Getting Leadership Buy-In: Make it Tangible


by Salem Baer

Not having the support from senior leadership is one of the biggest threats to any innovation project getting off the ground. Without getting executive buy-in to the vision, unlocking funding and pulling support from other internal resources will be a constant uphill battle (that you’ll likely lose). In our recent study on corporate innovation, the majority of participants named  gaining support from leadership or finding additional funding as one of their greatest challenges. This is especially challenging for newer divisions; they’ve been tasked with a massive challenge (“Come up with disruptive ideas”), but they don’t have a proven track record that merits large additional funding. In addition, every day that passes without action weakens their reputation across the company. With little status, and a small budget, they have to act very quickly to demonstrate progress against a game-changing initiative. Easy, right?

Adding to this challenge is the reality that leadership can quickly change. As one interviewee explained, “Leadership churn is one of our biggest threats. The question is, ‘Can we establish enough momentum pushing the organization’s culture before leadership changes and we are back to ground zero?’” True innovation must not only be aggressive, but rapid as well.

While lack of senior level support is common, often this innovation blocker is disguised. For example, you may be on an innovation team tasked with exploring ideas, which would appear to be an indicator of leadership valuing and investing in innovation. However, permission to explore ideas is different than getting the green light to go build something that you can take to market. Or, you may be encouraged to periodically hold ideation meetings, but if senior leadership isn’t regularly sitting in on meetings or asking for updates on your output, plain and simple, that’s a pretty clear sign they don’t care. They’re simply checking the innovation box.

Intrapreneurs know that battling for senior buy-in is part of the process towards innovation; they take it as their job to make proposed solutions compelling and have learned not to take no as an answer. In our work helping corporate intrapreneurs unlock funding, we’ve found Design Sprints not only to be one of the fastest ways to validate an idea, but also the most effective way to cast vision to senior leadership. A Design Sprint is a process invented by Google Ventures to turn a half-baked idea into a polished, testable prototype in as few as 5 days. Having an idea feel tangible or more “real” in the form of a prototype can make a huge difference in how it is perceived by potential customers and internal stakeholders.

No matter how promising your concept is, as long as it lives in a Word doc, it will be difficult to generate excitement. By leveraging best practices from “design thinking,” a Design Sprint drives the critical level of clarity, team alignment, and visual stimulus needed around an idea to bring it to life— rapidly.

If you’re interested in learning more about Design Sprints, check out more of our insights.  

You don’t have to go through product development alone. Bring Differential along to help conduct a sprint around your team’s challenges.

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