Prime Advantage, an OMNIA Partner, has invited industry experts to share insights on achieving manufacturing and business success. In this post, Steven Nghe of Kloeckner Metals discusses the steps to getting your company on board with your goals and ideas.
In business, there’s long been the concept of A, B, and C players. The A players are the powerhouse members of the team. They’re attracted to challenges, they complete projects above expectation, and they innovate. Meanwhile, B players are accurate, reliable, and consistent; and C players coast. The term was popularized by Jack Welch, CEO of Generic Electric, who had a policy of forced ranking employees and “letting go” of the bottom 10% each business unit.
While it’s up to businesses to decide how aggressive they want to be in honing their talent, generating buy-in is one of the most vital ways to innovate on business processes. By extension, the ability to generate buy-in is one of the traits that separates A players from the rest. Here’s how employees can generate buy in step by step, at once becoming a catalyst for innovation and also improving their value to the business.
1. Define the Business Process
First, innovating on any business process requires a total understanding of the level of commitment it’ll take from each stakeholder in terms of time and budget. For example, if you wanted to start hosting customer appreciation events, you’d need to understand how much time each stakeholder, say the HR, Account Management, Marketing, and Sales departments, would need to allocate each month or quarter alongside the necessary budget. What percentage of their total resources will the process take and how difficult will it be for you to wrangle it?
You’d also need to understand both the overall business and the individual department processes in order to estimate not only how much time the event will take to plan, but also how long it’ll likely take to generate buy-in. Observe the process as it exists at your company - does your business have quarterly or monthly cross-departmental meetings to discuss shared goals? How are items added to that list and how are items removed? How are the linked tasks delegated across departments and how does each department delegate them internally? While you may want to host that customer appreciation event next quarter, it may be more reasonable that it be scheduled the following year.
Finally, you’ll want to anticipate all of the objectives and the workflows and understand, at least in brief, how they’d be divvied up by month or quarter. The trick here is to find a balance between impacting weekly business processes without interrupting higher priority objectives. In other words, you’ll want each department to be cognizant of the event’s demands because each deliverable is well-defined and mapped out to each week, but you don’t want any objective that didn’t even exist until recently to be a burden on any department. This can be a rough estimation since you won’t be delegating tasks across departments, just assessing progress.
2. Define the Main Goal & See the Big Picture
Knowing the main goal behind your event will help you stick to what’s important should any hurdles come your way, and it’ll help you negotiate better. Say you want to host a customer appreciation event because you think it’ll serve your main goal of increasing customer retention, but the Marketing Department objects because they feel an in-person event is too time intensive and will pull resources from their main goal of optimizing their lead acquisition funnel. In that case, it may be better to consider other, lighter-touch options that will have the same goal of improving retention, like creative swag or monthly check-ins.
Alternatively, if the Marketing Department feels like a customer appreciation event isn’t enough because they’re focused on overall numbers, rather than leads, and improved retention will put less pressure on their lead acquisition funnel, you may have a better chance for buy-in by renaming it a conference. When you know what your goal is, everything else is negotiable.
3. Define the Strategy
Identify possible advocates or evangelists and go top down. Even beforehand, don’t be afraid to send out feelers and solicit feedback in a neutral way before suggesting defined ideas. If, through casual conversation, you find out department heads or regional heads are hungry for innovation, you have an early indicator they’ll be receptive to any and all ideas that could improve business processes. Once you start talking ideas, solicit feedback before it enters a formal process - if stakeholders feel like they have some level of ownership in the idea, they’ll turn into evangelists. The higher up the evangelist, the easier time your innovation will have generating buy in.
4. Define Your Engagement with Key Stakeholders
For the stakeholders that are cooler leads, put yourself in their shoes and understand how they can also “own” the innovation, and use that process to prepare for questions each stakeholder may have. In the example of the customer appreciation event, you ended up framing and defining the event based on the central KPI of the marketing department. Map out the benefits to each stakeholder and how they would probably frame it as their own success, and then let them run with it. If each of the stakeholders in the process ends up being internally motivated to pull their weight, you have won buy-in right then and there.
Meanwhile, you’ll want to do what you can to establish trust and respect. This starts with listening, acknowledging each concern, and doing what you can to address them. On a more tactical level, you’ll want to understand each stakeholder’s communications preferences from the beginning. One department head may prefer calls, another email, and another in-person meetings over coffee. The last element to defining engagement with key stakeholders is to always be positive, both in your communications and your attitude. Every setback is a lesson for how to overcome hurdles in meeting the needs of each stakeholder, nothing more, nothing less.
Follow Up at 2-Week Intervals
Generating buy in will take time, both to prepare and execute. In both instances, follow up with key stakeholders on 2-week intervals. Don’t let the new process fall to the bottom of their list of priorities. If nothing’s on the agenda, schedule a simple coffee just to catch up and talk through reservations or challenges that are on the top of his or her mind. Listen closely to what the stakeholder is saying and understand what you can do to either address their considerations or smooth the way to push milestones through.
Case Study: A Virtual Reality (360°) video of our new Chicago plant
At Kloeckner Metals Corporation, I was inspired to jumpstart our content process by using the opening of our new Chicago facility as an excuse to do a high-quality 360° video. The main goals of the video would be two-fold: generate interest from publications and potential customers and help establish Kloeckner as a leader in innovation. After going through a process of identifying key stakeholders, their processes and how it would impact them, their level of time and budget commitment, and communication preferences, I pitched the idea in August 2016 to lukewarm reception.
The key stakeholders included the VP of Digital Innovations, the Regional VP covering the Chicago area, the business division President, and the GM/VP, Sales of the Chicago branch. Common objections were around the costs to the project and whether it would provide value to our customers, but I was able to sell them on the idea through bi-weekly follow-ups that focused on shifting perception from cost to the importance of applying new technology and creating unique experiences for our customers that stand out and get them excited. Ultimately, the project was approved in November, 2016, and the results?
The 360° video served our purpose of ramping up excitement about our new facility opening in Chicago. In all, the 360° video was the signature content in all of our communications to customers, stakeholders, and leads, including landing pages, emails, and social campaigns, and gave us an eye-catching touchpoint to engage them. We had tens of thousands of impressions, thousands of engagements, and hundreds of visitors. But, most of all, our customers were excited to be a part of the opening and publications ranging from The Chicago Tribune to American Metal Market major publications like the Chicago Tribune cited the opening as a stepping stone towards more growth and innovation. Last, but not least, Kloeckner now has a fresh and defined process for experimenting with and incorporating new mediums into our marketing. It’ll make generating buy-in for our next innovative project all the more easy.