You’ve got a great plan to bring sustainability more comprehensively into your organization’s planning process. The opportunities are huge, the timing is right, and the idea is brilliant. So how do you get executive management on board?
In a recent Fast Company article, author and thought leader Laura Vanderkam recently explored what it takes to get a bold idea into play. Her thoughts, captured in How to Get the Green Light for Your Big Idea, provide a great starting point for sustainability professionals (or “regular Joes with a big green idea”).
Passion for sustainability–and more specifically, for your particular sustainability idea–is the foundation upon which everything rests. While you can’t ride your enthusiasm all the way to the board room, it is imperative that you can speak with authentic eagerness about all aspects of your idea.
As Vanderkam writes, “It’s nice if the big ask isn’t the first time you’ve said hello.” You may need to do some homework before you start pitching your idea. Who are the key decision-makers? What do they care about? Where can you get to know them — and how can they get to know you? Bonus: this homework will also help you uncover office politics that will inform your approach.
Look for Open Ocean
“New ideas are often welcome when the old ideas are obviously broken,” writes Vanderkam. So it makes sense to clearly distinguish between your idea and others that have come before it. How is your approach different, better, more engaging, or more innovative than what’s been done before? Are there areas where your organization has struggled to make progress, and does your idea help close that gap? If so, make that story a key centerpiece of your pitch.
Show a Path to Success
You better be ready to answer the question, “how is your plan going to help us achieve our organizational goals?” Of course, the first task is to fully understand your organization’s short and long-term goals, and the key strategies currently underway to achieve them. The second task is to frame your idea in relation to those goals. Does your plan save money? Generate revenue? Engage employees? Help attract younger talent? Build supply chain resilience? Reduce risk? You must be able to draw a straight line from your idea to bottom-line objectives.
Have the Answers
Don’t spout platitudes about how sustainability is good for business–be ready to break it down into specifics. Consider alternative scenarios ahead of time (what if our market changes, what if prices drop, what if we lose a key customer, what if we merge with our competitor) and be ready to explore what shifts in business mean for your idea. Obviously, you can never be prepared to address any circumstance, but doing your homework ahead of time will pay dividends. “If you don’t know an answer, make it clear that you know who you need to talk to,” writes Vanderkam.
Get a Champion
“Even if you get the yes, implementation is never easy,” Vanderkam notes. “You may be asking lots of people to change things, and it’s always easier not to.” Getting an executive-level sponsor on board will go a long way to bolstering the organizational will to push through the inertia. Plus, the more you get to know your organization’s leadership, the easier it will be to push through your next big idea!
Jennifer Woofter is the founder and president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in helping rapidly growing mid-size businesses integrate sustainability into their business model. She tweets at @jenniferwoofter.