Growth Leaders: How to Punch Above Your Pay Grade


If it wasn’t real, it could have been off a movie set.

I walked and walked…past the administrative and waiting area and inside the office.  I had never seen anything quite like this: enormous inlaid desk, conference table, glass cases full of expensive travel artifacts and carpet so thick you had to be careful not to scuff your shoes when you walked.  I had been “sent upstairs” by my Director, and I was at least five grade levels the junior of this senior leader whose office I had just entered. Yet, here I was.

Yes, I was the canary in the coal mine.

What got me here was an automation project we had been working on day and night for the past nine months. The project revolved around a badly needed process upgrade for a critical product line.  The prototype work all looked good, and we had negotiated with all the vendors to be able to meet the deadline.  All we needed was the final sign off, which was why I was here.  You see a few days earlier this project was brought up in a Corporate level review and summarily shot down because of capital “budget” issues.  I was on a mission to revive it.

I learned a lot that day….

  1. Never let something important be mixed into a meeting where it will be seen for the first time.
  2. When you’ve done your homework, you don’t need to be afraid to have the chat.
  3. Everyone has operational perspective. By not seeking it early, you deny yourself insight.

Now, for the rest of the story…

After hearing that the approval was not complete, I asked my boss what had happened.  Apparently, the tight, 10-slide deck that I had produced had been pruned down to one because it was to be discussed at the end of an all-day strategy review for worldwide manufacturing operations.

Because this project had an overseas destination, it needed to be reviewed by nearly a dozen people including both domestic and destination design and manufacturing.  We had done all that, but had not counted on the global head of all operations needing to be in the loop, too.  This was when being in the back end of a contentious day took its toll and he summarily and clearly told everyone that this project was now dead.

3 Lessons in Developing Vertical Influence

#1: Never let growth programs get mixed into operational review sessions for the core product

I had seen some strange outcomes, and this one just seemed to be way off from rational, so I asked my boss if I could set up a 1:1 with the leader who had nixed the project.  As I recall, he said something like “it’s your funeral”, which I took as a yes.  I was a bit surprised that this leader took the meeting, as he was notorious for being inaccessible, but I took that as a good sign.

The scene above played out and I was invited to that beautifully inlaid side table to talk.  As I went to roll out my drawings he stopped me.  “How much time have you spent overseas?” was his question.  I was able to share a number of recent onsite visits, as well as people I had conversations with.  A faint flicker of hope started in my mind.  He asked me many very detailed and specific questions about exactly who I had talked to, exactly where these devices would be used, who would maintain them, whether there was strong local vendor support, and more.  The more we talked, the more our relationship developed.

Finally, I unrolled the plans.  His only comment was this, “You are using way too much floor space. Cut your footprint by 20 percent and you have my signature.”

#2: You don’t know what the real issues are until you have walked a mile in your “roadblock’s” shoes.

It turns out they were driving a worldwide floor space utilization program and had a huge (financial) stake in making it a success.  No one had shared that with us.

So, we went back, burned the midnight oil, got the footprint down, and delivered the units – and ultimately the product – on time.

#3 – These issues were on me – every darn one of them.

When you are doing new things inside a large firm, EVERYTHING you do is going to be an outlier.  When it’s time to go to management – and we all do – it’s our job to make the case.

How does this help my development and coaching for Growth Leaders?

  1. Build programs more robustly. When you go to scale there is no such thing as having too much information about the impacts your new product and service will have on the whole firm – with specifics and deep detail.  The only way to get this kind of information is to take the initiative to go and get it. Meet the people and see the eventual locations – this is as true for B2B as it is for B2C.
  2. Build communications protocols that get the right information to the right people.  The only things more robust than your design needs to be your communications plan.  When you do new, you need to be prepared to go to the top of the house.  After all, you never know when you’ll get called into the C-Suite and need to compete for resources with other senior executives in the firm.
  3. Get pre-approvals based on performance benchmarks.  This is gold, and took me a long time to figure out.  Sales leaders call it the presumptive close and it goes something like this: if I am able to do X, X and X, do we have a deal?  If the answer is yes, confirm it in writing and then do it.  If I had done this earlier on this project, much high-wire grief would have been saved.

Doing new is hard (and rewarding) work.

If you are leading a new-to-the-world event in your firm, and would appreciate a neutral voice who has the scars to show for the real-world experiences I’ve had, we should talk.  Give me a call at 847-651-1014 or click here to set up a no strings attached, 20-minute phone call.

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