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Selling ideas when you’re the new leader on the block

What to do before you start changing everything.

4 min read


Change management


Imagine this scenario: About two months ago, you landed a new gig as a leader at a respected company. You’ve done all the right things to set yourself up for success by priming the pump with these activities before Day One on the job. For the first month, you listened, networked, took copious notes and asked lots of questions.

And wow, there are so many opportunity for improvement; the list of ideas is a mile long! It’s exciting, and you’re ready to start making some changes.

Hold up there, partner. Although your enthusiasm is admirable, take a momentary pause. Before you start pitching ideas for change, know this: if you go about it the wrong way, you’ll get the cold shoulder. Worse, you might earn a reputation for not understanding the company’s culture, which could have long-lasting implications for your success.

Selling ideas when you’re the new leader on the block takes a strategic mindset, which can get overlooked in the rush of excitement or pressure to produce immediate results. Here are five things to consider to help make your case more persuasively:

Patience is a virtue

This is especially true if you’re a leader of leaders, because you have multiple constituencies to nurture and communicate with. New ideas that require a deviation from the status quo require patience, observes a senior manager with Kelly Services in this article about stepping up to senior management. “Everybody is in a different part of the journey to incorporate the change,” she notes, so it’s important to curb your enthusiasm. Even if you’re ready to roll, others most likely are not.

Don’t blow things up just yet

Some leaders are brought in to “shake things up” and they take that advice to heart. The only problem is, sometimes they shake so hard that people are concussed. Although it might be that the entire corporate ecosystem needs a reboot, people in the trenches (as well as your middle management team, who will be your allies in communicating change) need time to adjust. Look around and decide if you need to wait or go into immediate triage mode.

Determine what the culture will support

No matter how great your solution is, some cultures simply won’t support it. When selling your idea, “find where the culture works in your favor,” advises leadership coach Eric Hicks, who held senior management positions at Cigna and JPMorgan Chase before starting his coaching consultancy. He admits to learning this the hard way. “You are not really likely to implement programs or ideas that are significantly counter to culture in your first 90 days,” he says. And it doesn’t help to say, “at my previous employer, this worked well,” he notes. If anything, that signals the kiss of death for an idea.

Take a page from marketers

Savvy communicators know that it takes time for people to gain comfort with new ideas. If your idea is radical, make it seem more familiar by pairing it with something that audience already understands. This concept, coined “MAYA” by industrial designer Raymond Loewy, stands for “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.” For example, when online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker was in its startup phase, it had to overcome the objection of how people would get fitted for eyewear online. The company was dubbed the “Netflix of Eyewear.” Pair your idea with something that people can relate to, and it will gain traction more quickly.

Co-create with others

This final idea is less about sales and more about enlisting others. “You need to really take some time to understand the nuances of the culture” before you pitch ideas,” says Hicks. People will support that which they help to create. Rather than “sell” people on a solution, look for ways to draw people into your idea and work with them to co-create a solution that all will support.

It’s understandable that a leaders who’s new to the job wants to make an immediate and positive impact. Before you make any big moves, be sure you’ve taken the time to ensure that the company’s culture, along with your key constituencies, are on board with your ideas. Patience, collaboration and savvy marketing will go a long way to paving the road to success for new ideas you wish to implement.


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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