Board Buy-In. Maths or Magic?


Whatever your discipline, your Board is the gatekeeper to your ambitions. How do you get a disparate group of stakeholders, with a whole palette of perspectives and internal tensions to buy into your vision? Should you drown them in data or wow them with magic?

Our network has been asking us these questions more frequently recently. As a start point, we consistently refer back to the same set of ten learnings, though the mix of these obviously depends on the particular culture of the organisation. Here they are:

1. Context, context, context
Putting your proposal in a business context and showing how it amplifies the business strategy makes it easier for stakeholders to buy. From here, you can very quickly segue into the roadmap to help you get there.

2. Tell a great story
A compelling story will unite and inspire the leadership and the workforce beyond. Introduce a bit of theatre – as dramatic as an immersive experience or as simple as a vox pop. And should you speak in the language of the CMO or the CFO (in other words, err on the side of emotion-led vision or rational data)? The answer is neither: Always speak in the language of the user. And while you’re at it…

3. Bring the user into the room
Your board may have completely different perspectives on what the objective is, but everyone will pay attention to your customer. Your most revealing data will demonstrate the gap between what you think we are and how your customers perceive you. It can also give you clues about how to address it.

4. Look beyond the horizon
You need to build a case for change and sometimes the burning platform isn’t immediately apparent to all stakeholders. Change will come soon, whether internal or external, and customer insights can help you build the argument here. Judge the appetite, recognise the right time and then create the opportunity.

5. Paint a value picture
The net result of your pitch will mean a cost to the business, but cost is only an issue when you can’t see value. Get everyone to focus on the bigger picture, and the value that your project will bring. Some of the more intangible decisions CEOs are asked to make involve personal risk, so they need affirmation with short term data, but they still need to get excited about the longer term opportunity.

6. Manage the risk
The buck stops with the Board so reduce the risk, demonstrate the world post-launch, and the steps that will get you there. Better yet, set up a pilot, capture the results and learnings, and demonstrate how you will scale.

7. An on-board Board
Boards are diverse and complex, and everyone has a nuanced perspective. Understand what these are and start to socialise your goals with them one-on-one. Leaders want to leave a legacy and so you should consider the outcomes in relation to individual ambitions, as well as the collective business goals. A series of small conversations can bring most, if not all, on board with your proposal ahead of any formal presentation.

8. Drive understanding, not consensus
Remember that you are driving this project. You can help guide the right answer to the bigger challenge, and you don’t need to play to the lowest common denominator in order to achieve it.

9. Identify a single, common objective
Board members might disagree, but there is always one factor that will unite them. It may be a target they need to hit or a competitor they are frustrated by. Identify it, and keep the room focused on it.

10. If at first you don’t succeed…
Keep the door to the Board open. If you don’t get frequent access, tap the relevant subcommittee so that you always check in. You shouldn’t need to wait forever to get back on the agenda.

If you are seeking buy-in at Board level, then the chances are you will be seeking radical rather than incremental change. You’ll get the best outcome if you do your homework beforehand so that on the day, you can focus on the prize, and to answer the question in the title of this piece, you’ll need maths and magic in equal measure.

This article is adapted from the original that was originally published on LinkedIn.

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