How to Manage: Selling Your Ideas to Leadership


AMY BERNSTEIN: You’re listening to Women at Work, from Harvard Business Review. I’m Amy Bernstein.

“Middle Managers Should Drive Your Business Transformation.” That’s the title of an HBR article published in April. The authors, Michael Mankins and Patrick Litre, both partners at Bain, implore executives to harness the ingenuity and creativity of leaders under them because that’s often where breakthroughs come from.

Directors and department heads have uniquely valuable perspective. They’re deep enough in the day-to-day operations to appreciate the factors and assumptions that contribute to any given problem. They’re also close enough to the work to spot certain emerging opportunities. All this means that they’re inclined to propose solutions and ideas that are thorough yet doable. Common sense, right? But the reason Mankins and Litre implore executives to welcome bottom-up change is that senior leaders tend not to.

I mean, think back to the last time you had an idea for changing how your company does business or for bringing in new business: different tech, a new market, an improvement to a process. How’d that go over? Did you feel you even had their full attention?

Michigan Ross professor Sue Ashford says the overarching reason executives pass on an idea from a mid-level manager is that they don’t immediately perceive its relevance to organizational performance. She teaches MBA and exec ed students how to sell their ideas up the chain of command, and she’s here to share wisdom from her couple of decades of research into that skill.

Ellen Bailey’s also here with us because at Harvard Business Publishing, she’s the VP of Business and Culture Transformation—and boy does she live up to that title. She’ll give examples of how she’s applied Sue’s thinking in her job: tailoring her pitch, framing the issue, involving others, and more. Ellen’s developed her own road-tested persuasion tactics, and she’ll tell us all about them. I hope that hearing about the tactics that have worked well for Ellen, and for Sue, and for me will help you choose your next battle and win it.

Sue, Ellen, thank you so much for joining me today.

SUE ASHFORD: Thanks. It’s wonderful to be here and to have this talk.

ELLEN BAILEY: Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it

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AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Ellen, you’ve had to sell really big ideas into leadership at this organization. Some of them were about growth, some were about culture. Tell us about that and what you saw as the key moments, and maybe what you’ve learned along the way.

ELLEN BAILEY: Absolutely. Amy, one of the things I learned from you years ago when I brought questions up or when I brought ideas up is you always said, “What’s the problem that you’re trying to solve?” And so that’s where I always start. And so, the formula that I use is, number one, what is the problem that I’m trying to solve? Number two, what are the benefits mutually beneficial to the organization and the people? Because it’s never just about the business, and it’s never just about the people. They’re completely intertwined, right? And then, I would say, thirdly, does it link to our strategy or goals or drive that, right? So, when we think about the benefits, is it also aligned with what we’re, at the core, trying to do? Those are just literally the three questions that I ask before I even try to put a story or a narrative together.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I love hearing that, Ellen, because I remembered those conversations, and it took me so long to learn those lessons. It used to be for me that I’d have an idea, and I’d think it was just obviously a good idea, right?

ELLEN BAILEY: Right.

SUE ASHFORD: Mm-hmm.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, that is not the proper way to get buy-in, right? You really have to explain what makes this a good idea, and it’s really helpful to think it through for yourself.

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah. The one thing I’d add to that is thinking through for whom might this not be a good idea, and what would be the reason? I know that we get so invested in our idea and we know why it’s good, but we forget that someone from another point of view just is going to look at it differently. For example, an idea about, We need to reorganize this way. One case study is a woman putting forth an idea about more time off and more flexibility for everyone. Because the people were working themselves to death in this organization, and the person who had the contact with the client was like, “Oh, so we’re going to tell them we work less for you.” And so, if you think about What are they going to say? it makes you think, Oh no, we need to think about how we frame it, how we phrase it, how we talk about it. So, it’s more just… once you think about their point of view, you have new ideas about how to sell your issue.

