Gain Senior Management Buy-in to Training and Other Change Initiatives


By Ian Cameron

We have heard it a hundred times before. Perhaps you have even said it yourself. “This training initiative would have been a success if only senior management had bought in.”

So what is up with senior management? Why are they not buying? Maybe it is because you are not selling. HR and selling are seldom used in the same sentence, but the time has come to recognize a critical aspect of the human resource professional – as a salesperson selling training and other change initiatives to senior management. So the question becomes, as an HR professional how can you “sell” senior management on your next important initiative, be it training, or any other activity that is designed to drive some kind of organizational change?

Your organization’s senior management team has to actively support and lead a change initiative if it is going to be successful. Yet many Human Resource professionals approach senior management with 101 reasons why they “should” buy into their HR initiatives without first having authentically explored why senior management “would” buy into their HR initiatives.

The distinction is subtle yet profound. Under the “should” mindset we approach a sale with a point of view, plus assumptions about our customer’s objectives, values and resources, and typically a motivation that is based on our own need to sell something. Think of the last ten sales people who have called on you. Nine of them probably had the “should” mind set. As the prospective customer, what was that experience like? Did you buy from them?

Under the “would” mindset you let go of your assumptions about your customer and his or her world, and your motivation shifts from one of a “need to make a sale” to one of a genuine desire to help your customer succeed in reaching their objectives – whatever they may be. When you come from a place of “not knowing” about your customer’s objectives and world, and your motivation is to help them achieve their goals, you are naturally led into a place of authentic inquiry. Real questions about their goals, priorities, resources, constraints and challenges almost automatically emerge. And because your questions are real, you tend to get back information that is also real. Real information allows you to better live in your customer’s shoes and see things from their vantage point.

This combined with your wealth of knowledge about a variety of HR solutions and interventions, positions you to make recommendations that can really help. In other words, you can see and explain why someone in their position “would” buy from you, verses why they “should” buy from you. What you end up selling them may not be what you originally thought you would sell them – it rarely is. But, if you are able to help them achieve their goals more efficiently and / or effectively, they are more likely to buy from you again. And if this cycle continues they are more likely to see you as a strategic business partner, rather than an administrator of policy and procedure.

Using words like “real”, “authentic” and “genuine”, and highlighting a motivation based on a desire to help may make this sound a little esoteric for the business world. Think about it though – isn’t the “would” salesperson the type of salesperson from whom you would like to buy?

The next time you are having a meeting with a senior executive or senior executive team to discuss “the business” or an HR initiative, try implementing these steps:

  • Let people know at the beginning of the meeting that your objective is to really understand their business objectives – what they are accountable for achieving – so that you can ensure that your HR initiatives are lining up to support their success.

  • As you listen to the discussion, look for opportunities to ask clarifying questions that will yield a deeper understanding of their goals and what is currently working for and against them in achieving those goals. Remember, asking open ended questions (what, why, how type questions) will yield much more information than close ended questions (questions that solicit a “yes” or “no” answer).

  • If you have an HR initiative that you think could help, summarize your understanding of the current situation (goals, challenges, opportunities, etc.) and ask for confirmation of your understanding before presenting your solution.

  • When you present your solution highlight the benefits – i.e., how this solution will help them achieve their goals more efficiently or effectively and ask for their feedback as to whether they think your solution will help.

  • Ask for the sale. If they like your idea ask them if they are prepared to proceed. If they say yes – you’ve made a sale! If they have a concern, then go back to tip number two and ask more questions. A good first question in this situation would be “What concerns do you have?”

These simple tips will help your senior executives, your organization and you become even more successful than you already are. Happy selling!

Ian Cameron, is the VP Training Implementations at AchieveGlobal Canada.

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