How to Convince Leaders/Management to Take on Your Ideas? Tips for Engineers

Article for: engineers, developers, scientists.

You want to get management to adopt a new tool or drop a process that no longer works.

You do not expect senior leadership to understand all the technical details, but still want to ensure it is adopted.

Or perhaps you presented your ideas in the past and they got rejected, so now you feel worried to speak up or always ask someone else to put your ideas forward for you.

What can you do to get Management/Leadership to buy into your ideas?

Your idea about adopting a new tool may be fantastic and fit with your needs during the project, but in order to convince management about this, your new tool has to solve the problems that management has, not the problems that you have.

Management have targets, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or priorities which you might not (usually) know about. The moment you put forward an idea to adopt a new tool (let’s say Kubernetes for example) and you tell them how this would help you and solve the problems you have, the manager will start thinking:

· (VP/Director level will think) I don’t know all the details as I don’t work at that level, you know all the details as you experience this daily so tell me:

· the benefit (either money or efficiency or customer satisfaction)

· the cost (either money or what else would not be done)

· how will this impact others

· I am unsure what you are suggesting you will do: tell me a basic deployment plan

  • what problem does this solve exactly

· what (specifically) do you want me to do (what exactly do you want me to say “Yes” to?), the ask from me or my management team

  • what does this have to do with my targets or priorities
  • how would this help us do things faster, cheaper
  • how long this will delay the project,
  • how long it would take to embed/implement
  • how it would/not fit the current systems,
  • how it would/not integrate with current systems,
  • how other teams would reject it
  • how many risks this could pose that perhaps you haven’t yet thought of
  • how it would affect the costings of the project and so on.

The Step by Step Guide About How to Put Forward an Idea

Step 1

Be very clear in your own mind — what is it that you want them to do and why. What problem or need have you identified that is driving this idea you want to convince them to take on?

Step 2

You know the problem you identified but ask yourself -

“do I know the specific problems this idea (tool) would solve for the manager I am making this suggestion to”?

“Was this idea developed by talking to the manager about their problems/targets or was it developed by me when I noticed problems as I was doing the work?”

If the answer to any of these questions is: “no” (and in 99.99% of the cases, the answer is “no”):

Approach the manager informally (over lunch or coffee) and ask them about their needs, problems and frustrations in relation to the problems you identified in the project find their views on how the problems you noticed might affect their KPIs or priorities for the project. If you don’t know their KPIs or priorities for this project, ask them.

If you feel you understand enough their frustrations/priorities and you see a clear link between these and your idea, check with them what they would think of this idea (or tool) and what problems, worries or barriers would they see in implementing it?

When you talk to the manager, listen to understand their perspective, don’t listen to respond.

Step 3

Look at the patterns that start emerging with regards to the barriers managers would have when taking on board your idea (tool). Plus see if your idea (tool) is really fit for purpose from their perspective — do they see this as a problem they want to solve? If the problem they want to solve is not the same as the problem you want to solve with your idea (tool), can you make your idea (tool) fit with the problem they want to solve, or do you have to change the idea (tool)?

Here’s a real comment on this from a VP:

Sometimes it is also fine to drop the idea, and this should not be seen as negative. It will certainly not be negative towards the individual’s career unless the idea is really bad.

We have a motto for presenting ideas of “strong advocacy, weak resistance”. Senior management likes passion behind peoples’ ideas, but if you do not see the point they should not insist too much. Otherwise it can become frustrating to both parties.”

The concept of probing for interest before developing the idea in detail is good, as it reduces the chances of frustration happening.

If they recognise the problem, ask them how else have they tried to solve it or what barriers do they see in solving this problem. How can you adapt the idea (tool) so it fits with them? Adjust the idea according to your findings from the one to one chats with the manager.

If your idea (tool) does not fit the managers’ perspective/priorities/problems/KPIs they will not agree to take it on board.

Step 4

With the adjusted idea after the first round of conversations with the manager, check with them how fit for purpose this adjusted idea would be for them and if they see any more barriers to make it fit for purpose.

Step 5

Only after your second iteration of the idea, start talking about it to other audiences and groups. Speak to other teams or people who would be affected by this idea (tool). Would the teams who’d be affected by this idea (tool) agree to take this idea (tool) on if this manager agrees? Otherwise you risk being shredded to pieces in front of everyone and having your idea attacked and discredited before it even started.

How to Pitch the Initiative?

If you are in a bigger meeting with VPs/Directors and you only have 2 minutes, tell them:

· specifically what the problem is at your level and why it has wider implications for the business

· what you tried to do about it but didn’t work (and this is why you are you talking to them about this)

· what would you like them to say “yes” to so you can drive this change internally, but why at present you can’t do this without their endorsement.

Ideally you would pitch your ideas in a one to one meeting after you sent them an email saying you want to meet as you have some ideas how you could solve a problem they have and what you could do to solve it and why you need their help and what you’d want them to do.

If you are in a one to one meeting:

A — Start with WHY — the problem they have (not the problem you had that made you suggest this tool) that you identified in the one to one meetings with the manager

B — Continue with HOW — Explain in specific terms (no abstract or technical concepts here!) how this affects them (the challenges they face because of this problem) and how they may have tried to solve it (the challenges they faced in solving it), but it didn’t quite work (this is all information you collected from your one to one informal chats with the manager). You can add here alternatives they might have tried to solve it or barriers do have in solving this problem.

C — Explain WHAT you suggest and how this would solve all of the problems and challenges described in the first two parts of your pitch. Cover in simple and clear terms:

  • what things would look like once this tool was implemented
  • what the steps are to implement the tool (would it be just in your team or across multiple teams)
  • the teams you have already spoken to, their support for this idea (tool) and that they agreed to take this tool on if this manager agrees
  • how long this will delay the project (if at all!) or how you’d be able to catch up the lost time once the idea (tool) is implemented,
  • how long it would take to embed/implement
  • how it would fit the current systems and which systems are those,
  • how it would integrate with current systems,
  • what risks this could pose and what you have thought about to minimise those risks
  • why it would be easy for the team to start working with this new tool
  • what you personally would do to help implement the tool in the team/s
  • how it would affect the costings of the project/how much does it cost in total.
  • potential for this tool to be used on future/other projects not just this one.

D — Call to Action — Remind them once again how this tool would solve the problem the manager has and exactly what you’d like them to SAY or DO today.

Remember, the key algorithm to putting forward an idea successfully is:

Does your idea (tool) solve a problem they have or helps them reach a KPI/priority they have in some way? Do they think this problem is worth solving? Is it as easy as “yes” in terms of what they have to do?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you have to either find a problem they have that your idea would solve, or go back to researching another idea (tool) that would both solve a problem for them and solve your problem.

What questions or success stories do you have about successfully pitching a solution to leadership?



Adelina Chalmers a.k.a The Geek Whisperer

Helps Engineers who are Leaders (CEO/ CTO/ VP) get buy-in from their peers/teams/investors by transforming Communication techniques into Algorithms