ELLEN BAILEY: I can build on that and give a very specific example. So, one of the things that we wanted to do a couple of years ago was we were wanting to ensure that we have equity for all in our organization, right? We just need to have some checks and balances in place, some evaluations to make sure we’re doing the right things right. And the best certification out there that I could find, and I still believe is great, is this Black Equity at Workplace Certification. It was like, okay, so we are not as racial and ethnically diverse as we would like; we are predominantly a white organization. So, how do we sell this idea and think about it from another person’s perspective, and could there be a downside? Through further research though—and having your data points is really important because there are studies that prove that if your organization is equitable for a black woman, then it is equitable for all. So, then everybody wins. And so, then I was able to use that data point to try to address that perspective of folks that would’ve perceived that something may be going away or not as beneficial to them. So, it reiterates Sue’s point.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, I think I actually remember that, and I remember that as a very compelling argument that you made. My version of that is I wanted to change a process that would’ve affected a particular group of people who could have understood it as making their jobs harder. And having done that job myself in the past, I, really, in my heart, believed it was just making the job different. And so, what I had to do to sell this idea was to address that head on with the people affected to hear what they were saying, to see if my perception was right or wrong, and I had to adjust. And to deal with it, not steamroll them, but also to feed back the argument for the greater good. I mean, it’s hard and it can be frustrating, and it takes way more time than you may have budgeted.

SUE ASHFORD: That’s so true. Yeah. Our oldest model of change is a very simple one by Kurt Lewin, unfreezing the organization, changing, and refreezing. And he talks about a force field model where at all times there’s forces pushing for change and resisting change. And right now, they’re equal in their pressure. And so, it keeps the organization in a stasis state, and you could either increase the pushing forces or decrease the restraining forces. And basically, it’s a better strategy to try to decrease the restraining forces because when you increase the pushing forces, people push back, they don’t like it. But if you try to understand the point of view, make it work for them, reducing their blocking and their desire to block, you get the movement.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Right, we hate change.

SUE ASHFORD: We do.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, let’s just go to this point where you’re in this moment of birthing an idea. How do you even know if it’s a good idea? How do you vet your own idea before you set out to sell it? Ellen, tell us about how you do it.

ELLEN BAILEY: Yeah. Before I even think about selling it, I actually leverage my network for this. Because I’m like, Am I thinking about this the right way? Is this even worth putting forth? Is anybody else thinking about it this way? How radical is this really? And so that’s the first place I start is just evaluating it that way.

SUE ASHFORD: Exactly. Allies, colleagues, friends, husbands, wives, partners.

ELLEN BAILEY: All of the above, Sue. Yep.

SUE ASHFORD: All of the above. Yeah.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Okay. But then, how do you move from the inner circle of trust to the greater organization? How do you do that, Sue?

SUE ASHFORD: Well, I propose, and when I teach executives, I make them do this, that you map who’s out there. So, you map three different groups. Who is an obvious ally for this issue, who is an obvious blocker for this issue, and who are the fence sitters? And then, my favorite sentence about change is, your job is to mobilize your allies to influence your fence sitters to pressure the blockers. You don’t go directly at the blockers; you’re really just trying to mobilize people around that faction in order to get it going.

So, part of the preparation is just mapping who’s out there. And then, the other thing I have them do is map who makes the decision, and then, who do they listen to? So, who do they trust? Who in their eyes has expertise? And those would be other people you might want to try to get on board.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Ellen, can you take us through a real situation? All right, you vetted with the people you trust who you know are going to be straightforward with you. You have some confidence that this idea really could be valuable. What’s your next move?

ELLEN BAILEY: My next move is to start weighing the pros and cons, right? So, taking a look at the impact that it could have on the business and what would the trade-offs be? And can we actually—I know this sounds really odd and oversimplified—but can we do it, is it doable? Are the people that I’m going to talk to, will they feel like it’s doable? Because you can have the best ideas in the world, but if it appears even or the perception is it’s too hard, or it’s too complicated, then it’s not doable. But the first place I start is what’s the business that it could drive or the upside and identifying the trade-offs, then literally positioning it in a way that I think it might be doable, and then, I go from there.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So how do you prep for the pitch? What kind of information do you get? You say, is it doable? So, what kind of information are you looking for?

ELLEN BAILEY: Yeah, so good question. So, I look at the organizational landscape from a business perspective as far as what have we done to date and what has worked or hasn’t worked. And then, I also take a look at the culture and the people. And so, do we have the right people? Do we have the culture in place? What are the shifts that we would need to make to do that?

