Ten MORE Tips for Ensuring Buy-In from the Top

A few weeks ago, we published Ten Tips for Ensuring Buy-In from the Top, a series of handy hints from experts from across the shared services and outsourcing space on how to secure that indispensable C-level sponsorship that, so often, can mean the difference between a smooth successful transformation project and one beset by obstacles and the troubles caused by an apparent lack of mandate.

The article obviously struck a chord, proving extremely popular among SSON readers. Now we return – by popular demand – with ten more tips from the experts, looking at a wide range of tactics designed to get the C-level support you need. If after this you STILL can’t get buy-in from the top, there must be something very wrong indeed…

1. Request action

If you want to secure the ongoing support of the stakeholders that matter, it helps to make them feel as involved as possible with the project at a hands-on level – however you can work it. For starters you don’t just want a verbal "ok" and then nothing: you want ongoing support when required throughout, so keeping at least a fragment of their attention is imperative. How can you do this? Give them something to do, of course…

"One great way to get any stakeholder involved is to request that the person take some action on your behalf," recommends Julienne Sugarek of CenterPoint Energy. "Some good examples include asking them to share the message about the importance of the project with their peers or staff members, asking if they know others who have embarked on a similar project and, if so, introducing you to that person or requesting they participate in a change management interview. These are very busy folks, so the action should be something that will be easy for them to work into their schedule but also does something meaningful to help further your project."

2. Don’t ignore the vanity factor

Playing to the vanity of the C-suite isn’t the most original of ideas – but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Show your board successful examples of the kind of thing you’re looking to achieve, highlighting in particular the efforts of the especially big movers and shakers within the business world – the kind of figures your more aspirational C-level players would look up to, read, worship.... Merely suggesting that there’s a place in the Pantheon reserved for the next great transformational leader could win you all the support you need.

"’C’ who's most admired," laughs Stephen Smith, general manager at Diageo’s shared service center in Budapest. "Those widely recognised as 'great' in their field have rarely sat on their hands and maintained the status quo. Play on your CFO's / CIO's / etc. vanity by showing them the sort of transformations undertaken by those rated as 'most admired'."

3. Use recognized, expert advisors

Even the most madcap and potentially lunatic (not, of course, that you’d describe any proposal of yours in such a way!) can obtain a patina of respectability by the judicious use of an association with a big-name advisory firm. Many of the unvoiced concerns of your C-suite will be assuaged or laid to rest completely by the news that your venture is being supported by representatives of one of the major advisors: feeling (however unfairly) that the project is in safer, more experienced hands, your ever-cautious bosses are more likely to sign off on it.

"Trust the experts," advises shared services head Pedro Ruao. "If the consultants you hired are telling you there's a better way - review the earlier decision. They can make it work, but proven approaches generate proven results; everything else is a guess!"

4. Show understanding of both large and small scale

Over the course of a career, some people earn the reputation of being "big-picture" operators while others become known for concentrating on the very smallest scale (God, after all, is in the details). It’s up to you to ensure that neither – or, rather, both – of these extremes dominates your pitch. You have to be able to demonstrate an understanding of the broadest consequences of your proposal for the organization – and this means looking long-term, as well as wide-angle; you also need to be able to focus on the finest details of your plan, and explain them at the drop of a hat. If you can persuade the C-suite that you’ve encompassed both extremes within your planning they’ll be al the more convinced of your ability to push the project through without hiccoughs.

"In my personal opinion, typically if you have to convince [the C-suite], two things are
important," says business manager Vineet Shrivastava. "You have to show the big picture to them, it’s really important for C-suite to understand the macro-level importance of a project/activity. The second thing is to show them the ROI of a project/process; it’s important for them to understand the value (tangible or intangible) which will be increased by doing these activity/projects."

5. Grab the talent

Even if you don’t have the option of demonstrating big-name advisory support as discussed above, you can ease at least some C-level worries in a similar fashion by a bit of proactive hiring. Bringing on board some resources who’ve already made a success of similar projects at other organizations might well put a bulge in the salary pot, but at any rate that’ll be a drop in the ocean compared with the costs of putting things right after a sub-optimal project implementation, and the value generated in terms of impressing the C-suite with your high-profile acquisition could be incalculable.

"There's nothing like identifying credible leaders who have done it before and getting them inside the company to make it happen. C-suite like to see this talent on the inside rather than feeling dependent (purely) on consultants or capable but unproven homegrown talent," says Stephen Smith.

