Don’t sell your boss on a new innovation or solution. Involve them in a process to solve a communications challenge.
By Jeffrey Lee
Making changes is a challenge in any organization, but changing an association can be harder than most. Budget items might need approval from a board or from multiple committees. Changes in strategy may need vetting from top leadership. Oftentimes it seems easier to simply let inertia set in.
That’s why I was intrigued recently when I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about selling an idea to your boss. It’s something that I’ve wondered throughout my career whenever I’ve thought of a new way to present content, or when I attend networking sessions or conferences and hear about innovative new strategies. Sounds great, I think, but how can I put it to work at my own organization?
The solution the author recommends isn’t so much about "selling” the idea. Rather, you should have your boss on board before the idea even comes up. "Top executives who successfully promote innovation hardly invest in unexpected breakthroughs,” the author writes. "They are actively involved upfront.”
While the article is targeted at business fields like R&D, design, and marketing, the ideas the author recommends would work just as well for innovations in association publishing. He provides four suggestions for interacting with senior executives earlier in the innovation process. Give these a try to lay the groundwork for the next change you’d like to make in your association’s communications strategy:
1. Get an endorsement to investigate a business challenge. For many of us in association publishing, a common challenge is reaching members through digital media. Suggesting out of the blue that your association magazine launch an e-version, a dedicated website, or a smartphone app might be met with the typical challenges of inertia: It seems like another big budget-eater that needs approval from a committee or board. Getting support to investigate the challenge is an easier task. "Even if you already have an idea for solving a problem, don’t immediately pitch it,” the author suggests.
2. Design the innovation process together. Now that top management’s on board, work with them to decide how to approach the problem and come up with new ideas. If they’re already in agreement that coming up with a social media strategy, for instance, is an important challenge, they’ll be more ready to investigate potential ideas like a new social group or community site.
3. Update top executives frequently. As you investigate potential options, provide updates to management about how your investigation is going. But explain how you’re approaching the challenge rather than discussing potential solutions. You’re not trying to sell them on a new website design or app yet—you’re helping to lay the foundation for your boss to understand the solution when it’s presented.
4. Involve top executives in the creation of the solution. Top management will throw their support behind a new communications tool, if they feel like they helped to implement it. So work with them to decide whether an in-house community site or social media page is a better solution—they’ll probably also provide you with some valuable insight along the way.
I started out thinking that I needed a way to sell ideas to my boss and my association’s leadership. But there’s a better way: Work together with your management so that they’ll understand why a solution is needed and support the steps you take to improve the situation.
Jeff Lee is manager of communications, UNITS Magazine, National Apartment Association.