And then, I literally, I guess I’m, I don’t know. I’m very informal and so I don’t try to make it fancy. I don’t try to make it bigger than a bread box, but I literally lay out then step by step by step, starting with here’s the problem that we are trying to solve and making sure that we gain agreement on that. Because the biggest mistake that I made and still make periodically for sure, is making the assumption that we agree on the problem and the baseline. We are in agreement that this is an issue, and I just make an assumption because I see it that I’m right, that everybody else does too. And so, it’s like, Oh, wait, no, there are multiple perspectives out there. So, starting with that baseline to gain agreement on this is the problem to solve, and that it’s actually worth solving.

And then, from there, walking through literally step-by-step by step on how we can actually get there. And so, it is very targeted and succinct, and I challenge myself to how few slides or how few pages can I have?

And then, I’d say the last piece is when I’m selling in an idea is the first meeting, my goal is just to get buy-in to its worth exploring, not a yes, but are people willing to process it, think about it, and explore it. So, I think not trying to bite it off more than I can chew, which is also a lesson learned. I want to go from zero to a hundred in one meeting and get a yes and go, and I’m like, Oh yeah, no, that’s not how this works.

SUE ASHFORD: There’s two things you raise that are really consistent with how we think about this in the academic world: we think of organizations as having an agenda, and it’s limited. They only have limited time and attention. And because there’s a limited agenda, it’s a marketplace: you have this issue, but somebody else has some other issue that they think is important; and you guys are not competing, but there’s a scarce time and attention. Only some issues are going to get there. And then, the other thing that was… So, in your story was the idea of small wins. If you can get people to think small, they’re more likely to think, Okay, I could do that. And then, you start to see outcomes which makes you feel like you could do more, and it creates some momentum. It attracts allies like, Oh, look what they’re doing over there. I want to be part of that.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I also wonder about that first… You’re ready to take the idea, you’re ready to shop it out there, take it out of the circle of trust. How do you think about those first pitch meetings, if you will? Ellen, how have you thought about them?

ELLEN BAILEY: Yeah, so one, to be quite frank, they make me nervous, so I don’t even pretend that they don’t. So, I play it over in my head and scenario plan. One of the things I do too is I try to understand—if it’s a large group, it’s a little bit tougher; if you’re talking to two, three, four people, it’s a little bit easier—but really, honestly, what are their personalities and what are their work styles? Do they want a narrative? Do they want bullet points? Do they need a visual? Do I need to have all three of those things in there to help convey my point? And so that’s one of the things I absolutely do is try to think through what are the work styles, learning styles, and honestly just flat out personalities of the folks that I’m addressing.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Totally. I also try to socialize ideas, talk to the stakeholders one-on-one to hear their concerns, to hear how they play the idea back before taking it wide. So, before the big meeting with the executive committee, whatever it might be. I actually think it’s important for almost everyone at that table to have heard this before and to have been able to give some feedback so that those people can also feel some authorship. Also, so you can improve the idea to bulletproof it. What do you think, Sue?

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah, exactly. You’re meeting with the team that’s going to decide is just the most visible step in the process. It’s not the whole process. The way I phrase it is issue selling is a campaign. You have a campaign plan for your idea.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Absolutely.

SUE ASHFORD: And I think when you get out of the circle of trust, you are selling the issue: You’re selling the issue in the elevator, and you better have a 20-second portrayal; you’re selling the issue when you hold a meeting with one-on-one meeting. To gain your allies, you’re selling the issue. You’re not just selling the issue in that one meeting. You’re selling the issue all along the way, and it gives you all the benefits that you mentioned, Amy.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, and the other thing I always keep in mind is this isn’t about me. So, feedback, particularly negative feedback, is not personal, and you take that as the gift it is.

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah. It’s really about the collective. And Ellen, you said, I always start with what’s the strategy. How does this fit? Because all true leadership isn’t about me, it’s about what we’re trying to create here. And issue selling is just a great example of that.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So, Sue, you think about this a lot. What are the common mistakes that you’ve seen people make when they are pitching an idea to the business?

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah. Well, one is going it alone, thinking that you alone are going to make this big deal happen.

The second is not regulating your own emotions. Because if you think about it, you often need very hot emotions to want to sell an issue. It’s something that you’re invested in that matters to you. So, you’ve got, maybe you’re angry, and then, maybe it doesn’t work, so you get frustrated. So, managing those emotions because I think when you actually raise it with people, you need to be somewhat cool emotionally to raise it, to be open.

