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How Do We Gain Executive Commitment?

In today’s volatile business environment, executives are hesitant to spend precious cash on projects that will yield a significant return because they are somewhat concerned as to what might change tomorrow. Will a supplier close its doors? Will a customer be disrupted with a new ERP system implementation? Will a hurricane occur? Although I’m still seeing significant caution when it comes to “pulling the trigger”, I am seeing a substantial increase in inquiries about projects that could help move the business forward.

So, why is executive commitment important? The obvious answer is that without it, nothing will occur. However, it can be less clear that it sounds. Typically, Senior Leaders say they support “good-sounding” projects/ initiatives; however, they don’t support them when it comes to allocating time, money and resources – in essence, when it becomes difficult. If the executive has to negotiate cross-functional resources, it typically runs into roadblocks.

In my experience, it appears to the people in the organization that the Senior Manager has changed his/ her mind; however, that’s rarely the case. Think about it this way: in today’s volatile environment, what Senior Manager wouldn’t want as many projects implemented as quickly as possible (before something impacts it) which have the potential to improve the business? If there is no downside in voicing support and achieving these project results, why not?

Thus, the key to success in obtaining true Senior Management commitment is to present a full picture and obtain priorities. What’s the best path to achieve success? 1) Focus on results. 2) Focus on the pragmatic. 3) Specify what support is needed.

  1. Focus on results: It is common to become absorbed in interesting project sidebars “bells and whistles” – who wouldn’t want to talk about what interests them vs. what is on the critical path which might be considered boring? Thus, one of the first items to keep in mind is to stay focused on results.

    Which tasks are on the critical path? Which ones are most important to ensuring the results will be achieved? Are you thinking about the project outcomes? It is easy to get caught up in tasks, tasks, and more tasks and forgot about which ones are essential to achieving the project outcome. How will this initiative affect the bottom line? What intangible benefits can be realized? Make the benefits clear. Tie them to profit, cash flow etc. Ideally, present a return on investment.

  2. Focus on the pragmatic: In today’s environment, pragmatic is back in style! Is it tangible? Reasonable? Attainable? Can it be achieved within a reasonable period of time? In my experience, clients have become interested in ensuring the project is doable as the results are essential to their success.

    It seems like this would have always been the case; however, in the boom years, it was less interesting as the business did well even if not all projects achieved results. For example, if the project required negotiation with other departments, they would subconsciously choose to ignore that issue and do the best that could be done without addressing the “hard issue”. In today’s environment, every project is critical to personal and professional success.

    Focus on tangible improvements. Time is of the essence and resources are scarce; they cannot be wasted on potential projects that have a 20% chance of delivering pragmatic results. Knowing it has a 20% chance of success might be a challenge. Take a step back. Fully understand the project goals. Are they tangible? Does the project plan seem like it is actionable and doable? If not, revise them. Don’t just push out dates because you are concerned with the action items are achievable. Instead, think about options. Do you need every step? Do they all need full focus? Develop a tangible plan.

  3. Specify what support is needed: In today’s environment of lean resources, one of the keys to success in obtaining Senior Management commitment is to present the entire picture, including the support required (time, money, resources) to deliver your idea or project. Have you provided a picture of the project’s priority vs. other tasks/ projects? Be upfront. Do not avoid the tough issues; instead, work to improve your presentation skills so that you can be successful in asking for support and giving senior managers a heads up.

Senior Management commitment is #1 to successfully delivering any initiative. Why not start by focusing effort there?

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