How to Counter Executive Objections to New Ideas

By Skot Carruth 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with defending existing lines of business. Such first-horizon initiatives are how companies sustain themselves. Reinvestment of first-horizon profits even fuels second- and third-horizon innovation initiatives.

Innovation problems happen when companies play defense exclusively. They train employees to fight failure at all costs, and then they wonder why team members aren’t coming up with new ideas.

The problem isn’t that enterprise employees aren’t creative: Everyone is creative. It’s that most enterprises tacitly encourage team members to leave new (and, by definition, risky) ideas unexplored.

Enterprises don’t intentionally destroy innovation, of course. Companies spend billions trying to coax it out of themselves, despite research showing no statistically significant relationship between R&D spending and financial performance.

The reason enterprises struggle to innovate isn’t a shortage of creativity or, in most cases, money. Instead, it’s the enterprise culture around creativity and innovation investment.

First, as companies grow, they tend to pigeonhole their talent. Sadly, those outside of creative roles are often assumed to be uncreative. People reflect the expectations placed upon them, and over time, “non-creatives” cease to contribute ideas—not because they don’t have any, but because they’re not taken seriously.

The second issue is one of resource allocation. In terms of product development, an executive’s role is to decide which ideas are worthy investments and which aren’t. Unfortunately, the paradox of choice can cause them to make easy (but sometimes unwise) investment decisions. Often, they support ideas on the basis of who, not what. 

That tendency puts executives at odds with the reality of innovation: Often, the freshest ideas come from the factory floor, where employees find resource-saving workarounds in the normal course of their work. 

Enterprises have their lunch eaten by startups not because of who they hire, but because of a perfect storm. Restrictive roles, intellectual laziness on the part of decision-makers and failure-averse cultures all prevent great ideas from getting the funding they deserve.

Still, there are ways that enterprise entrepreneurs can win a busy executive’s ear. By treating the enterprise as a microcosm of the broader world, innovators-in-waiting can hack their way to funding, leap over objections and claw back barriers to that all-important “yes.”

Why Executives Won’t Invest

Just as in the real world, networking is the first step to funding. Think of the people holding the company’s purse string as investors. Understand what’s in it for them, and then align your proposal with their priorities.

In building your case, be prepared to counter the following four objections:

1. “Your suggestion doesn’t align with our business goals.”

When they come aboard, executives accept a singular mandate: Protect the company’s success—period. If you can’t show beyond the shadow of a doubt that your idea will do that, then it’s doomed to die.

Your mission? Understand the company’s competitive strategy inside and out. Then, determine how your idea dovetails with it. Position clear fits as sustaining innovations; pitch others as disruptive, showing how the idea could rip the rug out from under competitors. 

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