Then the other is around this having a solution, which everyone will tell you, “You have to do a solution.” And research has shown, yes, we like people who have a solution, but solutions can also be very narrow, and there might be a much better solution out there if it was discussable and we could brainstorm about it and come to a better solution.

The other thing is people, they grab hold of the organization like the blind man and the elephant, they grab hold of one part—the tail, or the leg, or the ear—and they’re passionate about their issue, but they’re not seeing the elephant. And other people often if you’re selling up, they have a broader perspective, and so they’re not liking your issue. It isn’t personal certainly, but also, they have information that you don’t, and you need to better understand how the issue fits in.

AMY BERNSTEIN: That is such an important piece of advice because if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a pitch and you’re grappling with it, you are buying in and you’re kind of playing it back, and maybe you change in word here or there, you add in a salient detail, and the author of this pitch just isn’t having it—it’s 100% percent my way, the way I’ve articulated it, or it ain’t worth doing—I got to say, that’s kind of a turnoff.

So, I want both of you to sit on the other side of the fence, and you’re being pitched ideas. What framing, what tactics really work for you? I’ll start with you, Ellen.

ELLEN BAILEY: Mm-hmm. I ask the same questions of the folks that are pitching to me that I ask of myself and my prep, which is leading with the benefit. So, what is the benefit to the organization and to the people? Do we actually think this is doable, and how does it impact or drive the strategy, et cetera, and what are the potential? So, I usually start with those very three specific questions, and now when folks come to me, if they come to me more than once, they come prepared with those three things.

AMY BERNSTEIN: All right, Sue, who has been a senior associate dean, you have been on the other side of the fence a lot.

SUE ASHFORD: For sure.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, what works for you?

SUE ASHFORD: People being open to understanding the bigger picture. They come to me with their issue, and if I can share, “This is hard for me because of X, Y, and Z,” they will work with me on that rather than being resentful or et cetera, so that matters.

Flexibility regarding timing. I was often overwhelmed by the amount of things coming at me, and if I could say to someone, “Look, I’d love to talk about this issue. Could we do it next week, in a month?” that kind of thing. There are openness and flexibility about that really helped a lot.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. And when I’ve been sold ideas, I find that when someone kind of opens the aperture and takes in strategic goals, solves a problem, articulates the argument crisply, that works for me. When I have to do a lot of work to try to figure out what this is and is it important, I don’t know, that’s a lot. I’ve got to be at a meeting in two minutes.

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah, I think being able to understand how it feels to receive helps you a lot with how you think about selling.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I see you nodding your head, Ellen.

ELLEN BAILEY: Mm-hmm. Definitely. I mean, how do we get unstuck, and how do we help people who are pitching us ideas or others thinking about things differently? And so I embedded this question into my team meetings recently, which is, “What are the other three ways that we could think about this or solve for this?”

SUE ASHFORD: So good.

ELLEN BAILEY: Just this morning, as a matter of fact, I had a conversation with a couple of colleagues around an allyship reverse mentoring program. And so while we all know all of the benefits to this, and they’re all fabulous, the first version that I received was multiple months, a yearlong hours per month dedicated to this. And so, the reality, back to one of the points I made earlier, is that, Is it really doable when we think about our employees and what’s on their plate? While we want to do it justice, that’s probably too much of a heavy lift.

So, then the second version was one meeting, and I’m like, “Oh wait, that’s not enough.” And so, the discussion that we had then was around, what are two or three other ways that we can solve for this that still maintains the objective and the benefits that we’ve outlined, but what are some ways that we can do it?

And where we landed was three meetings that can take place over the course of three to four months to address these three topics. And then, there were options and flexibility built in, but it was me posing the question back to these two brilliant folks on what are two or three other ways. And then, the brainstorming just went, and we ran 15 minutes over our meeting time because of all of the great ideas that they came up with.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, we received quite a bit of email from listeners who are struggling to get their ideas off the ground, and I’d love to get both of you to weigh in on a couple of them.

So, let me start by reading a message we got from a listener named Pam. Pam’s a program manager at a company that issues credentialing exams for specific industry expertise. And she says the company can’t seem to manage projects effectively. There are no project managers, and the C-suite doesn’t understand the amount and type of resources it takes to execute on certain projects. Projects are continuously slowed down and derailed by fire drills from the executive team who don’t think there’s a problem with how things operate. As a result, the company isn’t issuing as many exams as they could. Teams are working long hours, turnover is high, and they’re perpetually understaffed.

