Getting buy-in from key stakeholders is one of the biggest challenges when implementing a leadership development program—especially if it’s a new program. If you don’t have full buy-in, your training won’t be a success (if it even gets off the ground, that is).
Getting buy-in from executives will contribute significantly to the ROI of your program. For the most impact, executives should model the leadership skills they want to see from others on a daily basis. If they aren’t on board with your training, they’re not likely to make that effort.
But getting executive buy-in for leadership training is often easier said than done. This is especially true if leadership development is a new initiative at your company. Follow the best practices below, and you’ll be better able to make a business case for leadership training—one that your stakeholders will be just as excited about as you are.
Include Executives in the Design Process
Whether you’re scouting programs from a leadership training partner or creating your own program in-house, executives will be more amenable to your plan if they are part of the design process. That doesn’t mean you need to run every idea by every stakeholder. But finding out their concerns and addressing those in your program is a good idea.
If you can, consider talking with executives one-on-one to find out the range of priorities you’re dealing with. If stakeholders have differing priorities, you’ll know in advance and have ideas in mind to address them diplomatically without inadvertently making one executive’s concerns seem more or less important than others.
Get on the Same Page
If the goals you plan to address with your leadership training are different (or just even sound different) than organizational goals, you’ll struggle obtaining buy-in. Clearly define your goals and make sure you link them with actual business results that the executive team deems important.
Using a common language can help when you present your ideas. Remember that tip about optimizing your resume by incorporating key words from the job description (that way, your resume would be more likely to get past the company’s resume scanning software)? If there’s specific language that stakeholders use, use that same language when you present your plans. If you’re speaking their language—literally—you’ll have better chances of achieving buy-in.
Ditch the Hard Sell
Of course, you’re enthusiastic about your plans. But if you come across too pushy, executives are likely to push back. After all, it’s called “buy-in” and not “sell-in” for a reason. Selling might get you the go-ahead to proceed, but it’s not going to get you the type of buy-in you need to make your leadership training efforts a success.
Try selling a vision, not a specific training program. Envision and describe what your organization will be like after the leadership training. When you present your ideas, focus more on the “why” of the leadership training. Don’t get bogged down in the technical details. You can always present that information separately if someone is interested.
Show Them the Money
You may not have statistics early on, but you can definitely illustrate how the results of leadership training will justify the cost. Subpar leadership costs money, too—and you don’t get anything positive in return. Poor or nonexistent leadership causes your organization to lose high-value employees (who are difficult and expensive to replace). And it damages the morale and productivity of the employees you do have. If you don’t think that rubs off on your customers, think again.
- How would you (and your organization) measure the success/ROI of a leadership training program? What qualitative and quantitative metrics would you use? How would these correlate with business goals?
- What kind of objections do you think the executives in your organization would have to a leadership training initiative? How can you address those concerns?
- Read “Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down” by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead.