Let’s say you’re looking to get your environmental or EH&S project approved…
What are the biggest obstacles stopping you securing the finances, resources, time, and authority needed to drive your project forward -- and away from being stuck in the limbo of corporate decision making for the next 6-8 months?
In a recent survey we did of North American EH&S managers, 64% of people said that cost was the biggest obstacle to getting a project approved. Second on the list was winning executive buy-in, with 42% of managers highlighting this as an obstacle when getting project approval.
Cost can often be a subjective issue based on the value of your project, but before you can even think about getting your project off the ground, the first thing you need to do is get your boss on board.
How to Get Your EH&S Projects Approved
You probably have experience of your executives saying “no” to a lot things. But the first thing to understand, is that it’s not your fault - it’s part of their job.
For executives, success is all about managing and mitigating risk, and it’s much riskier to say “yes” to an idea than it is to say “no”.
They might say “no” because they don’t fully understand the problem or your goals. They might say “no” because they don’t see the value in your work. Or they might say “no” just because they feel it’s the wrong project.
This can be totally frustrating when you know your executive has already “talked the talk” when it comes to EH&S and sustainability, but doesn’t “walk the walk” when it comes time to saddle up (if this has happened to you, keep reading – this can be used to your advantage).
But the way executives see it, saying yes to the wrong project could waste the business’ time and money. That’s why if they’re not confident in a project and how it will specifically make them and the company look good, it’s safer for them to reject the idea.
So your job is to persuade them to focus on the benefits to them and the organization and get them to change their thinking to “yes”.
That may seem obvious to you, but if you’ve ever had a project stall because a decision maker was dragging their feet, you know that getting that “yes” is a vital make-or-break point.
And it’s a hurdle that the most ideas fail to clear.
But there is a proven set of tools that you can incorporate into your project pitch that can influence your executive’s decisions and (ethically) persuade them that your project is worth supporting.
If you use it, it will dramatically increase the chances of you getting that “yes”.
It’s called the “Pitch Perfect Technique”, and we’ve helped many of our clients utilize it to their advantage.
"The Pitch Perfect Technique" to Ethically Get Your Boss to Say "Yes"
The reason this technique works so well is because it’s based on scientifically-grounded psychological principles. Although every project and every business is different, human psychology remains constant... even for executives.
Everyone is motivated to say “yes” based on the same psychological factors - whether they realize it or not. The Pitch Perfect technique is all about ethically tapping into these factors to maximize your persuasive powers.
From his research into influence and persuasion, psychology professor Dr. Robert Cialdini discovered that there are Six Principles of Persuasion. He published his findings in his ground-breaking book, Influence. (If you haven't read this book, you should)
He refers to these principles as “the weapons” used by influence professionals (salespeople, fundraisers, etc.) to get people to say “yes”.
Watch this video of Dr. Cialdini explaining the Science of Persuasion, including some astounding stats about just how effective these 6 principles can be:
Essentially, these are six validated methods that are practical, ethical, and often costless to implement, which can create a big difference in your ability to influence the behaviors of others.
The six principles are:
- Reciprocity - People are more obligated to give when they’ve received something first. The key to using this psychological trigger is to be the first person to give something, ideally something personalized and unexpected. Small personalized gifts and tokens of appreciation go a long way to helping you get what you want.
- Scarcity – an idea is more appealing and there is more reason to act if its availability is limited or that there’s a chance of missing out. When pitching to your boss, be sure to include any aspects of the proposal that add an element of scarcity: are you being offered a limited-time discount from a vendor? Is there a deadline for implementation in order to avoid looming consequences? What is the price of inaction? Scarcity is a great principle for creating a greater sense of urgency, and is especially useful if you have an internal or external deadline looming.
- Authority – Ideas and messages that are coming from authority figures have more weight and people are more likely to agree with and support them. Humans have a tendency to follow credible and knowledgeable experts and create fewer objections to their ideas. However, claiming to be an authority figure is less powerful than when a third party does it for you. What this research tells us is that when you’re making an environmental project pitch, it’s important to signal what makes you a credible authority figure before you try and sell your idea. Getting someone that your executives already trust to introduce and vouch for you is even better.
- Consistency – People are more likely to support an idea that they have supported previously through their actions or their words. If someone in your organization has expressed commitment to a concept or idea in the early development stages, they are more likely to buy into it later on, once the idea is more developed. Smart EH&S managers try and get small, initial commitments as soon as possible in the early planning stages, rather than trying to convince executives to support an entire project idea all at once. To supercharge this principle, the commitments should be voluntary, action-oriented, and public.
- Liking – It’s no secret that humans are more likely to say yes to people that they like. We are all more receptive to ideas coming from people we find trustworthy and similar to ourselves in mannerisms and language. Dr. Cialdini found there were three main strategies for increasing how much an audience likes us: be similar, pay genuine compliments, and cooperate. These are easily applied to EH&S management too. Learn the language and jargon of executives so you can speak to them in familiar terms. Be cooperative and supportive of their projects whenever you get the chance. Focus on their needs rather than yours. Be complimentary by giving an efficient pitch rather than wasting their time. But remember, while the occasional genuine compliment can’t hurt, don’t mistake being likable with fake flattery and buttering your boss up.
- Consensus and Social Proof – When decision makers feel uncertain, they look to the behaviors of others to determine the best course of action. This social influence is even stronger if those others are similar to the decision maker and greater in number. You can leverage this principle by highlighting case studies that took a similar route to your project and by pointing out industry trends that your project is keeping on top of. Using testimonials can also be a powerful way of overcoming objections during your pitch.
See How to Apply These Proven Principles to Achieve Results
Now, you may have been aware of the principles before -- or they may be brand new to you – but there is a BIG difference between being aware of these principles and actually putting them into action.
That is why we are proud to announce a new series that we’ll be running on ERA’s blog over the next few weeks.
Our goal is to outline the strategy of the “Pitch Perfect Technique” and take you through it, step by step. We’ll also provide practical tips on how you can get the buy-in you need for your projects to become a success.
- You’ll find out why you need to show the value of EH&S to executive (and how to do it the right way)
- We’re going to show you how to use the psychology of executives to get what you want
- You’ll get access to scripts, presentations and tools to make your justification easier
- And much more
You can start applying the steps of the Pitch Perfect Technique at any stage of your project proposal. You’ll obviously get more out of it if you start using the technique as early as possible, but don’t worry if you’ve already done a lot of work preparing your pitch.
Along the way, we’ll continue to give you helpful tools and resources to build your own Making the Pitch Toolkit, a carefully compiled set of guides, templates, and calculators that will make following the Pitch Perfect Technique even easier to follow.
Make sure to subscribe to these articles so that you can keep up with this mini-series and get it delivered straight to your inbox - even if you don't have a project in the pipes right now, sign up. The tactics you'll learn will help with the next project you need to get approved.
May 13, 2013