Pam has talked about this to her boss and the C-suite, and she presented to them a deck with data around how much more revenue could be generated if they just had the proper resource allocation.

But before she really got into the conversation, the whole thing was derailed by a C-suite member’s own questions and agenda and went down a rabbit hole of everything else except what she had planned to talk about.

Pam is looking for your advice on how she can steer these conversations back on track and how to get the executive team to see how the lack of resources and project management is truly a problem.

So, one of the things that seems she’s failing to do is to get the executive committee to really understand the urgency around this problem. What advice would you give her to get them to feel this urgency? Ellen, what do you think?

ELLEN BAILEY: That’s a good question and a tough one because I too have been in those situations, right? And one of the things that I do is I just pause, and I start laying out, “Okay, our original intent was to discuss issue A, but we are now going down issue B. Is this the time and place that we want to discuss B? Or should we circle back and go back to A?”

AMY BERNSTEIN: All right, is this the quiet part, or are you saying it out loud in the meeting?

ELLEN BAILEY: I’m saying it out loud in the meeting.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Okay.

ELLEN BAILEY: So, one of the things that I will say is I am authentic, and I think you can have executive presence and be authentic. And so, I usually, hopefully not to my detriment, talk that through out loud so that we are in agreement, or we can come to a mutual agreement on what is most urgent to finish in that meeting.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Sue, what do you think of Ellen’s approach to figuring out the timing here?

SUE ASHFORD: Well, the timing, I think, is good. But saying all that out loud, I would have a little worry about it because that other person is right there in the room, and it’s a little indicting of—I think it was her—and I think if that person is probably resistant to this idea possibly, which is why they took the conversation off into a different track. And I wonder if I would do it across meetings.

If you identify someone as a resistor, that label is dangerous for your openness, right? Because we don’t like resistance, we don’t like people who resist our ideas. And resistance gives you a lot of information. If that person was derailing, why are they derailing? What’s in it for them? How does this change potentially impact them? So, I might try to suss that out with my network, talking to other allies that could say, “What do you think that was about? And why do you think they were doing that?”

ELLEN BAILEY: And I wasn’t actually thinking that the person was a resistor. Yeah. If it’s a resistor, I certainly wouldn’t call them out in front of everybody.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I mean, I have seen it happen, and it has happened to me where I didn’t think it was resistance. I thought it was someone sort of musing out loud and taking the entire room with her.

ELLEN BAILEY: For sure.

SUE ASHFORD: And it might be a competing issue seller, right? And if that’s all it is, then I love Ellen’s, “Let’s just verbalize what’s happening here.”

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah.

ELLEN BAILEY: Yeah.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, let’s hear another question. This one’s from a woman we’ll call Allison. She’s a data services manager at a water utility company who pitched a strategy to her department’s leadership, who told her that they loved it, and yet they haven’t brought her ideas to top leaders.

The organizational problem that she’s trying to solve is that the data engineers and analytics people are slow to make decisions and are bad at collaborating. She’s advocating for the two teams to merge. She’s also advocating for someone to lead that newly merged team because currently no one’s overseeing that work, even though the company says it’s very important. Here’s what she’s done so far. She’s explained to the leadership team how the new data team and structure she proposed would allow the company to grow. She’s created budget forecast for her proposal, and she’s jumped through hoop after hoop to justify why her strategy is needed.

Allison thinks that the leadership team’s inability to make decisions, their lack of overarching company strategy, and the fact that they’re all really busy doing their own thing is getting in the way. So, she’s wondering if the leadership team likes the plan and the business wants them to address these issues, why has nothing moved forward? How can she manage the feeling that she’s being annoying? What’s your take, Sue?

SUE ASHFORD: I would wonder whether she really has gotten buy-in, she’s gotten verbal statements about buy-in, but I don’t know that it’s there yet. People resist new ideas, actively, they criticize, they challenge, they don’t give you resources, or they also can do it passively. They’re just let time go by. They’re just somewhat unresponsive. There’s delay.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Right. And sometimes people nod their heads to get you to move on.

ELLEN BAILEY: Yeah, that’s very different than buy-in, right?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah.

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah.

