value of your next HR initiative.

The Most Common Reason for Resistance—and How to Combat It

It’s easy to get deflated when you think you have a great idea, only to be told by the executive suite that it’s not a good fit at this time or they can’t justify your project’s budget or potentially disruptive implementation process. What gives? For starters, any change in a business is inherently risky. And, in fact, they may be right to be hesitant. According to a 2013 study by Towers Watson, only 25% of change management initiatives are successful in the long run.

Another reason for resistance? A lack of effective communication.

“I have found, over time and with different CEOs, that the single biggest roadblock to getting an HR initiative approved is demonstrating value in a way that means something to that business leader,” says Brian Scala, HR consultant for McFarlane Aviation in Baldwin City, Kansas. “HR professionals need to be able to communicate that value outside of the basic data that points toward a specific project or initiative, and turn it into a meaningful conversation that is worthy of buy-in. In short, knowing your audience will not only help you overcome resistance, it will also help you choose more effective projects.”

Scala suggests simply listening as a first step. Knowing what your company’s needs and goals are—and sharing those goals—will help you form a successful pitch.

Another thing that can be helpful is knowing your initiative inside and out. Come into the board room like you’re preparing for a congressional hearing and be ready to answer any questions that may come your way. Pro tip: Before you pitch your idea, tear it apart and ask yourself what concerns someone would have so that you can address any possible nitpicking.

Creating a Compelling Business Case

You know that you need to have a meaningful conversation surrounding your initiative, but it can be difficult to find the words persuasive enough to get that yes.

To create a compelling business case for your c-suite, you’re not only going to gather facts and figures—you’ll also need to weave them together to tell a story that explains what the strategy is and the overall impact it will have on the company.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is by answering the following six questions in your business pitch:

  1. What’s happening in the business? In other words, spell out the status quo.
  2. What needs to be done? Name the final outcome of your initiative.
  3. Can you do it with what you have? Your business has assets—whether that’s room in the budget or a team that can implement the necessary change—so brainstorm what yours are and be specific.
  4. What investments are needed? A new initiative will typically involve some financial costs, so figure out what those will be, and exactly how much you will need.
  5. What’s the financial impact? By implementing a new initiative, you always hope to earn back your investment (and then some, hopefully). What are those estimates?
  6. What’s the risk of doing nothing? Finally, if nothing is done, and everything remains the same, explain the consequences and spell it out for your skeptics. For example, you could lose a lot of talent due to low retention rates, which could ultimately cost the company more than your initiative’s budget.

In addition to answering these questions in your proposal, you’ll also want to include anecdotes—whether that’s a personal story from your company or a successful example of a similar initiative being introduced at another company (e.g., Patagonia has on-site child care and paid parental leave that has led to a 100% retention rate of moms after returning from maternity leave).

“Anecdotal evidence is a powerful tool to use with non-experts on a particular subject matter. It allows for a deeper connection to the work, and it demonstrates practical applications of what can sometimes be complex systems,” Scala says.

Another convincing way to show the value of your proposal is good old-fashioned math. Shawn Flynn, head of global integrated value services at Cornerstone, discussed the importance of numbers in his talk at the 2019 Convergence conference. He suggested that there is no shortage of things to measure, and that it’s a prime opportunity to demonstrate impact to the business while spinning your story to the CEOs. If you choose to delay your initiative, for example, you could measure the risk and calculate how much it will cost the company for each delay. 

“Math is your friend—it always works,” he says.

Didn’t Convince Them? Don’t Give Up

In the end, not all ideas are going to be winners, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on them right away. It’s important not to “marry” your ideas, Scala says, but when you truly believe in a project and think it deserves to be revisited, bring it up at a relevant time.

“That might mean annually, when certain data is collected and reported on, or quarterly, when certain financial reports come out. You can put the idea on a shelf but continue to collect information that strengthens your case,” he says.

Photo: Creative Commons