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How to identify decision makers within your organisation and turn them into innovation allies



Expert | Leadership

By Emma Pudney

The Global Startup Genome Ecosystem 2019 report predicts that there will be no “next Silicon Valley.” Instead, they predict there will be 30 global innovation hubs scattered around the world. This report, which ranks cities in terms of their access to talent, funding and global connectedness, positioned Sydney as 23rd in the world – a fall of six places since the 2017 report.

Not surprisingly new developments in technology have become a hot political topic with both major Australian parties vowing to raise the stakes and cement Australia as a global innovation hub. However, Australian businesses shouldn’t be waiting for government to drive innovation – they should feel empowered to drive change management and digital projects regardless of what is happening in politics.

True innovation often involves ‘going against the status quo’ and introducing new concepts or ways of thinking to a business. Change can be confronting, and introducing innovative ideas can make it challenging to generate buy-in from various levels across an organisation. It can be a struggle to convince your teams, as well as business leaders, to invest in the technologies necessary to drive digital transformation or approach business challenges differently.

In my experience, successful pitching and negotiation skills are gained through practice and the following steps:

1) Iterate and create an open feedback culture

Within your organisation it’s important to identify the most critical decision-makers, not just find out who they are, but who they listen to and whose opinions they value most. In a start-up, for instance, there may be one or two stand-out leaders compared to larger companies where there are more stakeholders involved in overall business and IT decisions. These stakeholders, or innovation allies, will provide the critical insights necessary to overhaul business operations and introduce you to C-suite contacts.

To sell your idea to the business, you need to start from the bottom and work your way up ensuring buy-in at every level of the organisation.

Diversity of thought is imperative to the success of a project. Pooling ideas from multiple levels of an organisation ensures a variety of perspectives and provides a multi-faceted approach when it comes to execution. Taking advice on board from colleagues at the very beginning of the planning process, regardless of whether these suggestions may seem impractical at the time, means opening the floor to new and undiscovered brainstorm territory, which in turn has the potential to transform an ‘average idea’ into something truly brilliant.

In my experience, feedback, whether positive or constructive, has always brought about a better result – even if it felt hard to take at the time. This is a technique that should be embraced and encouraged across organisations. People love to feel ‘heard’, and as a result of taking the time to listen, others will be more willing to accept and even champion your project. An open feedback culture ensures that by the time you are ready to present your idea to the most important decision-maker or C-suite leader in the room, you will be more adequately prepared knowing you have the well-rounded feedback from the rest of your team behind you.

2) Persistence is key

Passion is infectious. My advice is to take every opportunity you can to talk about your idea and encourage others to do the same. Pitch, address feedback, improve and pitch again. There will be times that challenges with your project or the idea may seem insurmountable. My advice here is to embrace the challenge fully. Remember that you can follow everybody else’s track or you can take a deep breath and start forging your own, which is equal parts terrifying and exciting.

Our attitude towards innovation needs to change. A culture of feedback is necessary but so is a culture of accepting failure and encouraging risk-taking. Without risk-taking, there is no progress or self-growth. Innovation goes hand in hand with resilience because you are not innovating or improving if you are not also making mistakes and learning from them. Every time you fail, take this as an opportunity to learn, iterate, and keep moving forward.

3) Don’t be afraid to take credit

With a background in ICT architecture, I recognised a need in Australia to reduce unnecessary costs and cloud wastage among our Rackspace customers and as a result I successfully spearheaded Rackspace’s program offering, Service Blocks. This was a first-of-its-kind program, which originated in Australia. A project of this size and scale could not possibly happen overnight and I am incredibly proud for having the courage to back myself, my team and my idea to see it through to fruition. Modelling this level of ‘ownership’ of an idea within the organisation sparks greater authenticity and team confidence in innovation moving forward. Essentially, it creates a structure for idea development and execution that others can adopt themselves.

In a large company, especially a global one, it is easy for the original author of an idea to be forgotten or overlooked. When people speak about your idea, gently remind them of whose it was and the value you have added to the business. Remember, it is not arrogant to take credit when recognition is deserved.


Emma Pudney, Director, Architecture, Onboarding and Professional Services, Rackspace APAC