ELLEN BAILEY: Maybe, Sue, as what you said earlier, if she did get buy-in, then what is the holdup, and is there something else happening behind the scenes or something larger that she’s potentially unaware of? But yeah, seeking to understand, I would start following up with folks individually and confirming if she does have buy-in number one, and then, number two, then really seeking to understand what the holdup is then.

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, you mentioned one idea, Ellen, about what might be the holdup, what’s going on behind the scenes. What are some other things that Allison ought to be thinking about?

SUE ASHFORD: I think she should think about who stands to lose. Changing structures in an organization’s big, right? So, who stands… How does the analytics head think about this plan of suddenly being merged with data and having a data person on the executive group? All structures come with issues. If you divide things up this way, there’s this set of issues. If you divide them up some other way, there’s a different set, but they all have issues that need to be overcome. So, this one does as well, even though it’s got some big pluses. And so, thinking through who stands to lose might be important.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I also think that sometimes an idea is good, and people buy into the idea as an idea, but there’s so many more urgent things on the agenda. There’s so many bigger problems to solve that it might be worth Allison’s trying, to Ellen’s point, to find out what else is the executive committee thinking about, right?

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah. It might be an example of what we were talking about where she has a thin slice of the organization that she understands-

AMY BERNSTEIN: Exactly.

SUE ASHFORD: … and may not understand the whole.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So, let’s go to the more personal part of Allison’s question. How do we deal with that? Oh, that voice in our heads that’s telling us you’re just being annoying, piped down. Have you ever heard that little voice in your head?

ELLEN BAILEY: All the time.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And how do you tell her to shut up?

ELLEN BAILEY: I really do weigh the pros and cons, and is this the battle that is worth fighting? And I determine that literally by, does it help the people, and does it help the business in a significant way? And then, I just keep going.

SUE ASHFORD: At some point, if the issue is important enough, you have to be willing to risk being annoying. And I get mad at some senior women colleagues have tenure, have full, are chaired, and they’re like, “Oh, I’m scared to bring up issues about the treatment of women.” I’m like, “If you don’t do it, who will?” So yes, you might suffer a little bit, but if you’re doing it for the right reason that we talked about earlier for the mission, clearly not about me, about the collective, then you might have to risk being annoying.

ELLEN BAILEY: Yeah, I agree a hundred percent, Sue. I think, How critical is this to address? And there are things that I’m just passionate about, that I love, that I really want to address that are low-hanging fruit and good opportunities, but it’s just not a priority. And so that’s where the timing comes into play as well. But if it’s critical enough, then yeah, you have to continue to be annoying, so to speak, and push it forward. But there is that balance because you don’t want to be the one that seems to always be raising the issues either.

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah, that’s a pick-your-battles kind of thing.

ELLEN BAILEY: That’s exactly it.

SUE ASHFORD: Oh, yeah.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, thank you both so much. This has been, I don’t know, I’ve learned an awful lot in this conversation. I’m ready to go out and sell a big idea to ExCom.

SUE ASHFORD: Yeah, I loved it too. It was really fun for me to talk to people that are actually doing it.

ELLEN BAILEY: Oh my gosh, thank you. It was an absolute pleasure and an honor to be here with both of you today.

AMY BERNSTEIN: From here, I strongly recommend reading Sue’s 2015 article, “Get the Boss to Buy In,” which she co-wrote with Jim Detert. They specify seven tactics, like adhering to norms, that’ll increase your chances of actually having influence.

For further advice on pushing for change at your organization, check out the HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case. The book goes over how to align an idea with strategic goals, test it, calculate its return on investment, and present it to stakeholders.

For more podcast episodes like this one, scroll through Women at Work’s feed to 2022 to find “How to Push for Policy Changes at Your Company” and “The Essentials: Persuading People.”

Our editorial and production team is Amanda Kersey, Maureen Hoch, Tina Tobey Mack, Rob Eckhardt, Ian Fox, and Hannah Bates, who’s producing this season. Robin Moore composed our theme music.

Next week, for the final episode of this season of How to Manage, is for those of you who are ready to rise up and out of mid-level management. I’ll start by speaking with executive coach Cynthia Pong, who’s helped many women make this move. Then we’ll hear from two COOs, one in a tech firm and one at a nonprofit. They’ll tell us all about how they got where they are today, including the risks they took and the relationships they built.

I’m Amy Bernstein. Get in touch with me and the rest of the show team by emailing womenatwork@hbr.org.



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