Getting Participation from Senior Leaders


Have you ever been asked to create something new or revitalize an initiative that has been on life-support? Ever encounter the tremendous obstacles like lack of sufficient resources, inertia and lack of urgency? Try as you might, the existing framework is not one you can use to guarantee success.

A piece of advice that is so common it’s almost cliche is you need to get an executive sponsor for any meaningful initiatives of programs. That’s actually great advice for obvious reasons, but it is easier said than done.

Senior executives can be hard to reach. Once you read them, it can be difficult to get them to engage because your initiative, while important, is one of many commitments flying at them on an hourly basis.

The next time you have a senior executive’s commitment, but are having challenges turning this into action, don’t give up! Just EFF it. Well, that’s an acronym. Easy, Flattering, and Fast to Market. Let’s look at these in turn.

  1. Easy

    For just a moment, put yourself in the boardroom yourself. Each minute of your time is carefully calibrated and scheduled. Breaks are few and far in between. It’s just “go, go, go” from sunup to sundown and then a new request lands on your desk.

    When you make the ask easy for the executive to understand and execute, you are more likely to get a timely response. For example, there is a difference between please draft an email in support vs. here is a draft of an email you can use as a template and here is who you can send you edits to and who you can ask if you have questions. Which one approach is more likely to get actione?

  2. Flattering

    Does your initiative align with this executive’s values and favorite causes? In addition to helping the organization, have you highlighted ways it can help promote other separate, but related interests of the executive? It’s not about catering to ego, it’s about aligning your initiative to their interests in a way that gets their attention and excitement. The more you do this the more likely that your initiative will be able to cut through the noise and stand out.

  3. Fast to Market

    I’m a big fan of delay of gratification. The famous Marshmallow experiment, debates about how scientifically sound it is or not, speaks to the obvious truth that people who can control themselves have better results than if they had not. Also, the anticipation of a great event or meal is often more pleasurable than the actual experience. That said, people need some sense of time in order to execute, and executives are no different. Ask someone to do something in 6 months and see how confused they look.

    When asking an executive for something, make sure you communicate a reasonable time frame where they will be able to see the fruits of their labors sooner rather later. Nobody likes to do something and they see it go into a black hole. The closer the result is to the input, the more likely people are to get excited about contributing.

So the next time you are having trouble getting traction with a senior executive, don’t give up, don’t bemoan their lack of commitment. Just regroup, replan, and EFF it!