6. Demonstrate process improvements

If you really want to melt the stony hearts of your C–suite, you could do a lot worse than to highlight the benefits your project will have for your organization’s business processes – since "process improvement" remains much more than just a buzz-phrase even in the minds of those who don’t really comprehend it. Pretty much every C-level executive likes to think that he or she has a firm grasp of the processes that keep the life-blood pumping through the company but, in fact, this is often only a very superficial understanding. If you can show – without blinding your target with science – that processes will be streamlined and optimized under your proposals, you’re halfway there.

"Show radical process simplification," advises ANZ’s Ravichandran Venkataraman. "You must be able to show business how you have simplified business processes, helped reduce complexity, removed non-value added steps in the process (waste reduction) and, therefore, cut costs significantly."

7. Spotlight the bottom line

The value of a complete compelling business case was highlighted in the first instalment of this article, and "complete" of course means including all relevant financial information – especially highlighting the savings and gains which will be of most interest to a cash-hungry C-site. However, it’s not just a matter of highlighting: use your nous to thrust to the fore any possible positive impact on the bottom line, both within your business case and associated pitch, and on other occasions where appropriate (screaming advantages through a megaphone outside your CFO’s house at 3am might not fall within the "appropriate" category) and frame the information you’re giving in the way which most enhances its plus points.

"Money talks," says Stephen Smith. "Use benchmarking to show the scale of the possibility. Don't forget the elimination of the 'hidden' costs of legacy systems. There's gold in them there server farms. Lower up-front investment requirements. Use outsource providers to change the shape of the investment profile - particularly getting the quick returns from lift-and-drop to lower-cost locations."

8. Get – and use – the right metrics

No doubt you’ll be fully prepared – nay, armed to the teeth – with data when you make your big pitch. But you need to be certain that your data is appropriate to the task in hand: you may be convinced that your project might, say, reduce invoice-processing times by 20%, but that figure might be of absolutely no interest to those in whose hands the big decision lies. However, if you can translate that 20% into a more immediately stimulating figure like "savings of 5%" you’ll have a far-more-attention-grabbing tool, as not only is it more instantly obvious why that’s a benefit, but it’s more obviously applicable to the business as a whole rather than just your little nook within it.

"Show productivity," urges Ravichandran Venkataraman. "For this, you need to put in place measurement systems. I have worked with various organizations and have come to the conclusion that in most organizations, internal service levels have evolved that do not measure customer-driven outcomes and so all measures are not aligned to business. So, while we show productivity in our measures, it does not result in savings for business. So, put in place measurement systems that have relevance to business and measure productivity that mean reduction of costs to business."

9. Don’t over-complicate

One potential downside of arming yourself with all the relevant facts and figures is that you try to use all of them, thus potentially alienating C-level players who might pride themselves on their attention to detail but who actually don’t need ALL the details, ALL the time. Similarly, pitching your project via a long stream of information and a hectic welter of different data can lose you your audience very quickly, so keep your pitch simple and to the point. This should also be reflected within what’s actually being proposed: make your project as clear and unfussy as you can, concentrating on what’s directly beneficial to the organization, to avoid any possibility of over-complication.

"Keep it simple," urges Stephen Smith. "Most companies believe that they're too complex and spend too much time doing things that aren't directly driving business value (e.g., planning, budgeting, reporting etc.) Sell the benefits of transformation for standardization and reduction in exceptions. For accelerating the cyclical activities by improving the quality of handoffs and/or automating various aspects etc."

10. Demonstrate provider perfection (or as close to it as you can)

Even before a couple of high-profile "incidents" (ok, "scandals") shook the provider side of the shared services and outsourcing space, one of the biggest obstacles for any transformation-minded professional to overcome was the apprehension felt by many decision-makers about placing such faith in providers - "what happens if the provider fails?" being a particularly irksome question. By demonstrating the bona fides, financial security and commercial integrity of your mooted provider you can take these worries out of the equation.

"Select a service provider that has offices in at least the major territories that your company operates in," recommends Ravichandran Venkataraman. "This is critical to ensure that customer impact is minimised and that you can ensure a small presence with local support from your service provider in every territory. Select a service provider who is financially stable so that the company can withstand difficult times like the ones we are facing now. Select a service provider that can show commitment to your company but also does not depend only on your company for their income from this line of business. So, no single company should contribute to more than 5% of the total income of the service provider. If it is a new service provider, it should belong to a reputed parent. In such cases check systems and processes they have in place and capability to do the work. Ask for a financial and performance guarantee from the parent company."