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Innovation Management

How to Get Buy-in for Your Innovation Project

Published By Guest Blogger

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Steve Glaveski.

Getting (and retaining) buy-in from decision makers for innovation projects is often the stumbling block that many a corporate innovator and intrapreneur faces.

Securing buy-in seems akin to a dark art of sorts that only the most astute political game players and people influencers are capable of.

However, this need not be the case.

In my forays into the battlefield, I’ve observed and helped innovators execute a number of different strategies aimed at securing buy-in from the top.

Here’s a list of strategies you can begin testing today.

1. Case Studies

Answer these questions:

  • What are you trying to get buy-in for (a hackathon, an idea contest, etc.)?
  • Are there examples of similar organizations in the same industry successfully implementing these strategies (competitors maybe)?

Present case studies of similar organizations and competitors having successfully used said initiative to deliver measurable outcomes. Go one step further and provide next steps along with costings and always try and line up with decision makers’ needs and egos.

2. Employee Churn

Replacing junior and mid-level employees typically costs large organizations between $16,000 and $120,000 per employee.

Think employee on and off-boarding, training, interviewing, recruitment costs, lost knowledge, productivity downturn and the overworked impact on remaining staff.

It’s been shown that innovation and creativity projects are a great way to engage and retain high performers at a time when incumbent organizations need them most – especially applicable to Gen Yers.

Speak their language: The cost of running a hackathon, for example, can be less than the cost of losing one employee. Suddenly, HR become possible sponsors for your innovation efforts too.

3. What’s the Cost of Not Doing This?

Most large organizations have been guilty at one point or another of committing millions of dollars and thousands of hours of employee and consultant time to deliverables that ultimately failed to realize benefits.

GE managed to cut cost of market validation by 80% using the lean startup methodology.

Perhaps frame your conversation around what past failures would have cost the organization if an iterative approach was followed because the lack of benefits realization or product market fit would have been identified much earlier with much lower expense? This approach should set the scene for employee training on mindsets and methods such as human-centered design, lean startup, and agile.

4. Work Within Risk Boundaries

“What’s the worst possible outcome you are willing to accept?”

Ask this question of decision makers and work within these boundaries. If you can clearly show that the worst possible outcome from a proposed innovation project doesn’t exceed defined limits around cost, reputational damage and customer reach, then you are more likely to secure support buy-in.

5. Measure Learnings, Not Dollars

If you’ve been lucky enough to secure initial buy-in, holding onto it can be just as tough, particularly if you’re not smashing it out of the ballpark within a few months of inception. Need we remind you that Airbnb, now worth US$25B, made a mere US$200 a week in its first eight months and was rejected by multiple investors?

We need to measure business model learnings, as opposed to traditional financial metrics, we can earn the trust and support of our leaders. For example, metrics such as customer acquisition, activation, conversion and retention can be presented to decision makers to show that you’re on the right track.

David Binetti, created the Innovation Options framework, to put some monetary numbers around this process. The framework is a way to measure learnings and business model validation in dollars and cents, and then present these learnings to senior stakeholders at critical milestone to support go/no-go decisions. This is akin to a startup vying for subsequent rounds of funding. It’s all about diversifying and taking lots of small bets when it comes to innovation.

6. Reputation and Branding

Oftentimes, decision makers are fearful (and rightly so) of doing their company brand reputational harm by releasing half baked prototypes to market.

The alternatives?

  • Clearly indicate that the product is in beta mode and is used purely as a form of market research
  • Limit the number of customers to a defined control group
  • Release the product under a unique brand

What we’re looking to obtain at this point is validated learnings. I recently interviewed Humphrey Laubscher, Fintech Innovation Manager at NabLabs on my podcast and he stressed that it’s actually a far better test of market validation without the backing of a reputable brand. and sometimes the best way to do that is without the shine of a large brand behind it.

7. Engage decision makers in innovation days

Show, don’t tell. If you can secure decision makers to give up half a day of their time to take part in innovation bootcamps, hackathons and the like,  you should be able to foster “aha” moments. This can go a long way to planting seeds in their mind and galvanising the attention, interest and desire to invest in comprehensive innovation programs, beyond just a simple hackathon.

A light touch alternative to a hackathon is a 30 minute presentation, perhaps a lunch-time brownbag, presented by a keynote speaker on innovation. Just make sure you get the right people in the room.

8. Ask for Forgiveness, not Permission

The ‘if all else fails’ option… ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Perhaps run hackathons of your own after hours or on weekdays with like minded staff. Develop some prototypes, maybe if you’re bold enough you can get some initial customer feedback and then present this to decision makers. When they see how engaged staff are, the tangible results of these programs and so forth, they will be more inclined to officially sponsors such events internally.

Sue Hogg, an Iteration Manager at Australia Post, followed this exact approach and it grew so popular that she’s now received sponsorship to run events as part of BAU. She likes to call this “blackops!”.

Like anything innovation in large companies, there’s no silver bullet. You have to experiment.

So give the above starting points a go, generate some interactions with key stakeholders, learn from them and iterate towards a strategy that works best.

Got some stories on how you secured buy-in for an innovation project? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

About the Author

Steve Glaveski is an innovation consultant, keynote speaker, author, blogger and podcast host. He is currently the co-founder of Collective Campus, an innovation hub, school and consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia that works with organizations of all sizes to help them adopt the mindset, methodologies and tools to successfully explore new business models and disruptive innovation in an era of rapid change.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @steveglaveski or visit

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