One of the hardest jobs for community managers is getting buy-in for community programs from an executive who doesn't “get it.”Maybe executives don’t fully understand how community works, or aren’t bought into your team’s vision yet. Or maybe executives don't fully understand the business value of your community.Whatever the reason, a lack of executive buy-in can be detrimental to your community. You may lack visibility into company decision-making or struggle with headcount or budget. Or, maybe you’ve found that community buy-in has dropped off since the initial launch, and you’re struggling to feel that excitement again.That’s why we’ve pulled together this guide.
Our featured expert today is Lisa Tallman, Associate Vice President of Affiliate & Network Advancement at Easterseals. Lisa’s a certified change management expert with over 15 years of experience in community management. She joined us for a recent CMX Masterclass to share what she’s learned about executive buy-in over the course of her career.Below, we’ll cover the limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from achieving executive buy-in for your community initiatives. Plus, Lisa shares her top strategies and tactics for maintaining that buy-in year-round.Let’s dive in!
“Mindset is everything — particularly when it comes to executives,” says Lisa.If you’re trying to influence executives, you need to show up with confidence and credibility that makes executive leaders buy in. The first step? Assess your own mindset.“This all starts with what you believe about yourself, and how you show up at work every day,” Lisa says. Below, Lisa walks through 6 of the most common limiting beliefs that may be holding you back — and shares how to reframe your mindset to show up with more confidence.
It’s easy to believe that if we keep producing good work and hitting objectives, the recognition and rewards we deserve will follow. But that’s not always the case.In a busy company where executives are juggling tasks and priorities several levels above you, it takes some bragging to get on their radar. But what does it mean to “brag” in a professional setting? Lisa shared a few tips from her experience:
Action item: What emails are sitting in your inbox about the great work you're doing that you can forward to your executive sponsor?
Action item: Think about the language you're using, and when it's appropriate to say “I” and take credit.
Over time, Lisa has learned the importance of speaking confidently to anyone in the organization — regardless of title or level. While it’s important to understand the communication style of executives, don’t let your company’s hierarchy determine who you’re “allowed” to speak with.In other words, show up with confidence in every interaction. “Regardless of title or level, I contact the people that I need to speak with or get buy-in from and speak to them with confidence,” says Lisa.“I made a conscious, intentional decision to say to myself that title really doesn't matter. I am just as valuable. I'm just as important as anyone else in this organization.”
“I have a firm belief in my confidence and my expertise,” says Lisa. “But I’ve also worked at organizations where an individual could talk until they're blue in the face without gaining traction. And if a consultant comes in, that's who they're going to believe.”As you build your community’s reputation, don’t be afraid to bring on a third party to support a significant piece of your strategy. Don’t have budget for a consultant? Consider bringing in an expert from your network for a meeting, and invite your executive along. Or, think about skill sets you might want to bring on your team over the long term that will help you make your case.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: At the end of the day, you need to be able to tie your efforts to business value. Don’t assume that executives inherently see the value you bring just because they’ve funded the community. (More on how to build out your business case below.)
“I used to believe that everyone sees value in this, because I'm getting paid to do it. They hired me. They were even excited when they hired me! But now I think that you must have a direct, visible, communicated connection to strategic business goals.” – Lisa Tallman
Return on investment can be a tricky metric for community managers. In part, this is because so much of the work of building community is tied to human outcomes, not financial outcomes.Instead, Lisa recommends dialing in to your return on expectations, a philosophy developed in training and learning environments. This means setting expectations that are satisfying to executives, achievable in your community, and tied to key business results. This“Often, executive expectations are off the mark,” says Lisa. “They want to see instant results. But we know that our work takes time to build. So think about what expectations can be set versus thinking about return on investment. Think about how you can tie those returns to executive objectives, and create a story around that.”Action item: Think through the following questions:
"I used to think that as long as I had an executive sponsor, that's enough," said Lisa. But over her career, she's learned the importance of finding the right executive sponsor.What is an executive sponsor? Unlike a mentor or project leader, this is an executive who can provide strategic guidance from the C-Suite. They'll also advocate for the project to other executives within the company, paving your way for success.If you don't have an executive sponsor at all, you’ll need to use all of the above tips to make sure you’re approaching executives with the right mindset. But don’t despair! While having the right executive sponsor can make a difference, there’s plenty of other ways to advocate at the executive level.
Once you have the right mindset to approach executives, you'll also need some concrete strategies and tactics to back it up. Below, Lisa rounds up five tactics that you can implement today.
The first step towards getting that buy-in you need? Make sure you have a clear strategy and vision — and write it down.Think about your community’s big picture: What will it look like two years from now? Five years from now? What strategic objectives will you achieve?“You also want to also explicitly connect the dots between the work you are doing and other departments,” says Lisa. “But make sure they're connected to the right departments, initiatives, projects, and people. It's not going to be as helpful to you to make the dots connect to projects that our executives don't care about.”
Your business case should account for all the resources you need to achieve your vision — including team resources, technology, and more. Like your strategy, make sure it’s written down and clearly communicated.Lisa revisits her business case at least once a year to reassess her current resources and make the case for where additional capacity could have an impact on strategic goals. She also keeps a pulse on what skills she’d like to add to her team, and makes sure to document that information.
“It's really important to be able to answer questions from executives in 24 hours and not 24 days. You want to be able to have this information kept up-to-date, written down, and easily accessible and known to you and to your team.”
“Most good management methodologies actually start with collecting data,” says Lisa. “They start with understanding the current state and what's happening today.”When you’re talking with executives who may not understand community data, steer them towards the most impactful metrics from your community. “At one organization, the CEO always asked me, ‘How many people have signed up on the platform?’” As community professionals, we know that’s not a meaningful number. I was able to have that data point for him, but I always included another more meaningful data point: Engagement.”Finally, make sure the data you’re collecting is actionable. If you’re fielding requests for data from across the organization, make sure there’s a clear plan for taking action based on that data.
“Your team should be able to talk about your community vision and strategy just as well as you can.”If you’re leading a community team, chances are your team members will be having conversations across the organization that you won’t be part of. So it’s important to make sure your team is fully empowered to speak to the full team’s work. How?
“Executive buy-in does not come overnight,” Lisa says. “It is not about you giving a single presentation to a leadership team.”What does get you there? Consistent visibility throughout your organization. Lisa makes a point to get on the agenda for her leadership team’s regular meetings at least every three to four months. She also suggests giving leadership a call-to-action or something meaningful to take away beyond just an update on data.There’s plenty of non-work ways to be visible, too. Find ways that work for your authentic self — host the company book club or happy hour, or show your personality during staff get-togethers. “As community professionals, we should definitely be able to figure out how to engage people in remote ways,” says Lisa.
After reading this article, take five minutes to reflect and plan your next steps: