Why Senior Managers Are Not Buying Into Your Ideas

Rahul was in Quality Assurance in his bank and, two years later, was promoted to Head of Delivery. 

In this new role, he needed to persuade Senior Leaders to change strategy. However, they would routinely brush aside his presentations and ignore his proposals. 

Jasmine, the new Head of Business Development, mentions this  SAME  strategy in a board meeting and the lot of them pounce on it like guinea pigs on a bed of lettuce. She could have delivered it in Morse Code and they’d still have been dead keen. 

So what did Rahul not do, that Jasmine did? 

It wasn’t the content, or even the presentation that was at faultThe problem was that the board still can’t help seeing Rahul as ‘the Q.A. guy that got a promotion’. That’s not Rahul’s fault, but it’s now on him to change that perception. 

Building connections with people is key to influencing them: without this rapport, it’s unlikely they’ll give ear to your proposals or respect them when they do. 

Here are 9 reasons why you can’t get buy-in with Senior Leaders

1.You’ve not built-up trust beforehand:  This is where reciprocity – give and take – is useful, to show you are amenable, useful and likeable, and you don’t need to take out a bank loan to do it. In fact, stick to free information such as recommendations, and they don’t even have to be work-related. Got the name of a good restaurant or book? Here are some other surprising, research-backed ways to gain this trust. 

2.There’s a gap between what you know and what they think:  This is a classic case of show and tell.  You need to show them what’s possible. That’s where either  storytelling comes in useful or taking them to client sites. Want a simple structure for this?  It’s here. 

3.Same old place and conversation:  Changing the environment can shift the boundaries and the expectations. You feel tense and uptight if you’ve a meeting with your boss in the boardroom but meet her in a restaurant and it’s different. We associate certain types of interactions with specific places so take it somewhere else and show the new you in a new environment. 

4.You’re giving too much detail:  Make it easy to digest information and stop going into the process. They’re more interested in what you do than how you’ll do it, so stick to the headline facts. The ability to be succinct is a leadership communication skill. 

5. You’re not clear:  Middle management are often swimming in Business Bullshit Bingo. Senior management are out of that verbal maze so drop the jargon. Speak plain English – see  this LinkedIn post here. 

6. You don’t understand the grey areas:  You need to speak to individuals to sound them out before you can steer them. Asking questions and actively listening will draw out their concerns and needs. Realistically, there are often areas of overlap where different stakeholders have various degrees of accountability. These conversations will help you to unearth who is responsible for what. 

7. You don’t know what their priorities are: Just as they’re oblivious to achievements and issues that may seem blatantly apparent to you, you’re probably in the dark as to what their priorities are.  Ask them what they may be and act accordingly. 

8. They see you in your old role and can’t associate you with your new one:You may have convinced in your old role, but you still need to in your new one. Drop in some little-known stats and facts, or refer to what the competitor is doing strategically. Management gets itchy about competitors: it stirs them up to know what the other side is doing. Should that be out of your capability for now, offer a commitment before you’re asked for one, then keep to it.  This way you build up trust and are seen as a safe pair of hands.  

9. You’re not keeping Senior Leaders in the loop: Don’t wait until they ask for an update.  Keep them the picture before their prompting. It’s at that point they’re more likely to see you as a solution provider and initiator. Here’s a highly effective structure to update Managers and Leaders. 

Even if you don’t have access to the very senior leaders, you can still influence their decisions through those who do have strong connections with both the ‘higher ups’ and with you. They can work the other directors, so you don’t have to. 

Your Actions:

  1. Remember influence starts before  you need people. Start to build connections now.
  2. Start 1-2-1s with leaders if possible: a chat to find out what’s going on. Focus on building the relationship. Give them credit when it’s due (not financial credit, I mean acknowledgement.) Discover their concerns.
  3. Record some of your higher-level accomplishments. When you talk of a situation, use those as illustrations of your experience.
  4. Use plain English in your communication: instead of “we’re optimising our system to support market superiority”, you could rephrase to something less opaque such as “we’re installing a system that’ll beat the competition” – if that is what you mean. It’s such an opaque statement, it’s open to interpretation.

If you are struggling with influence skills and using conversation skills to get your ideas across, then check out my communication training courses and choose the right one for you. Having problems getting your ideas heard with colleagues, clients or leaders?  I’ll help you get your voice heard.  Click for a free 15 minute Discovery Call here. 

This article was originally published in July 2021 and was completely reworked in May 2024.

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