December 14, 2022

Bravely’s guide to securing executive buy-in and budget

How to ensure your HR and People initiatives get the support they deserve

What can I do to ensure I get the executive buy-in and budget I need to make my people initiatives a reality?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions asked by HR and People leaders. It’s also a question for which many of us could use a helping hand.

To that end, we connected with Ben Serio, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Serious Capital, to get a bit of advice on the best way to go about this. In his discussion with Bravely Co-Founder and President Sarah Sheehan, Ben applied his experience as an investor and decades of HR experience to provide four strategies to help you build a business case and support you in highlighting to executives why choosing to invest in people is imperative to continued company success.

How to secure executive buy-in and budget

Focus on the following four strategies:
1. Understand the current landscape within your company
2. Determine who is the decision maker and what their goals and motivations are
3. Measure and show return on investment (ROI)
4. Have a backup plan

1. Understand the current landscape within your company

The first step in preparing to make your request is to take a comprehensive look at your company and department’s recent past, present, and future.

Here are the questions Ben proposed to help in your review and planning:

  • At a high level, how is your company performing?
  • Where are you currently in the budgeting process?
  • How is your company doing vs current budget?
  • How is your department or team doing versus current budget?
  • Is your budget projected to increase or decrease in the next round of budgeting?

Note that while timing is important, it should not dissuade you from moving forward with your present plans and requests.

2. Determine who is the decision maker and what their goals and motivations are

Before you start developing your plan, there are a handful of important ideas to consider that will influence where you focus your conversations.

Determine buy-in vs approval

First, distinguish between whom you need buy-in from vs approval. Here’s one way to determine this:

  • Buy-in: Other HR team members
  • Approval: Your leader and finance (or similar)

Create connections

Second, develop an understanding of your audience and their unique priorities. What are the goals, initiatives, and priorities of the people you are presenting to, and how can you help them create connections, understanding, and value from your presentation?

In short, tie your idea to a larger goal or priority of the group you’re presenting to.

Customize your pitch

Building off the above idea, be prepared to customize and adjust your pitch to your audience. That might mean swapping in and out different slides as well as spending more time on certain slides. Ben recommends the following:

  • HR priority: Deliver an amazing employee experience
  • Finance priority: Come in at or under budget

Use their language

Using and showing that you understand the language of your different audience members is one way to facilitate connections and understanding during your pitch. Some examples include: fixed cost vs variable cost, fully loaded cost of employees, efficiency, and impact of headcount (fixed cost) vs budget (variable cost).

Create pull, not push

Your plans and people initiatives benefit more than just your team — they likely benefit everyone. For that reason, Ben advises asking other leaders outside the HR function to make or contribute to the request. And remember that demos work well. It’s often better to show than tell.

3. Measure and show return on investment (ROI)

No doubt you’ve got a great proposal to pitch decision makers, but the idea alone likely won’t get you across the finish line with buy-in and budget. Here are a few helpful tips to effectively show ROI:

  • Get as quantifiable as possible
  • Consider qualitative and quantitative metrics (e.g., surveys and feedback, usage reports, repeat usage)
  • Quantify the savings or outcomes that you have delivered (be accurate, but don’t get bogged down in perfection)

4. Have a backup plan

Sometimes we don’t end up hearing the answer we were looking for, regardless of how great the pitch goes. If you do hear “No” or “Not now,” it’s important that you have alternative ideas in mind.

Have alternative solutions and scenarios ready to go, and be prepared to make budget trade-offs (i.e., know your must-haves vs nice-to-haves). And, if you were planning to share your demo in a follow-up session, ask for the opportunity to show it now.

Give them a reason to say yes

The best way to be successful in your request for executive buy-in and budget is to plan for success. Know who you’re presenting to and what in your pitch will be most relevant to them, and be prepared with alternative plans and options.

The recommendations from Ben Serio shared in this guide will help the decision makers in the room see you as someone who makes sound, well-informed decisions. That’s someone they’ll want to invest in.

To learn more and hear an example of how Ben personally secured funding during his time as a People Leader, watch the full event recording.

Download a PDF version of this guide here.

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